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24 September 2014

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Guy Garvey
Guy Garvey

Meeting the Leaders

Anyone who's heard Elbow's Forget Myself knows that the band's third album looks like being very special. We caught up with Guy Garvey and Pete Turner ahead of their DVD screening at Big Hands to chat about the album and the accompanying film.

Leaders of the Free World

  • Leaders Of The Free World will be released on Mon 5 Sept
  • The album is preceded by a single, Forget Myself, Mon 29 Aug
  • Elbow play the Ritz on Thurs 8 Sept

How are the screenings going?

Guy: "They’re going really well. It’s a great body of work that the lads have made. Bit too much of our ugly mugs in them but that can’t be helped."

It’s a unique concept to create the films while you are creating the album. How did it come about?

Guy: "Mark Thomas who leads the Soup Collective is an old friend of ours. He’s worked with us for years, toured with us and made short films that we’d show behind us when we played live. When we moved into the big room over in Salford’s Blueprint Studios, it was such an amazing looking space, we just wanted to do the most we could with the space. We set up all our recording equipment and there still seemed like a lot of room not being used.

Pete Turner
Pete Turner

We’ve always wanted to try doing something where the visuals came about alongside the music. In a lot of ways, the stuff that the lads were showing on the big screen which they erected while we were writing influenced the music as much as working the other way round."

Any particular reason why you chose to show the film at Big Hands?

Guy: "Most of the places we’ve shown the DVD round the country have been local pubs and Big Hands is our local, so we thought we’d have it there."

Was Leaders of the Free World easier to pull together than Cast of Thousands?

Pete: "It was a lot easier. When we were touring Cast of Thousands, we were writing on the road so that made it easier for a start. It meant once we got to Blueprint, we had a bunch of ideas to work from. We started in there last August and we’re still in there now, doing b-sides and rehearsing. Every day we’d get there about 11, and because it’s a stone’s throw, people could go home for their tea for a couple of hours, see their wives or girlfriends, and then get back into it at night. So it was as close to normal working hours as we get. It was very relaxed and a lot of fun."

Does that relaxation come through on the record?

Pete Turner and Guy Garvey
Pete Turner and Guy Garvey

Pete: "Yeah, definitely."
Guy: "I think so. Thematically, the album is about coming home to Manchester and being around friends. Not just for fun and social purposes, but being around your friends when you need them. There’s a few songs about propping people up and being propped up when you need it. It’s got a warmth resonating through it that perhaps wasn’t there on Cast."

It seems a very personal album. Do you worry you’ve put too much of yourself in it?

Guy: "The music that we all agree on is stuff of a personal nature. It makes for longevity, not just for people listening, but to perform it over and over again. If I wrote a song about something that I’d never experienced, I’d find it difficult to put that mask on every time we had to perform that song. We don’t play Powder Blue any more. It was becoming too much of an effort to play the song, because it’s about something that happened to someone else, so it was very hard to emote night after night. You can’t let it get to the point where you hate your own music."

You’ve taken a lot of inspiration on the album from the area around Piccadilly. Is that area important to you?

Listen to exclusive acoustic versions of tracks from Elbow's new album
audio Elbow - Leaders of the Free World (acoustic) >
audio Elbow - The Stops (acoustic) >
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Guy: "It’s where the Roadhouse is and it’s the first place you see when you come into Manchester, even if you’ve come in on the plane. All around Oldham Street and the Northern Quarter, that’s where we cut our teeth, between the Roadhouse and Night and Day, so I suppose that area’s where the most nostalgia is."

Forget Myself features a description of a bouncer you used to know. Does he know you’re referring to him?

"Beer o’clock at the beginning of a tour will start at six; towards the end of a tour, it’ll start at lunchtime. It’s the only way we know."
Pete explains the drinking policy for touring

Guy: "As I value all my knees and elbows, as I value my life, he doesn’t know it’s about him!"

Picky Bugger is about calming down and taking stock. Have you listened to your own advice in that?

Guy: "No. Not in the slightest… perhaps a bit. When we were younger, we’d run for years and years. We partied a lot. On the first few tours, it was ridiculous. We could keep it up for months at a time. But nowadays, I need my days off, my pots of plants in the backyard, my Radio 4 and my slippers."
Pete: "I’ve probably settled down a little bit. When we’re on tour, I can’t stop myself. We’re waiting all day to get drunk…"
Guy: "Beer o’clock comes early…"
Pete: "Beer o’clock at the beginning of a tour will start at six; towards the end of a tour, it’ll start at lunchtime. It’s the only way we know."

There’s serious tracks on the album, especially the title track. How did that come about?

Guy Garvey at Blueprint Studios
Guy Garvey at Blueprint Studios

Guy: "The most dangerous powerful man in history, George Bush, is one of the least appropriate men to be in a position of power like that. I saw some footage of him and his dad. After his re-inauguration, they did a family press shoot. George senior and George junior came out of the White House and he was off like a kid, ignoring his dad and hogging the limelight.

I suddenly had a crystal clear image of what he was like as a child, one of those potato-headed bullying spoilt little gets. I just tried to imagine, if he had had a better relationship with his mother, what kind of place the world would be right now. Whether we’d be suffering these horrendous terror attacks. It’s not a political record, that’s the one song that talks about the issue, because everyone has to consider their opinion now; we’re in real trouble and our elected leaders are to blame."

Are you looking forward to a big tour of this album?

Pete: "I can’t wait to tour."
Guy: "It’s going to be amazing. We supported Coldplay at the Reebok and it was the first time we’ve played some of the new tunes outside the studio, and the reaction was ace. They were doing stadium crowd things like all clapping together…"
Pete: "We were like Queen…"
Guy: "We were a bit like Queen, except I was a lot taller and fatter than the late, great Freddie Mercury. And there were no black people in Queen."

Did it give you a taste for stadiums?

Pete Turner at Blueprint Studios
Pete Turner at Blueprint Studios

Guy: "I was surprised how easy it was. I was nervous about it right up until I got up on stage while Coldplay were soundchecking and I had a look around."
Pete: "Also, when you play festivals on main stages, it looks bigger, because it just goes back and back and back. Playing to a few people is more frightening."
Guy: "Over about three hundred people, there’s too many people to take in anyway, so you don’t feel intimidated. It’s like the bigger a crowd gets, it doesn’t necessarily get harder. It doesn’t work like that."

After the summer, you play the Ritz. Why have you chosen there?

Guy: "It’s the best venue in Manchester for me. I absolutely love it. I’ve seen some great gigs there and I used to spend every Monday night there at Indie World, drinking quid-a-pint beer and trying desperately to get off with girls in tassle skirts and docs, which never happened for me."

last updated: 28/07/05
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