The seldom rushed kid
Elbow don’t like to hurry. After nearly two decades together, they’re about to release their fourth album, The Seldom Seen Kid, another measured collection of glowering, glorious songs inspired by everything from love to loss to tower crane drivers.
Yes, that’s tower crane drivers. In a suitably idiosyncratic way, one of the album’s epics is entitled The Loneliness Of A Tower Crane Driver and, according to front man Guy Garvey, it really does tell the story of such a man, but as with all his fables, there's a deeper meaning too.
"My brother in law met a tower crane driver in a bar who began the night boasting about how well paid he was and how much he loved his job. He ended the night crying into his beer with loneliness. Ambition, if pursued to the cost of everything else, can leave you high, dry and lonely."
It’s a story that typically Elbow – inspired by real life and wrapped in beauty – and it’s one that is indicative of the whole album. Indeed, Guy says that the band’s output these days is undeniably real, a postcard from where the band were, emotionally as well as geographically, when they recorded it.
"We decided after Cast of Thousands that rather than there being mountains to climb – big bodies of work every two or three years – albums should be musical dispatches from where we're at. Leaders of the Free World and Seldom Seen Kid are diaries of different people.
"Leaders of the Free World was about returning home to Manchester and the end of a love affair, as well as our politics. Seldom Seen Kid is about fatherhood, brotherhood, new arrivals and sadly missed friends."
Elbow's The Seldom Seen Kid
Even the title of the album is a reference to reality, nodding as it does to a particularly sad moment in the band’s lives, though the inspiration for it actually came originally from Guy’s father.
"Originally a Damon Runyan [US short story writer] character, it was also a nickname of a colleague of my father's who was frequently absent from work.
"In this case though, it’s a way of subtly dedicating the album to our friend, Manchester singer and songwriter Bryan Glancy, who died tragically while we were making the record."
With songs based so strongly around personal experience, it'd be easy to presume that the writing process can be a difficult one. Guy admits that, at times, it can be hard, but that in truth, the pressures of making an album always come from themselves.
"It depends what day you ask on. Writing at this stage is a joy. No pressures, a big blank canvas and loads of time before your next deadline.
"We've always worked as hard as we're prepared to and no harder. We're excited to be back out on the road, but the pressure really comes from within the group."
That group dynamic is the centre of Elbow's longevity. Indeed, they refer to themselves on their MySpace page as 'the longest surviving uncorrupt democracy in history'. Guy says its absolutely true, that they do work as a democracy, though with one slight twist.
"It takes us an awful long time to make decisions and writing a record involves millions of decisions, but we're lucky enough to have the patience to please most of us, most of the time.
"I suppose we're just proud of our skills of diplomacy. Though in reality, it’s Pete Turner's world and we just live in it."
Whoever’s world it is, it is one that is working for them. The Seldom Seen Kid is another exciting step on their path to greatness, while at the same time, at least in terms of sound, being a slight return to their debut.
Guy agrees that there is something of Asleep In The Back to the record, but says it wasn’t something that happened intentionally.
"We never try and go back but I agree [it sounds like it]. Maybe it’s because it was just the five of us, it felt more like it did years ago."
It’s not many bands that can refer to 'years ago' and still be as vibrant and crucial as Elbow. It makes you wonder if maybe all bands should take the slow road to success.
The Seldom Seen Kid is out on Monday 17 March. Elbow play the Academy 1 on Sunday 13 April.
last updated: 11/04/2008 at 10:32