The Spanish Archer

There are few moments in my current stage of adulthood that remind of being younger more than the release of a new record by a favourite band. At my record-buying youthful peak, returning from the West End of London or the record fairs of Brighton with a bag of records was akin to a 6 year-olds Christmas Eve: running the thumbnail down the spine to split the sellophane shrinkwrap, without removing it of course, inevitably scratching the sensitive layer of skin just under the nail on the rough cardboard, was the possibility that this was the life-changing ear-present you had waited patiently for all year.

The last couple of weeks have stirred similar, reminiscent emotions, but with an updated ceremony: watching albums download on my laptop, patiently waiting for the percentages of delivery to edge towards one hundred, checking my watch to make sure the seconds to completion match the timing on my wrist. And, with a simple notification, one of my best friends had arrived home after being away for nearly 3 years: the magnificent Mancunian majesty of Elbow, and their fifth album ‘Build A Rocket Boys’.

To have Guy Garvey’s voice back, purring and crooning over newly composed material of such epic beauty is like flooding the Lake District with draft Guinness – his voice is a bear-hug from a mate you’ve missed for years, but is as consistent and eloquent as ever. In the long and envied lineage of supreme lyricists from the shadows of the Pennines, he could quite possibly be the bastard son of Morrissey and Brian Blessed (if age and gender weren’t taken into account, joyless pedants) – the words remain on a different plain to all others at present, yet his presence is undeniably charismatic and welcoming. Who else could make the ASBO generation of hooded youth sound so romantic and innocent, as he does on the track ‘Lippy Kids’, wondering “do they know those days are golden?” Or on ‘Open Arms’ suggest “the moon is out, looking for trouble….the Moon wants a scrap or a cuddle…the moon is face down in a puddle…”

The album opens with the eight-minute opus ‘The Birds’, a track that is the musical equivalent of a roast dinner: ages in the making, it slowly fills the space with a familiar depth and warmth, it’s over far too quickly. But when the string orchestration is poured over the plate of the bassline and melody the song literally explodes as an anthem of wonder. There are very few moments that a first listen of a track has me giggling, shaking my head, has my eyes begin to water, or just utter a simple “fucking hell……” in disbelief, all at the same time. I wanted to stop the car and tell the nearest person in the street that I had heard something really bloody amazing, that they had to hear it straight away or their very existence was going to be infinitely poorer for not having it in their life. It also instantly allayed any anxiety I had of how to they were to follow ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’, the Mercury award-winning and multi-platinum selling previous album that finally delivered the songs to match the undoubted ambition of the band.

The band have been together longer than they haven’t, and that five guys should be so steadfast in their purpose for over 20 years has made me change the way I think about music: I often associate music with a time and place, and that bands have their moment when the planets of Consumer and Musician collide at a prescribed time. Elbow, however, have been consistent in their output for 5 albums now, growing slowly in confidence and ambition, they’ve just had to wait for you mere mortals to catch them up. This is the polar opposite of those other Manchester giants of industry and charm, the sneering, guttersnipe Gallagher morons. Their Beatle-fringed ‘rock’ music was instant gratification, and like a bad smack habit, they never reached anywhere near the same heights as their first ‘hit’ and spent years trying to recreate it, ultimately becoming no more than a boss-eyed parody of themselves.

That Elbow could soundtrack the BBC coverage of the Beijing Olympics with the omnipresent, wedding-day favourite ‘One Day Like This’ and still remain utterly untarnished in reputation shows that not only does the public get them, they finally love them. Upon being asked to soundtrack the Hovis adverts, Garvey refused, saying it was a “bit wank to advertise bread” at which point keyboardist Craig Potter suggested “but nobody calls Dvorak a cunt, do they?”

Next week they embark on their inaugural arena tour, at last a fitting environment to match their musical scale and bonhomie. Yes, it might lack the ‘intimacy’ of smaller gigs, but if anyone can fill a stage and a space that large, as comfortably, it will be them, don’t worry about that. They say that they always had delusions of grandeur in that they wrote their songs for such auditoria, and ‘Build A Rocket Boys’ does not disappoint with the singalong, chorus chanting ‘Open Arms’ which will ring around the festival circuit this summer – “we have open arms, for broken hearts”.

They signaled their intentions to own the larger spaces at Glastonbury in the sunshine in 2008 – asking their string quartet to round-up all the other orchestral members from other bands on site to join them onstage for the last song. Plying them with booze in the early evening sunshine, they wanted a huge party, and half of the violinists were either shitfaced or out of time. However, by the end Garvey has conducted everyone into the correct time and the repeated refrain of “throw those curtains wide, one day like this year will see me right” was bellowed across Somerset by a cast of thousands. If the rumours are to be believed, they will be at Glastonbury again this year, before U2 headline the Pyramid stage. Dear Bongo, Hedge, Harry Mullet and the bass player, you are about to get the Spanish Archer, as they turn the Pyramid into a rocket.

Elbow at Glastonbury 2008: 

Follow me on twitter @benopause



  1. nel_tom · March 10, 2011

    Agree with you completely, just reading your description of The Birds had me in goose bumps scrabbling for the iPod. Another superb album from a wonderful band. The world is a better place as a result.

  2. Slogger · April 9, 2011

    Ben, a beautifully written Blog. Totally agree with:

    “To have Guy Garvey’s voice back, purring and crooning over newly composed material of such epic beauty is like flooding the Lake District with draft Guinness “

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