Love is saving me from myself says recently wed Elbow frontman Guy Garvey
The past year has been somewhat topsy-turvy for Elbow, but frontman Guy Garvey is in hopeful mood. He tells Andy Welch how getting married has made him even more soppy than usual, and why he thinks things can only get better
IF YOU'VE got tickets for Elbow's upcoming Dublin gigs, don't worry – they are busy rehearsing. It's not frontman Guy Garvey's favourite part of being in a band, but he knows it's necessary, and by the time their tour starts at the end of February, they'll have practised for a month, which he says is just right.
Rehearsals have, however, looked a bit different this time around. It's the first time the band have prepared to go out on the road without drummer Richard Jupp, who, after 25 years, decided to leave a year ago.
"He just didn't want to be in the band any more," says Lancashire-born Garvey (42). It's clear the subject's still a little raw, but he soldiers on. "It was a little bit of a shock, but not an entire surprise. Nevertheless, it wasn't expected. You can hardly call him a fair-weather drummer, 25 years in. I won't pretend we're still pals but nobody wishes him any ill. It's just one of those things."
Jupp's departure helped set the mood for Elbow's forthcoming album, Little Fictions. It's their seventh; the first made without their drummer but, ironically, also their most beat-heavy album – possibly down down to overcompensating for Jupp's departure, notes Garvey.
In early 2016, he and fellow remaining bandmates – Craig Potter, Mark Potter and Pete Turner – went up to Scotland, where they "played at being lords of the manor" at Gargunnock House, a Landmark Trust property in Stirlingshire.
Shell-shocked by the changes in the band, they were also there when news of David Bowie's death broke, turning the already sombre mood even more melancholy. They emerged with a couple of songs, Head For Supplies and the album's closer, Kindling, and while they're both downbeat, they're far from typical.
In spite of everything, Little Fictions is a hugely hopeful, upbeat record. The time-frame in which it was written is crucial, a time during which Garvey was married and visited India for the first time, but also grew fearful before and after the vote to leave the European Union.
"The album takes in lots of different things about what worries me in the current age. That in itself got me thinking about worrying in general; now Elbow are 40-plus, is worrying just a natural thing? Did our parents worry when they got to an age, or is this new? Have things gone to hell in a handcart, as it feels it has done?"
The answer to those questions isn't what actually matters, he says, rather it's the unsettled feeling needed to find a place in the band's songs.
"I would be suspicious of a record made in 2016 by anyone in the Western world that didn't contain some element of dismay or disgruntlement, or just plain tub-thumping," Garvey adds.
The album's K2 is the most obvious in its allusions to Brexit, with lyrics about Britain's island status, the hatred being drummed up and the media's role in it all, but above all, how love will conquer all. A trite sentiment in lesser hands, but in Elbow's, you come away from hearing Little Fictions believing them.
"I think kindness is going to find its way back into the world. TV and films pride themselves on being inky and dark, but there's only so much I can take. Do I really need to see another throat slitting on television?
"And in the face of all that happened last year, I feel very hopeful. These words came tumbling out, they weren't hard to write. What do you want from an Elbow record? Notes of hope, I think, as well as a bit despair."
Magnificent, the album's lead single, sums up this feeling best of all – it's inspired directly by Garvey's new wife, the actor Rachael Stirling, and the sound of children playing on the beach near their hotel while honeymooning in Sardinia.
"The idea behind it is that the little girl in the song, playing in the sand, is based on my wife when she was a kid, with her whole life ahead of her. That got me thinking about how we should reconnect with the trust we're born with. Babies are trusters and sharers, naturally, and that leaves us. A childish trust towards the world is discouraged on account of danger, but we can go too far."
Garvey has always been a bit of a romantic. Underneath that bear-like exterior lies the soul of a poet, but it seems marriage has made him even more soppy.
"I suppose it has," he says, bursting out laughing. "I guess it tends to. It makes you notice things you didn't before, and that's certainly not a bad place to be for a songwriter, laid bare by devastating, heart-swelling love.
"It also counteracts impatience that comes with getting older. I am approaching the grumpy old man era, but new love is saving me from myself."
He talks about how the band always thought their previous album, The Take Off And Landing Of Everything, was going to be the closing of a chapter, albeit not one they envisaged closing without one of their original members, and how Little Fictions was always going to be the start of something new.
"In many ways, it's like our first album all over again, although this time we don't have a massive anvil with 'Don't mess it up' written on it hanging over us," he says. "We have the courage of our convictions to see us through."
There's also the new set of skills he picked up while making his solo album, Courting The Squall, released in 2015.
"If I took anything back to the band after that, it was that we could do things really fast. We were encouraged by that. And Craig had just produced Steve Mason's album, which was also done very quickly.
"We knew we wanted to work at a faster pace, which is very welcome," says Garvey. "We have so much more music to make before we die."
:: Elbow play Dublin's Olympia Theatre on Sunday and Monday February 26 and 27 (both gigs are sold out) and Live at the Marquee in Cork on June 26. Little Fictions is released on Tuesday February 3. See elbow.co.uk