Porchester Hall, a venue first opened in the reign of George V “for concerts, whist drives, banquets, dances, receptions and meetings”, was tonight’s setting for Manchester’s Elbow to offer a morsel or four from forthcoming fourth album The Seldom Seen Kid.
On taking to the stage all in serious muso black, front man Guy Garvey exchanged some chit-chat with his bandmates and began what would remain an easy rapport with a rapt audience. “This is the new classy Elbow,” he announced, taking in his surroundings.
With more than a passing resemblance to Ricky Gervais, Garvey is not what one would readily term “starry”. Elbow’s Mercury-nominated debut Asleep In The Back was released only in 2001, but Garvey and the band have been around for longer than that. Thus it seems – later in the evening he reminds us that two members of the band recently became dads. Young whippersnappers Elbow are not.
Not immediately obvious on Elbow’s records is Garvey’s perfect pitch. His big, powerful voice is a surprisingly versatile instrument. It soared above and around whatever the band threw into the mix, from opener Station Approach on.
Just as fellow Mercury nominee Richard Hawley has always seemed more like the bloke down the pub than rock star, so Elbow more often than not seem like a bunch of mates playing to their family and friends at a local boozer. It’s no surprise to find that Hawley, also playing in London tonight, guests on the new album track The Fix.
Both plug in to their northern working class roots for inspiration on subject matter. One of Elbow’s four new songs aired this evening is called The Loneliness Of A Tower Crane Driver. An elegiac paean to love, loss and the passing of time, it falls in the category of Elbow song that makes audiences go all quiet, the better to hear its subtle twists and variations on a core few bars.
At various points the band were joined by string-playing ladies who doubled as backing vocalists, further filling out Elbow’s melodic sound. Garvey played acoustic and electric guitar at various points, and on new single Grounds For Divorce, written in response to the death of a friend, the industrial trimmings were again evident as he bashed a lump of aluminium piping. This, he helpfully explained, was called an ingot. Later he’d smack a pair of snares too.
Big new number One Day Like This was football-terrace anthemic. For this Garvey’s hands were needed to conduct the audience; helpfully he gave instructions on which words to sing in the chorus before playing the song. Most of the people around us seemed to know the words already.
Surprisingly, most of the set was made up of back catalogue material. Also aired were Fugitive Motel, Forget Myself and the rare B-side oddity that is McGregor’s Dead. A heavily pregnant fan at the front had New Born dedicated to her and her progeny, with the opening line appropriately changed to reference a duck instead of a corpse to giggles from the audience.
Elbow now find themselves on the same Polydor imprint as Kate Nash and The Maccabees, somewhat incongruously. Despite the accessibility of Elbow’s everyman songs and melodies, they’re unlikely to fly off supermarket shelves. Too subtle to be filed as mere MOR drivetime filler, Elbow have settled on ploughing a furrow of their own.