Well-Dressed Fishermen

Music Features
Share Tweet Submit Pin

So who is that sharp-dressed man over there, lunching on the posh hotel patio? Some visiting CEO, calling up his weekly appointments on his Palm Pilot? A traveling sales rep, working up his latest bargain-basement pitch? Nope, it’s merely one mischievous Mancunian named Guy Garvey, frontman for neo-progrock unit Elbow. He’s been amusing himself of late by sporting natty business suits, both onstage and off. “I really like these suits,” says the singer, adjusting a rumpled cuff. “It’s an affectation I’ve allowed myself. I’ve always wanted to have a suit, so I thought ‘Hell, why not?’ So now I wear a suit pretty much every day.”

A stylistic shift that perfectly complements Elbow’s elegant tie’n’tails albums, 2001’s Asleep In The Back and the new sophomore set Cast Of Thousands. Thanks to the thunder-menacing drums of Richard Jupp, the spacey melodicism of guitarist Mark Potter and keyboardist Craig Potter, the Larry Graham-funky fretwork of bassist Pete Turner, coupled with Garvey’s weathered Peter Gabriel-ish vocals, the band often sounds as esoteric and classically English as vintage Genesis, circa the stunning Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. And Cast Of Thousands can be taken literally; its gorgeous ballad “Grace Under Pressure” builds to a sweeping crescendo, featuring an entire Glastonbury Festival crowd chanting—at Garvey’s request—the lyrics “We still believe in love / So f--- you.” “Then we thought, ‘Well, we’ve taken it this far—why not try and credit everybody who was there?’” recalls the burly Garvey, loosening his tie. “So we put it out in the UK press that anyone who was there who wanted their name on the sleeve should E-mail us. And they did. So we’ve got four-and-a-half thousand names listed on the sleeve.”

How did the group arrive at “Grace,” or companion tracks like the Floydian “Fallen Angel,” the carpet-textured “Fugitive Motel,” and the sinewy, squeal-riffed “Snooks”? By rolling up their sleeves and getting a little dirty. And a little wet, as well, chuckles Garvey. The Brit/Mercury Prize-nominated Asleep had catapulted Elbow into the urban limelight. For Cast, the band and producer Ben Hillier relocated to Mull, a secluded isle off the coast of Scotland, and set up studio shop in a loch-adjacent converted church. Which is where the members learned how to cast. As in ‘rod and reel.’ “We were taught how to freshwater fish, and we also went sea-fishing around Mull,” Garvey recollects. “And I learned everything about casting. I was spinning mostly in fresh water, while Pete was flow fishing. And flow fishing is when you just sit, chill out, and watch your lure bob. With spinning, there’s a little weight on the end, and you cast it out, reel it back, so that one’s much more physical. And I didn’t mind not catching any fish most days—I just liked being out in the water.”

Angling soon became a Zen-like discipline for Garvey. His largest catch was a medium-sized dogfish, he brags. “But I threw all of mine back. And we’d stay out until it got dark, too dark to fish anymore. Or we’d fish all afternoon and then come back in early evening. We’d generally work until after dark—whether it was fishing, writing or recording—then after dark we’d sit down and have a meal that Mark prepared. Usually fish, of course. Scotland was really cool—there was no pressure, we were just putting things down as and when they came to us. We weren’t forcing ourselves to work, and there was no set deadline for the album.” On a recent U.S. tour with V2 labelmates Grandaddy—“Who are also keen fishermen like us,” Garvey points out—Elbow desperately tried to schedule a few river and deep-sea expeditions. Alas. “We talked about fishing a lot, but never quite managed it,” he sighs. “But Finding Nemo was playing on our plane on the way back home.”

Some small Elbow consolation. But the tranquility of the group’s surroundings and pleasurable new pursuit directly translated to the surreal, serene soundscapes of Cast of Thousands. In their native Britain, Garvey says, rock mags have taken great pains to bracket his intellectual band, pigeonhole it safely away, even knock it for its space-rock leanings. “So I think it’s really important to f--- with people’s perceptions of you on a regular basis,” he grins, tightening his tie again for a minutes-away radio appearance. He likens Elbow’s uphill slog to that of Sisyphus, the King of Corinth condemned to forever roll a rock up a Hades mountainside. “But hopefully we’ll get to the top, we’ll push that rock over the top, and let it crush most of the English music press on the way down,” Garvey finishes with a wicked snicker. “Then we’ll be sitting pretty for the rest of time. And maybe do a bit of fishing, as well.”