As part of their wedding gift to us, our lovely friends Tom and Fran bought us tickets to go and see my absolute favourite band in the entire world, Elbow. I was getting to see the delightfully charming lyrical genius that is Guy Garvey, accompanied by his four best friends in the entire world, Pete Turner, Richard Jupp, Mark Potter and the now very svelte indeed Craig Potter, for the third time. I was ecstatic, as was David.
Almost six months flew by and it was gig night. I had since discovered that some of our friends had also got tickets and so it was that we all boarded the train to Birmingham. We arrived at the NIA with swathes of others.
I was concerned with seeing Elbow at the NIA. The past two times I saw them (Wolverhampton Civic Hall and Blackpool Empress Ballroom) the gigs had been smaller and more intimate. You felt that every lyric that was sung, every word that was said, every note that was played was done for you and you alone. I didn’t know whether or not that feeling could be recreated in such a large venue.
(As an aside, in no way, shape or form am I begrudging the band’s success and their need to play larger venues. I’m not one of those ‘I liked them before they became popular’ people. I freely admit that whilst I knew who they were and had a couple of songs of theirs knocking about, it wasn’t until The Seldom Seen Kid came out that I became so obsessed, seeking out the entire back catalogue, rarities etc).
Down the stairs to the standing area, I was telling everyone who was with me that yes, Guy Garvey was going to see me and fall in love with me, I was going to get to the front and he would adore me. The others just smirked and humoured me.
Into the arena, the merchandise wasn’t too inspiring, sadly. Oh well, I’ve saved some cash. And it was just as well because for three pints of Stella 4 and a bottle of Coke it was £16. I couldn’t go spending my hard earned cash on merchandise with booze at that price.
The stage was pretty incredible. There were red velvet curtains, a neon giant chandelier and five video screens each with a band member on. If you watched, they moved just a fraction. Finding a place to stand was difficult, especially for me. Being fairly vertically challenged, either right at the front, or nearer the back works for me. At least that way I can see everything. So, obviously, we moved nearer the mixing desk and I wish I’d worn ballet shoes for all the tip toeing I had to do.
The band’s entrance onto the stage was pretty cool; in the video screens onstage, each band member just walked off, one after another and appeared on the stage to much cheering, shouting and screaming (a lot of it from me, I am fairly loud).
On the way to the gig, we all discussed what they might start with. Both Tom and myself suggested The Birds (from the latest album Build A Rocket Boys!) and we were correct. We clapped and cheered and sang like our lives depended on it. Guy was his usual inimitable self, making small talk with the audience, informing us that after their first gig in Birmingham 11 years ago where a shaker was stolen, it had been returned to them that day. He did though advise us not to cheer because it was still a crime and so he told us to shout ‘About fucking time and all’, which we did.
Most of the crowd (bar the fucking IDIOTS who stood near us talking the whole way through the gig – prompting Fran, Tom and myself to move further into the crowd administering evil glares and ‘sorry David, we have to move because those fucking TWATS won’t shut the fuck up’) were hanging on Guy’s every word. He has such charm, he is very funny (especially if he’s had a few which he clearly had. He once declared that Elbow have never performed a gig sober), we bowed to his every request (‘Everyone blow at Pete Turner!’, ‘you, you and you, when I point at you I want you to shout ‘I’M SPARTACUS’’). I am of the opinion that he has stolen Dave Grohl’s crown as ‘The Nicest Man in Music’.
Before performing Weather to Fly, as is customary for Elbow, the five of them appeared on the little tiny stage near the centre of the crowd, with an acoustic guitar, the returned shaker and a tambourine. They had a quick cocktail, a spare one of which was given to a lady called Charley (I wasn’t jealous AT ALL) and then they played and it was just how I remembered them, every word that was sung, every note played was just for me and me alone. There was no one else there. My concerns about them playing a big venue were for nothing. They can make any sized venue intimate, as though they’re playing in your living room.
Elbow don’t do encores. Well, they do, but as Guy quite rightly put it ‘it’s a load of bollocks, you know we’re going to come back, we know we’re going to come back’. The proviso for the ‘encore’ though is for the crowd to sing a song of the band’s choice. Tom’s suggestion of ‘Ghostbusters’ was ignored. Earlier in the gig, Guy had pointed out the person in the seat furthest from the stage (James Parker, fact fans). Guy suggested that we sing ‘ONE JAMES PARKER, THERE’S ONLY ONE JAMES PARKER, ONE JAAAMEEESS PAAAARRRKER, THERE’S ONLY ONE JAAAAAMES PAAAARRRRKER’ (for the uninitiated, to the tune of Guantanamera). We sang, they came back after a wee, a beer and a fag.
Guy did a fair bit of running about (it may help him lose some weight, although I prefer him how he is), he ran between the two stages and then he ran around the edges of the arena (with security following him) during their finale One Day Like This. Shaking hands with fans, having pictures taken on phones, receiving kisses. I’m so sorry to say I could get there in time. I’m too small and couldn’t barge through the crowds. Tom touched him though and I hate him for that.
I admit I cried during some songs. Guy’s vocals are amazing, Pete, Craig, Mark and Richard are such accomplished musicians, not to mention the string quartet they had with them, and of course not forgetting the lyrics. Guy is a romantic, a dreamer, a poet, and his lyrics reflect this.
A lot of people say that seeing Elbow is like a religious experience, and it is. They touched each and every person in that arena last night, they brought laughter and tears with their lyrics, their excellent musicianship and overall, the feeling of love and friendship that they clearly have for one another and that feeling does genuinely radiate through out the room. Five down to earth best mates doing a job they love. It’s a beautiful thing. With Love.