October 4, 2008

Elbowing Out the Curse ; So What’s It Like Being in One of the Country’s Biggest Bands? MATT THOMAS Finds Out…


PEOPLE, mainly music journalists, make a lot out of the "Curse of the Mercury Music Prize".

Every year there's a flurry of articles listing the acts that have bagged the award in the past, and how their careers have subsequently hit the blocks.

But this year's winners Elbow don't seem too worried. And why should they?

They're just about to set out on a triumphal tour, which includes a sold-out night at Cardiff University.

This is classed as a "nice one" by bassist and songwriter Pete Turner, pictured far right.

He has just got back from the band's Manchester rehearsal studio, based above famous club Sankey's Soap, where they've been hashing out a set list for the tour.

"We've got about 25 songs that we can do, and we're cutting that down to 16 or 17," he said.

"We've got a small string section coming in tomorrow to work on a few songs."

Elbow specialise in big intricate songs, often tugging at the heartstrings, but full of a sense that everything just might turn out all right the end.

But don't worry, winning the Mercury hasn't brought on an attack of grandiosity.

"It's brought a lot more people to the album which is great," says Pete.

"The more people who hear it the better, you know what I mean?

"It hasn't really opened up any new doors for us. We've always been experimental, that's the main thing for us, funding new ways to make sounds and work them into songs."

Well that explains the string quartet at least.

The band have been together since their schooldays in Manchester, when lead singer Guy Garvey met guitarist Mark Potter at Bury College. Potter asked Garvey to sing in a band he was in with drummer Richard Jupp and bassist Pete Turner. They were later joined by Mark's keyboard-playing brother Craig.

They've been together pretty much constantly since the age of 16 but still seem to enjoy each other's company.

"If we spend more than two weeks apart we start to get a bit shaky, you know, wanting to get back together," said Pete.

These days, two thirds of the band have "kids and stuff", but this hasn't changed the dynamic of the group on tour.

"If anything it's the opposite.

"We call it Dads On Tour Syndrome.

"This bus pulls up to take you off all over the world, leaving behind your responsibilities, there's always booze around, you don't have to get up at 7am.

"They love it, go absolutely crazy.

Well, you would wouldn't you?"

Touring can often break a band, but Elbow seem to take it in their stride, sucking up punishing festival schedules with glee.

"We had a great summer, went all over the place.

"I especially love the States, mad stuff always happens there.

Chicago and New York are great cities.

"Chicago is a very real place, very industrial and beautiful. Guy and I would both like to live out there, it's something we've talked about quite a lot."

The band go at it just as hard in the studio as they do on the road. Their last album was produced by keyboard player Craig and the rest of the band, something Pete is particularly proud of.

"It's the first album we did completely on our own, without any outside interference.

"Getting in the studio to experiment with things like different guitar tunings, banging on vases, that's what it's all about for us really."

It's an interest that has carried the band, whose influences according to Pete include "Talk Talk, Radiohead, Tom Waits, early Smashing Pumpkins", through four albums so far. And they're ready to get started on the next.

"We're going to do this tour and then get into the studio and start work on the next album.

"We left a bit of a gap between Leaders (Of the Free World, their last album) and The Seldom Seen Kid (their current Mercury-winning release) and we don't want to have that happen again."

So it looks like everything's going to turn out all right for Elbow.

As long as they can keep dodging that pesky curse.

Elbow's gig at Cardiff University on Friday is sold out

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