Manchester, Castlefield Bowl
9 July 2019
“Good evening, you beautiful city!”. The words ring around Castlefield Bowl as Elbow take the stage! Nigel Carr gets warm and fuzzy with the nicest man in rock, thrilling the crowds with a battery of his band’s best on a rain-soaked Manchester evening! Photos by Mike Ainscoe.
After a rapturous reception the band launches straight into Fly Boy Blue/Lunette, the crowd is already onside. It doesn’t take much, does it? We, the beautiful people consist of possibly the oldest demographic I’ve been part of this year, but don’t let that put you off what is most certainly one of the best gigs, with the best sound I’ve seen this summer! One thing you have to hand to Guy Garvey is the quality of the lyrics! He’s a proper wordsmith. His ability to immerse you in his lyricism is almost suffocating.
The words twist and writhe evoking long forgotten memories, and the crowd knows every single one, no matter how convoluted and complicated! “This is a song about all the big stuff, you know? The Arndale” says Garvey before gently shuffling into Magnificent (She Says) and I’m touchingly transported back to the past, the lyrics, “To light your mother’s cigarette, and to go to touch her hand…”, so touching, so beautiful.
I saw Elbow a few years ago at the Arena and there was a sense of detachment, the hall, too large, the stage, too far away despite the “vanity thrust” as Garvey christened it, which allowed him to venture far from the stage into the audience. Tonight it’s a much cosier affair with the big man just a few yards in front of us. They launch into Mirror Ball and he gets everyone to wave their arms about in unison; they don’t need much encouragement!
The band has announced an ‘experimental’ new album to be released in October this year and some obtuse posters dotted around the city seem to confirm this. Garvey: ‘We finished an album today – Craig Potter (Keyboards/vocals) produced it!”. It’s a beautiful track, uplifting and evocative with the lyric: “baby empires crumble all the time …” followed by the more familiar Kindling (Fickle Flame) from the Little Fictions album, with a call and response from Garvey who insists on shouting ‘beautiful’ all the way through, clearly enjoying the gig!
The next track opens like Children of the Revolution – The Birds, from Build a Rocket boy, before falling back into the familiar lulling theme of that album. Low-fi, but the crowd is transfixed as the big man sings to each and every one of them.
There is a touching tribute to two of Manchester’s greats who passed away during the past year. Jan Oldenburg who ran Night & Day and Scott Alexander from Big Hands and The Temple Bar. Garvey was a regular at all these venues which watched him grow from an unknown to one of the most familiar faces in Manchester.
Castlefield Bowl is situated in one of the oldest parts of Manchester just west of the Roman fort of Mamucium which Garvey tells us is named after the phrase “Breast Shaped Hill”, (a fact that is also relayed in the play New Dawn Fades, A Play About Joy Division and Manchester – today’s useful fact! – go and see it!). Numerous trains and trams slow down as they approach the venue on the overhead viaduct and the frontman waves at them, their little treat as the rain lifts and darkness shrouds the venue; the light show looking brighter and more magical as a result, spotlights picking faces out in the crowd. it’s a proper sing along as we roll into Sad Captains with its emotive lyric, ‘and if it’s all we only pass this way but once, what a perfect waste of time…’
Garvey pauses to regale us with stories of getting pissed in some of Manchester’s most famous watering holes. “At Big Hands at 4 am, everyone was clapping behind the bar, I dived under the shutters and a taxi stopped inches from my face and I jumped in – that’s why the people were clapping – I have no recollection of it!” – tales of mad times in Manchester!
It’s nearing the end of the show but there are just a few more songs left to tug at the heartstrings. Lippy Kids, Garvey explains: “the stage we all go through, for me it was on the corner of Chatsworth Close where we used to smoke!”. With its remarkable lyrics of fagging it on corners & grabbing “hungry kisses” – words, I hadn’t appreciated before, just thinking ‘oh that’s one of their slow ones! ‘ and “I never perfected that simian stroll” as the picture of Ian Brown springs into my head! Everyone’s favourite Manc anthem, One Day Like This this brings the whole audience back to life in an instant and Garvey barely needs to sing a word. No song highlights Garvey’s remarkable lyrical ability than this one- ‘kiss me when my lips are thin’.
For the finale he splits the audience into three sections, each one humming a different note, like some mad re-enactment of the ‘Close Encounters’ final scenes. All is made clear as the band dives into Ground For Divorce and nothing ever sounded this good standing in the centre of Manchester with a sea of faces peeking out of the darkness, illuminated by the stage.
The frontman leads a singalong to a passing train, windows open, the passengers waving and pointing their phone at the stage! In which other city can you board a train and be serenaded by Elbow!?
“Good night everyone, look after each other”
25 July 2019 – Sunday 28 July – Not Festival, Aston Hill Farm, Matlock
1 August 2019 – Saturday 3 August – Tartan Heart Festival, Belladrum Estate, Inverness
23-25 August 2019 – The Big Feastival, Alex James’ Farm, Kingham
You can find some videos on YouTube here
Words by Nigel Carr. More writing by Nigel on Louder Than War can be found in his Author’s archive. You can find Nigel on Twitter and Facebook and his own Website. Photographs by Mike Ainscoe, you can find Mike’s writing on Louder Than War at his author’s archive. He can be found on Facebook and his website is www.michaelainscoephotography.co.uk