(Why did the Romanian stop reading for night? To give his Bucharest!!! And moving swiftly on from that corniest of book jokes, this is yet another post where I give my book a rest!)
…………..Over the years I’ve been in some pretty odd pubs – the oddness makes them memorable! Usually. However, I remember one pub I visited about 15 years ago near Kings Cross. In my memory it was part kasbah-type “lounge” and part some sort of table-dancing establishment. It was odd – but hey it sold beer and we were desperate! But I don’t remember it for its odd decor or feel – I remember it because me and three friends shared it with only one other group of people – the members of the band Elbow. We’d gone to see them playing at Scala in Kings Cross and they’d obviously gone looking for a pub before they played because I guess back then, when they weren’t known by many people other than their friends and immediate family, they could! My journey with Elbow started then – Scala was hot, sweaty, loud and vibrant – and Elbow were brilliant. I was hooked!
Forward 15 years to last Saturday and I am seeing Elbow for the umpteenth time, at the cavernous, appropriately named “Echo Arena” in Liverpool. Musically they are as wonderful as ever. Beautiful produced waves of sound and atmospherics, especially in the gentler sounds of songs like “Lippy Kids”. And Guy Garvey’s voice is warm and mellow and still sounds as effortless as it did all those years ago. But something’s missing. Like a comfortable old jacket, Elbow still fit, they still feel good to put on but there isn’t quite the same buzz, the same tingle of excitement.
It’s partly the venue. Liverpudlians can sing and they certainly make a noise but somehow it never quite generates the tingle on the back your neck that I’d feel if I watched them at say Scala or Brixton Academy or up at the Junction in Cambridge. Its a vast arena, and as arenas go it certainly outstrips the truly awful O2 arena for atmosphere – but it’s the very opposite of everything Scala is – it’s not sweaty, it’s not dirty, it’s not a bit dog-eared, and it’s not a seething, heaving, entwined mass of bodies all moving together – and somehow I miss all that.
But it’s also Elbow themselves. If anything it’s all a bit too clean, a bit too neat. It lacks edge and it lacks personality in some ways. Guy Garvey’s the most wonderful showman, an erudite raconteur in many ways. His ability to engage and hold an audience in the palm of his hand is among the best I’ve ever seen. But tonight he looks and indeed sounds tired – there’s a hint of going through the motions in his interaction with the crowd – somehow I got the feel this wasn’t the spontaneous banter of old but a series of rehearsed routines that Elbow trailed from Glasgow, to London, to Manchester, to Liverpool to wherever! And so much of Elbow’s personality live depends on Guy Garvey – the others dont really step up to the plate in the way they used to either.
I feel shite having written all this. I love Elbow – they are simply my favourite band ever, ever, ever, ever! It feels like a betrayal, like an act of heresy to say anything critical. But while it was really good, it wasn’t great, magnificent, overwhelming. And that’s what I’ve come to expect from Elbow over the last 15 years – so perhaps both them and me were a victim of my own expectations this time around.
But of course like all great love affairs – it isn’t over. Nothing will ever lure me away from the wonderfully crafted lyrics of Garvey and his mates – the songs are genuine stories in my view and absolutely belong here on my book blog! And nothing will ever get in the way of the swell in my heart every time I hear the melody of One Day Like This or the rolling piano intro to Scattered Black and Whites! I hear they are due to play the V Festival this year just along the road from where I live – I’ll hope to go and look forward to it – though there’s a bit of me that would like to go back full circle and start again in that bizarre little pub in Kings Cross…………….!