Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Decade in Music #11: Elbow "Grounds For Divorce"

My band of the decade has to be Elbow. I’m a hopeless fanboy when it comes to Radiohead but, like any obsession that sometimes translates into a state of anxiety ("but why don’t you like them? What do you mean "Pyramid Song isn't the greatest single recording of the last ten years?" etc), I'm often driving to exasperation. But Bury's finest and loveliest have been nothing but an amber-scented bath of delight.

I was there when they held the Camden Falcon hypnotised in 2000. I chatted to Guy when they came in to be interviewed for I was there, obsessively checking and rechecking the Sydney branch of HMV for a copy of Cast of Thousands, many months after its UK release. I've recounted here my bizarre dream of meeting Guy at a garden party (I know, I know: tell a dream, lose a reader). I've regularly eased into the soothing bath of Garvey's Finest Hour. But now, when I think of the Elbow, the following story immediately comes to mind.

It’s 2006, and a boutique music festival called the Playground Weekender has just been launched in the splendid surroundings of the Hawkesbury River, an hour or so outside of Sydney. Splendid? Ridiculously lush would be more accurate. Siuated on a sheltered bend in the river and overhung on one side by mossy cliffs that afforded the site's only shade, it was a long way from the concrete nightmare that’s The Big Day Out, not least because of the gigantic kangaroos that would nose around the tents.

The festival had been set up by a couple of English chancers, and they in turn promoted it mostly around the hostels of Kings Cross. The upshot of this unintentionally niche marketing campaign was two-fold. Firstly, backpackers, largely British, were over-represented. (Ivan Millat would have had a field day). And since the good burghers of Sydney had failed to show any enthusiasm for this upstart affair, the festival was nowhere near its capacity. Which was perfect: you could set out your picnic blanket in the sun, get a cheap jug of mojitos and listen to Tom Middleton play a totally zonked set of mid-afternoon psychedelic classics.

So we had this spectacular site and its bands more or less to ourselves. It was a great line-up too. Laurent Garnier, Tom Middleton, The Avalanches on DJing duties. The White Lies, The Presets, !!! playing live. The incongruous highlight, since they barely fit the electro-rock template, was Elbow. Now, I’m not saying Guy seemed chemically altered. He was just looking very very happy. So happy, in fact, that during some blissed-out mid-section, he wandered down to the front row and kissed a bunch of girls. Including Shana. On the lips, mind. The full works, if you please. Whenever she now recounts this story, Shana gets a kind of misty, faraway look, like she’s auditioning for Cate Blanchett's role in Lord of the Rings.

Elbow played one new song that night, and I didn’t think a great deal of it. Lots of clanging, Guy enthusiastically hitting things, and then some big dumb blues riff. Boring. The song later turned out to be "Grounds for Divorce", and I could barely have been more wrong if I'd tried.

Here’s a quite wonderful version of "Grounds for Divorce" recorded with the BBC Orchestra.

Here’s our Flickrset from the Playground Weekender. Interesting note: seems I once had a tan.