FOR many years, Elbow seemed destined to be one of Britain’s great unfulfilled talents. The affable five-piece laboured throughout the Nineties and, even when they’d signed to a major label and had to all intents and purposes “made it”, the label was sold, they were dropped and the debut they’d recorded was shelved.
In 2001 things finally started to look up. Asleep In The Back, their first album, was released and Brit awards and Mercury Prize nominations followed.
Now, in 2012, more than 20 years since Elbow came together at college, they rank comfortably among Britain’s favourite bands.
Their ubiquitous hit One Day Like This is the kind of song ingrained in the public consciousness, whether it’s being played while a baby is born, as a first dance at a wedding or on a much larger stage.
When the BBC needed music for their coverage of the 2012 London Olympics, they knew where to turn.
“I never thought we’d get to this point,” says the band’s singer Guy Garvey, who is bringing the band to the Echo Arena later this month. “I knew we could handle it if it did happen, though.”
We’re sitting on the top floor of his house just a couple of miles from the centre of Manchester. The room is his makeshift studio where he records demo vocals and, unable to read or write musical notation, sings melodies onto tape ready for the string arranger to work his magic.
Garvey’s been busy producing (fellow Mancunians) I Am Kloot’s new album, as well as working on his own band’s next offering, although don’t expect to hear anything until spring 2014.
Elbow’s forthcoming arena shows – which include the Echo Arena at the end of the month – are something of a farewell before the band takes some well-deserved time off in the New Year.
“We never had gap years, and it’s been hectic since The Seldom Seen Kid came out,” says Garvey, referring to their fourth album which won the Mercury Prize in 2008.
“It might seem a bit naive for a band in our position, seemingly at their peak, to have time off, but we’ll see. The lads have young families, we’ve all got projects we want to explore, and it’ll give us something we’ve never had before, which is a couple of months to listen to what we’ve recorded so far and work out what else it needs.”
But Garvey is already full of excitement about the prospect of putting together their as-yet-untitled sixth album. “There’s a special atmosphere in the studio, we’re all ready to change things up, push things forward,” he says.
He plans to spend at least four months of 2013 in New York with his writer girlfriend Emma.
While there, he’ll work on the Broadway musical version of King Kong. Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja invited Garvey to join the songwriting team.
“Where better to write those songs than where King Kong’s set?” he says. “Plus I’ll write more Elbow songs. We went there earlier this year, just for a few days, and I managed to come back with some really strong lyrics.”
Anyone with tickets to Elbow’s shows this month and next might be treated to some of those lyrics.
The band plan to demo some new material in front of an audience – an unprecedented move but symptomatic of a band brimming with confidence and trusted wholeheartedly by their fans.
Few bands of Elbow’s stature are afforded the relative anonymity they enjoy. Garvey’s easily the most recognised member – he’s out in front on stage and is such an affable fellow off it. He also presents his own BBC 6Music show, Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour.
Despite his fame, he still drinks in the same bars and takes the tram everywhere. “Not out of any misguided attempt to be a ‘man of the people’, but because it’s a great place to listen to music and I love Manchester,” he says.
They are also rather partial to Liverpool. “We’ve had a lot of fun in Liverpool over the years,” chuckles Guy.
“We recorded our first two albums in Parr Street Studios. I’ve got such fond memories of that, and of the gigs we’ve done there over the years. We’ve got to know the city really well. Thinking about it, it’s probably the only city we’ve ever lived in apart from Manchester.”
When it comes to his public image, Garvey is level-headed. “It’s never going to affect the way I write,” he says. “I think people are drawn to us because we find the extraordinary in the ordinary, the beautiful in the mundane. That’s a songwriter’s job, and after all these years I’ve managed a few of them, I think.
“There’s a note of hope in everything I write, and it’s because I can’t not do that. I can’t not offer some silver lining.”
ELBOW play the Echo Arena on November 29.