Elbow - More beautiful days in store for Guy and his happy campers

Elbow's status as perennial festival favourites saw them playing an energy-sapping 29 events last year. But not this summer, their frontman tells Andy Gill – it's time the 'travelling circus' hung around to soak up the vibe

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

For Guy Garvey, genial frontman of Latitude headliners Elbow, festivals have become a keenly anticipated part of the band's summer schedule, offering an escape from their normal routine, operating according to what they call "Fezzy Rules".

"We get dead excited about it," he says. "We love regular touring, but this is totally different. It's like being part of a travelling circus, there's a lot more elements of fun to the festival period." Besides playing their music to people who aren't necessarily there to see them, they also appreciate getting to hang out with other bands, whom they only meet in those environments. "It's a nice feeling to be accepted by the music community, and it's great to run into your mates in that setting," says Garvey. "But you can't get too worried about your gig, because you're not allowed a soundcheck – it's probably much harder for the crew, they really have to be on their game, know what they're doing and do it quickly. For us, we just wander on and do what we do – we call it 'Fezzy Rules'."

Last year, Elbow played an extraordinary 29 festivals worldwide, often as many as two or three each weekend, jumping back on their bus as soon as their set was finished in order to get to the next tribal gathering. "We're doing it at a more gentlemanly pace this year," says Garvey with relief. "We've only got eight festivals, I think, so we'll try and hang around afterwards, get a bit of atmosphere."

Guy's first festival experience was the 1999 Reading Festival, which remains one of his most memorable gigs. "I'd never been to a festival before we played one, and I didn't know what to expect," he recalls. "I thought, 'This is great! Everybody's covered in shit, and drunk, and really getting into the music! I could learn to love this!'"

Last year's Glastonbury was another high-point in the band's career. "We had such a good weekend," says Guy. For Latitude, Elbow are planning a few special moments, including the premiere of some new material. 

"There's a possibility of one song, but we're all a bit nervous about it, because the wonderweb means you get YouTubed, and that becomes the definitive version for some people," he says. "But we like the idea of road-testing material before committing it to vinyl, which we've never been able to do since the first album. I owe the bootleggers, though, in terms of evidence of one American tour I wouldn't otherwise be entirely convinced I was part of. I can't remember a day of it – but luckily, the bootleggers recorded every show!

"And our set will include some stuff from Build a Rocket Boys! that we haven't played before – we're doing "High Ideals", which I'm over the moon about. It's an odd song for us; it's got two verses, a bit of a chorus, and the rest of it sounds like a bizarre theme tune. Strings and brass, choral work – it's great, the full nine yards."

As well as producing the next album by fellow Mancunians I Am Kloot, Guy and the band have recently been writing material for their own next album, something he admits requires the kind of focus that can't be sustained whilst touring.

As the lyricist, a lot of the responsibility for the direction and meaning of each project falls on Garvey's broad shoulders, a duty he relishes.

"When we started this record about six months ago, I wrote down in big letters 'THE GREY AREAS'," he says. "I wanted to write songs about the grey areas that you don't often hear about in songs. I've written a song about breaking up with someone – which I've done many times before – but this time it's about the sense of relief you have when something fails: alongside the hurt, there's always a sense of, 'Well, at least I know where I am now'. We've got a song called "And It Snowed" which tries to address that. 

"There's a pattern emerging, of writing about the minutiae that don't often get written about. I've also got something about this feeling I have, that as a species, we're on the verge of something all-encompassing, a little piece of universal wisdom that will tie everything together in a way it hadn't been before. It feels like the beginning of a yawn, almost, but it's deeper than that."

And though he may sound somewhat vague about this possible revelation, Garvey's songs confirm his keenly empathic sensibility. He's no stranger to fortuitous coincidence, either. When he and his partner, Emma, were house-hunting in north Manchester, the first place they looked at seemed perfect for them. "But the funny thing was, when we first went there with the estate agent, it felt familiar, as if we'd already been there," he says. "Then when we met the owner, she opened the door and said, 'Is it Guy?'. I said, 'That's right'. She said, 'You used to play round here with our Jed when you were a kid!'. There was me thinking she'd recognised me from my fame, but no: I had been there before." 

Clearly, fate had brought Guy back to the centre of his universe. How cool is that? 

Elbow headline Latitude Festival on 14 July (latitudefestival.co.uk)