Elbow's Guy Garvey: 'How I found inspiration for the BBC's official Olympics theme'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

 

I think we first got wind of a possible Olympics commission late last summer. It was, "The BBC want a meeting with you." I said, "Oh really? What about?" They said, "We can't tell you – it's a secret." That was when I thought, "Oh great! They're going to ask us to do the Olympics music!" I also guessed who else they'd approached to pitch ideas, but I can't talk about that.

The song we've written is called "First Steps", and the BBC are going to use bits of it across their Olympics coverage. The lyrics are desperately simple. While I was scrambling around for a theme, our bass player's baby daughter started walking and Pete [Turner] captured the moment on video. He's holding the camera, but he's also got his arms outstretched and little Martha staggers from her mum Ruth over to him. Just as she reaches Pete, she goes "Dada!" loud and clear. You can see Ruth's face behind her, and she says "I don't believe it!"

That was very touching for me to watch. I love all three of them so much, and I realised that all of the elements I was looking for were there in that piece of film. The song's about putting your hopes in someone, the physical aspect of human endeavour and pushing yourself to do something you couldn't do before.

The challenge the BBC laid down was to write something to film footage that was pretty recognisable. Everybody's seen athletics meetings, and everybody's seen the fantastic capabilities of modern cameras. We were aiming for something rousing and anthemic, and I remember the word "inclusive" came up a lot. I said, "I'm assuming you're asking us because of 'One Day Like This'?" [crowd-pleasing Elbow song which featured in the BBC's coverage of the Beijing Olympics in 2008]. They said, "Yes."

We wanted to do something quite traditional-sounding with a big gospel choir and a philharmonic orchestra. We knew it would have to have some gladiatorial elements; that it would need to be fierce. It also had to be the biggest piece of music we could create, yet be written in such a way that you could strip it down into different elements for use over different kinds of footage. We needed something that could work as a "winning" theme or a "losing" theme.

I knew I wanted to get my ego out of the way, so I told them that I wasn't going to sing on it. It's not an Elbow song; it's an Olympics theme song and it has to sound like it belongs to everybody. I think having the gospel choir on there helps give it that "everyman" feel. The choir was specially assembled for us, and we recorded them at Abbey Road in Studio 2. That's The Beatles' old studio, which was great.

We recorded the BBC Philharmonic at the brilliant new space in Media City in Manchester. We even managed to finish half an hour early, which I think is fairly unheard of at orchestral sessions. Nick Ingman, who we'd worked with before, helped us with the arrangement. I'd sing him a violin line down the phone, or mark out a part on the piano with tape and play it to him about seven times slower than it needed to be. What we've ended up with is hopefully quite an emotional piece of music. It lasts for about six and a half minutes, but you'll probably only hear a minute or two of it at any one time.

People jokingly ask me if I've got an all-access pass to The Games, but I don't follow sports like I do politics or music. I do watch the athletics since my friend Bryan Glancy died [in 2006], though.

Bryan's the guy that The Seldom Seen Kid [Elbow's 2008 Mercury Music Prize-winning album] is named after. His dad, who was an amateur football referee, died a few years before him, and I remember him being a very dry character. Bryan once told me, "You know what? The only time I can remember seeing me dad cry is when the athletics is on." I said, "Really?" He said, "Yeah, he's embarrassed about it, but he dabs away with his hankie whether people win or lose."

Some years after his dad died, I got a text from Bryan one day. He used to send you these leading messages to draw you in. You had to rack your brains to figure out what they meant – that was the game. This one just said: "Chip off the old block." I remembered that the Commonwealth Games were on, so I phoned him up and said, "You're crying at the athletics, aren't you?" He said, "Yeah", and we both started laughing our heads off. Of course, since Bryan died, I cry at the athletics as well.

I suppose it's because I'm thinking what he was thinking. I mean, those athletes: they've put so much time and energy into their training and it's almost as if they've learned to fly. Plus the 100 metres at the Olympics – that's your life, and it's over in ten seconds. It's their families I think about most, especially their children, because you know that those moments are going to be passed down through the generations for years. When we talked in the band about doing the Olympics theme, we all thought that that was the most exciting thing: knowing that it was going to soundtrack somebody's dad winning a gold medal.

We're very honoured to be doing this. You have to appreciate the endeavour of the Olympics, because endeavour is the best we have, isn't it? My granddad on me mum's side used to lean over his fire on his stick and tell me that the gas to heat it came from under the North Sea. Then he'd say, "And do you know what pushes it through the pipe, son? Endeavour!"

The London Olympics opening ceremony is on 27 July. Expanded versions of Elbow's 'Cast of Thousands' and 'Leaders of the Free World' albums are out now

Guy Garvey was talking to James McNair

Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL are releasing Plectrum Electrum next month

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?