Elbow, Colston Hall, Bristol<br/>Thecocknbullkid, ICA, London

It's taken most of the world long enough to recognise a band with a heart and great songs
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

'When I was 24," Guy Garvey reminisces before "New Born" with a rueful smile, "I boldly stated in a television interview with Dermot O'Leary that we'd never sign a major record deal. And now I think we've got the full set ...."

This anecdote tells you a lot about Elbow's circuitous route to the big time. Until recently, the huge overhead Rubik's cube which has been the band's talisman throughout the The Seldom Seen Kid campaign could be taken as symbolic of the condition of Elbow fandom itself: a solitary, somewhat old-fashioned pastime, which requires immense concentration, but which, once you're involved, gets you thoroughly hooked.

Elbow have never been an easy sell, with their tendency for complex six-minute nouveau prog epics, and it took a couple of gongs to wake up the world. Not long ago, the Bury band seemed destined to plod along at the same mid-level of success as, say, Doves or Athlete. Since the Mercury prize and the Brit Awards, all that has changed, and their career curve has window-wipered dramatically upwards.

Suddenly, their smallish but dedicated community of cube-twiddlers has become a whole lot bigger. ("I didn't know a lot of those songs," one newbie fan says on the way out, "but they were good.") And communion is a lot of what Elbow are about: a chanted refrain like "Throw those curtains wide/One day like this a year would see me right" sounds all the better for the swollen numbers.

The rags-to-riches aspect to the Elbow story can be overstated: sure, they can afford a string quartet now, and lad-targeted radio ads on Talksport, but even when nobody wanted to know, they had the budget for planting huge Easter Island menhirs in the soil at rock festivals. The trappings of showbiz still sit uncomfortably with Elbow: the explosion of tinsel at the end of the main set just seems wrong, as does the occasional shameless burst of pantomime call-and-response ("Are we having the time of our lives?" in a falsetto which belies Garvey's hefty frame).

What's finally clicked, with Elbow and the Great British Public, is that all human life is here: "New Born" is followed by a song about the last thought you have when you die. They're a band with a heart (guest-listers like me are mugged for a fiver towards two charities: one concerning landmines, the other autism), which is also part of the appeal. And it doesn't hurt that Garvey can write a great lyric. The opening verse of "Some Riot" is quite brilliant: "A friend of mine grows his very own brambles/They twist all around him till he can't move/Beautiful, quivering, chivalrous shambles/What is my friend trying to prove?"

Not that it's completely the Guy Garvey show: bassist Pete Turner is very much his onstage foil. But it's the ursine and avuncular frontman, as much at ease as a raconteur as when he's singing, who holds the attention. He's the perma-stubbled singer everyone wants to go at least for a pint with.

In stark contrast to pretty much everyone else who picked up a Brit this year, Garvey is recognisably human. All too human: on "Weather to Fly" he manages to forget his own words, and at the show's finale he walks the wrong way off stage. He had a funny way of getting there, too.

We're getting so inundated with "quirky", pseudo-independent pop singers nowadays that it's a reflex reaction to welcome each new one with a certain degree of suspicion. But Thecocknbullkid is the real deal.

Anita Blay, a former Catholic schoolgirl of Ghanaian descent from Dalston in east London, is outspoken about making a stand against the Pussycat Dolls as female role models, but what she's also doing, quietly and by example, is providing a necessary antidote to the Nashes, Welches and Allens infesting the airwaves.

Thecocknbullkid – no gaps, no punctuation – arrived early last year amid a flurry of one-to-watch articles, delivered warmly received sets at summer festivals and became as well known for her eccentric dress sense and ever-changing hairdos as her catchy, funny, absurdist DIY pop.

Tonight is the night she makes good on that early promise. We're here to celebrate Blay's signing with Island and the launch of her new single, the Eighties-influenced synthpop of "I'm Not Sorry", but there's plenty more in her armoury. Debut single "On My Own" is a thumping piece of bedroom electro-glam, and "There's a Mother in Our Bed" is a "Suspicious Minds" for the grime age, its lyrics revealing Anita as a queen of the subtly venomous put-down. That name's a smart piece of false modesty on behalf of this kid. No cock. No bull.

Comments