Guy Garvey, Royal Festival Hall, review: the lovable rockstar with an endless supply of lyrics

The Manchester singer's experience shines through with witty anecdotes in between tracks and an unwavering vocal delivery

Zak Thomas
Monday 20 June 2016 13:58 BST
Elbow's frontman performs at Meltdown festival at the Southbank Centre in London last Friday
Elbow's frontman performs at Meltdown festival at the Southbank Centre in London last Friday

Guy Garvey, frontman of indie darlings Elbow, walks straight to the front of stage and raises a beer glass to the crowd. And you can hardly blame him; it's 10 days into his stint as curator of Meltdown festival at London’s Southbank Centre. Having married actress Rachael Stirling in a small ceremony earlier this month, he's put his honeymoon on hold and tonight he has a chance to take off his logistics hat for a few moments and let off some steam doing what he does best.

The Manchester singer has always felt like the antithesis of a rockstar; a stocky, bearded gentle soul that lets his gruff tenor and lyrical nous speak for itself. Indeed, he seems completely at ease with his lack of rockstar prowess when picking up a jumper from the floor and brushing it across his back like a flirtatious cabaret act, or when he jokes of having his “Bono moment” after preaching about the virtues of not using self-checkout tills at the supermarket. Just like the kind of guilt laden lectures we've come accustomed to from the U2 singer.

While his solo material doesn't quite match the heights of Elbow's 2008 Mercury-winning masterpiece, The Seldom Seen Kid, Garvey's experience as a frontman shines through this evening with witty anecdotes in between tracks and an unwavering vocal delivery.

It's clear that he has already developed a deep bond with his 6-piece multi-instrumentalist support band, which includes I Am Kloot bassist Peter Jobson on guitar and an impressive brass section. He can't compliment them enough throughout the show and it's justified. They bring greater urgency to some of the tracks that fall slightly short on record, including the plodding beats of “Three Bells” and the plucky instrumentation of “Courting the Squall”, the title track from his debut solo album.

Guy Garvey performs 'I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire' with Nathan Sudders from The Whip (left) and Peter Jobson from I Am Kloot (right)

Particular highlights include the driving bass of “Unwind” and a rousing rendition of The Ink Spots blues-rock hit “I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire”, which has the audience singing along to the chorus. Another moment of brilliance comes when Jobson is given a small slot to perform a couple of comical songs on the piano. The first is a track he claims to have written with Clint Eastwood after having introduced him to Newcastle Brown Ale, and the second lists various European cities and why they remind him of sex.

It may have been his night off from curating, but what’s truly resonant is Garvey’s knack for finding and surrounding himself with brilliant musicians. He has the soothing vocal tones and a quick wit, but it’s the musicians around him that raise the Elbow singer to the next level. At the end of the show, the whole band take a bow to a standing ovation that’s completely deserved.

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