Music forms the soundtrack to our lives, the bedrock beats that orientate us through relationships, friendships, heartache, like fluorescent buoys in the sea. An example. I began (re)dating my high schoool sweetheart in early 2006 – around 25 years after the first time – and just around the time the Elbow album Leaders of the Free World rattled through the PAs of the coffee shops and bars of our town. I lived in the Northern Quarter at that point, in a place on my own, and she would visit for weekends. One afternoon we walked through the Northern Quarter, towards the Buddhist Centre, and passed Guy Garvey.

“Hey there’s Guy Garvey”, I said.

“Who’s Guy Garvey.” she replied.

“Who’s Guy Garvey?” I cogitated, subconsciously, wondering if she has spent the time between high school and that afternoon living under a rock.

(Turns out it was Stockport).

So we walked further on, to HMV on Market Street, and I bought her a copy of Leaders of the Free World, as a present, to mark the day. It became the soundtrack of the early days of our relationship. A marriage, two kids, and four Elbow albums later we’re at the Apollo and Elbow are still the sonic bed to our lives.

We snuggle into our seats, the wife and I (have they made the seats smaller in the Apollo or are we getting bigger?) as the support act rolls through their set. It sounds mellow, ethereal… almost religious-sounding soundscapes. It sounds like C Duncan, the Edinburgh-based, Mercury Music Prize nominated composer of that kind of sound. Turns out it is C Duncan. He’s the perfect warm-up for Elbow, contemporary harmonies over rich synthesised pads.

Between acts lights bathe the Apollo in lush red, then blue. A cursory glance reveals the central truth that Elbow don’t pull a young crowd, despite the odd kid here and there, and that is not to be pejorative – I have to include myself and Mrs M in the ‘not-young’ demographic. (Then again, my view of such things may have been skewed by the experience of being in a Little Mix audience. I still have nightmares.) Maybe for that reason the band start bang on time. No–rock-star-keep-‘em-waiting shenanigans for Elbow. Garvey mentions his upcoming marriage and incoming kid as well. Seems we have all married, become fathers… Christ grownup… all together, all in this town, in this time in history, either making, or listening to, Elbow albums.

Garvey’s voice is massive, almost as if he doesn’t need the mic to fill the room, simply to open his mouth and let that voice roll out and up and around the stalls and circles of the Apollo like mist. His voice is whisky – rich, smoky, peaty; more Isla not Speyside. He is also more active than I thought he might be… it wouldn’t look massively out of place if he had a nice sit down, crooner style, on a stool, but he‘s up and around the stage, imploring the crowd to join the exponentially swelling and gathering of the mood.

The band kick off with new cut, the rhythmically hypnotic ‘Gentle Storm’, with a Kevin Godley directed video that’s a nod to his own video for the Godley & Crème track ‘Cry’. Worth checking out on YouTube. For the first track the band stand front of stage and strip the track back but after that, the voile curtain is raised, the gloves are off, and tracks come flying from all corners of their back catalogue.



‘Mirrorball’ follows ‘All Disco’ with cosmic synergy and indeed a mirror ball is embedded in the stage, above the fabulous backing singers / gorgeous string section. Elbow create textures. Atmospheres. New songs like eponymous track ‘Little Fictions’ and the new anthem ‘Magnificent (She Says)’ already stand up, fitting that bill so precisely a critic might respond the band aren’t developing. But more of the same is OK by me.

“Like most of our songs this is set in our fair city,” says Garvey as they move through the set; ‘Great Expectations’ detailing a secret marriage on the 135 bus, and the beautiful detail of “Stockport supporters club kindly provided a choir”. Tracks like ‘My Sad Captains’ and ‘The Birds’ follow, linking crowd and band. Never a bum note, the harmonies beautifully sculpted.

Garvey wants the crowd to wave their hands but I’m not sure they’re a wave-your-hands-in-the-air kind of brand. Instead I watch, as to the side of the room a shadow of Garvey cuts across the wall, larger than life as he beats a tom to ‘The Bones of You’. The last track of the main set is ‘One Day Like This’, their terrace anthem. We belt out the chorus, us lot, a crowd Garvey refers to as “the greatest choir in the world”. It’s a Manchester audience. One day like this will see us right.

The encore begins with ‘Lippy Kids’ and the crowd join in the call and response, whistling that reminds me of living in Moss Side, and listening at night to the kids calling to each other as then ran the ginnels behind the houses.

“Thank you my beloved Manchester,” says Garvey at the gig’s end. “This is about you lot.” The concert closes with ‘Grounds for Divorce’ and let’s not hope that chronicles the next stage in the story of two kids from a North London Grammar. It’s Sunday, the music is all that matters. Monday is a world away. What a perfect waste of time.

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Simon is a writer, broadcaster and countercultural investigator. Over the last 15 years he has written for everyone from The Guardian to Loaded magazine, presented television for Rapture TV and hosted radio programs for the likes of Galaxy. He has also found time to earn a Masters Degree in Novel Writing and write three books (a collection of journalism, a guidebook to Ibiza and one on financial planning for young people – the most varied publishing career it’s possible to have) and establish and run a PR company, Pad Communications, looking after a range of leisure and lifestyle clients.He currently splits his time between researching his PhD at Leeds University, looking into various countercultural movements; consulting freelance for PR clients; writing for the likes of Marie Claire in Australia, The Big Issue and the Manchester Evening News, where he reviews concerts, theatre and is their Pub & Bar Editor. He is also broadcaster, appearing regularly on Tony Livesey’s late night 5Live show for the BBC, and also for BBC Radio Manchester Gourmet Night food and drink show.Simon’s main focus has been music and travel. His career has included editing Ministry of Sound’s magazine in Ibiza for two summers and also writing two long-running columns for DJmagazine – ”Around The World in 80 Clubs” (which took him everywhere from Beijing to Brazil, Moscow to Marrakech) and “Dispatches From The Wrong Side”. A collection of the latter was published in the UK and US as the book Discombobulated, including tales as varied as gatecrashing Kylie Minogue’s birthday party, getting deported from Russia, having a gun held to his head by celebrity gangster Dave Courtney and going raving in Ibiza with Judith Chalmers. He has recently written for the likes of Red magazine, Hotline, Clash, Tilllate, Shortlist and the Manchester Evening News. Pad Communications has recently consulted for clients as varied as Manchester nightclubs and New Zealand toy companies.On a personal note, Simon is a Londoner who left the capital at the age of 18 and never looked back. He sees himself as a citizen of the global dancefloor having lived in Sydney, Los Angeles, Ibiza and Amsterdam. However his life is now rather more sedentary. After all his adventures he bumped into and subsequently married his highschool sweetheart from their North London Grammar. They now live in Stockport with their four children and four chickens, trying to live the good life. Simon recently turned 40 and is steadfastly refusing to have a midlife crisis – as in, growing a ponytail and buying a shiny red sports car.OK, maybe he’ll buy the sports car…