Guy Garvey was born in Bury, Lancashire, in 1974, the second youngest of seven children. At 16, he joined the band Mr Soft, who renamed themselves Elbow in 1997 after a line from Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective. Winning the Mercury prize with their fourth album, 2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid, their last three albums all got to No 1, and a new live LP, Live at the Ritz: An Acoustic Performance, is out now. Garvey lives in London with his wife, the actor Rachael Stirling, and their three-year-old, Jack.
1. Documentaryof Monster
I rewatched this again recently – it’s a bit like comfort viewing for me. It’s an absolutely extraordinary portrait of what happens when you get stuck for ever in adolescence. Metallica are basically in crisis and, to help them out, are working with this performance enhancement coach, Phil Towle. Phil does all these mad things, like bringing Lars Ulrich’s father into the frame. He’s this ex-professional tennis player with a beard, a proper psychological torturer. I also love the bass player in his ranch, on his horse – it’s very clear he’s never been on a horse before. It’s a regular tour-bus favourite for Elbow. It’s a miracle it got released, frankly.
Rachael, Jack and I are absolutely hooked on this, even more now we’re all stuck at home. It’s centred around this animated blue fuzzy monster called Messy, voiced by Adam Buxton, who goes on these five-minute adventures where he finds out about science. Buxton is his usual witty self. The BBC is brilliant with kids’ stuff, as so much of it is about learning. You get the sense everyone’s realising how important the BBC is now. Jack would also like to recommend Grace’s Amazing Machines and Andy’s Safari Adventures. I’d like to warn you all against Waffle the Wonder Dog, though. Someone was ordering a pizza when they commissioned that one. Dreadful.
This was broadcast on YouTube as part of the Royal Opera House’s #ourhousetoyourhouse series. The choreography is brilliant, and Prokofiev’s music is fantastic, of course. I’ve always loved storytelling through music ever since I was a kid – surprising that, for a songwriter, although I’ve moved on a bit from Sparky’s Magic Piano. The generosity of arts organisations right now, putting stuff online for families, is amazing, although it can feel funny using this time to enjoy yourself with your family. My mum, who’s in her 80s and remembers polio and the back end of the war, said something the other day that stuck with me, though: “Son, it’s important to live when you’re surviving.”
I have a chap in Waterstones in Euston who recommends me books and, thanks to him, I’m holing up with Eric Ambler’s thrillers. Ambler did a lot in the 1930s, and Le Carré and Graham Greene really rated him. I’ve always loved the romance of a spy thriller: all those dramatic journeys across Europe. You can imagine Ambler’s characters being played by Lon Chaney and Jimmy Cagney, and Ambler is great at tiny details. I read a great line this morning in The Mask of Dimitrios: “The waiter was annoyed about something.” There’s a chapter in that alone.
Rachel has started buying me his stuff in slim volumes after the recent BBC documentary [Seamus Heaney and the Music of What Happens] shook me up. I read his poem Digging back in school, but I wasn’t interested then. A poem about a man admiring his father’s dexterity with a spade, you say? What? Then you get older, and you get it.I love how Heaney drops bombs in his poems, taking you somewhere, then throwing in a different register or image. I’ve tried to do that in my songs as far back as in 2001 with the single Newborn, when I said: “I’ll be the corpse in your bathtub.” My favourite of his right now is A Sofa in the Forties from The Spirit Level, where this old sofa becomes a train for some siblings. I love its rhythms and energy.
I’ve been doing my 6 Music show from home for getting on for 13 years, and I still get excited about new stuff. I’ve only heard one song by Drab City, called Working for the Men, but I’m a bit obsessed with it – it’s very eerie, like it’s been made in a basement by a pair of kids who’ve got a few jazz samples to play with. I know very little about them, apart from that they’re called, brilliantly, Asia and Chris. It reminds me of Scottish 90s band Adventures in Stereo. It’s all jazz guitar, vibraphone and flute. Nothing wrong with a bit of that in my book.