Stood in the shadow of the Jodrell Bank space telescope, hoping and praying that the forecasted rain would hold off for as long as possible, I arrived for Elbow’s headline show as part of the Transmission series, which was to see Paul Weller playing on the same stage on Sunday 24th, however it was announced earlier this concert would be cancelled due to the weather. Such a grand setting seems fitting of Elbow, a band whose meteoric rise to fame came only after the release of ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ in 2008, their fourth studio album. This is somewhat of a homecoming show for the Elbow boys, many of whom used to visit the telescope as children.
Due to the impending adverse weather (and because I’m a little bit soft), arrival on site was delayed until 5pm, meaning that the bill-opener Willy Mason was missed. It also didn’t leave time for the Science Arena (this is a space telescope after all), something which I imagine is wholly more exciting after a couple of pints of Elbow’s very own ‘Build A Rocket Boys’ slow pouring dark ale. Now ‘slow pouring’ is hardly what you want here when you join the back of a queue 15 people deep, especially when orders go as high as “4 bottles of wine, 4 ciders and 8 beers please”. That said, the ale was delicious – easily the best thing I’ve ever drunk out of a plastic cup!
The award for ‘Most Excited Person in the Venue’ has to go to the ever-grinning Lianne La Havas. Having taken numerous photos of the crowd and thanking them heartily for being there she launches into a collection of songs off her debut album ‘How Big Is Your Love?’, a heart-felt story of a break up. Having heard her name on numerous occasions over the past few months it was great to see that the attention that seems to be falling her way is very much justified – a must-hear for fans of Emilie Sandé.
Before penultimate support act Cherry Ghost took to the stage a young man was introduced on stage by La Havas for the biggest moment of his life. Having located his girlfriend in the crowd he proceeded to go down on one knee and ask the big question. Whoops and cheers all round as her positive response was shown on the ecstatic face of the young man and the vigorous fist pumping that soon followed.
Bolton outfit Cherry Ghost summed up the enormity of the event perfectly as they strolled on stage – “Well this isn’t at all daunting” remarked the lead singer sarcastically before launching into a short set including their debut single ‘Mathematics’ and Ivor Novello Award winner ‘People Help The People’.
The moment we had all been waiting for was now upon us. The rain also seemed to be anticipating the band’s arrival, as thick cloud gathered threateningly. The crowd hushed. Guy Garvey’s unmistakable voice comes over the PA. “Elbow to control room… align the telescope”. At which point the epic structure just behind the stage slowly began to rotate until it was aimed directly at the cheering crowd. Surely the coolest thing Guy Garvey has ever done. Leading a cult-like chant in worship of the space telescope Garvey and the newly christened ‘Jodrellites’ pledged allegiance as the opening notes of ‘High Ideals’ rang out. Having seen Elbow a number of times over the past few years it was brilliant to see that they were still able to step it up a gear at their biggest headline show to date. Their sound was crisper than I’ve seen before, most noticeable on second song ‘Bones of You’.
“It’s lovely to see you all here. The warnings were biblical!” states Garvey on his first of many forays down the Queen-esque runway which protrudes far into the crowd. As if the rain had been waiting for a signal it then began to fall, and boy did it fall. ‘Lippy Kids’, the stand out track off their latest record, is made all the more beautiful by the rain, sending shivers up my spine. Recent gigs have seen Elbow relying heavily on their latest two records, ensuring that whenever they dug further into their back catalogue they always came up with a gem. Set highlight ‘Leaders Of The Free World’ sounded refreshed and full of vigour, the refrain ‘periscope up’ feeling particularly apt.
In spite of the rain Elbow headed out into the middle of the crowd, huddling around a piano for the soft ‘The Night Will Always Win’, surely enhancing their appearance as ‘band of the people’. In another life Garvey could have been a stand up comedian, often interacting with the crowd and drawing laughs with anecdotes about cats and Star Wars, amongst others.
Unusually, the band finished with a song off their debut album. This could have been seen as a risk by many but ‘Scattered Black and Whites’ was another highlight as it was accompanied by a firework display, filling the sky with reds and yellows. Garvey spent the song watching the fireworks from the runway and let the band know they were fantastic with a huge grin and a thumbs up. They left the stage to rapturous applause before returning for an incredible rendition of ‘One Day Like This’, a song which threatened to be (but definitely wasn’t) ruined due to its vast usage on nearly every BBC programme for the past 3 years. Another firework display followed as the band grew to a cacophonous finale.
To say this was a ‘gig’ would not do it justice. The entire experience seemed tailor-made and a true celebration of everything Elbow, and indeed everything Mancunian. From the Elbow beer to the Manchester burger vans and the northern support acts this felt more like one big community, a massive family gathering. The entire crowd took joy from their similarities and shared experience and the collective delight must have translated to the band on-stage. As Elbow said in their closing song, ‘one day like this a year will do me right’. Never have words better summed up such a fantastic event.