THE last time Elbow flexed their talents in these parts they were wondering whether anyone would know who they were.
It seems a strange situation when you’ve bagged as many awards and plaudits as the modest men from Greater Manchester, above.
Then they were opening for U2 and 52,000 fans at Sheffield’s Don Valley Stadium. “We were pleasantly surprised when we came out and got a great response,” recalls guitarist Mark Potter.
“We came over a bridge thing and the crowd started cheering. It was ‘Wow, people actually know who we are here.’
“U2 were a massive influence in the very early days when we started the band in high school. Watching Rattle & Hum and listening to those records made us want to be as big as those guys.
“After the show we shared a moment and actually shed a tear during Where The Streets Have No Name. Our wives were just looking at us like we were idiots, hugging and crying.”
Elbow capped the huge success for their album The Seldom Seen Kid with a sell-out at Manchester’s MEN Arena and U2 shows at Wembley and Don Valley. Mark still sounds surprised they landed the latter.
“It was odd. There was fear initially, a ‘What the hell is going on?’,” he says. “It was kind of disbelief in that we were gonna walk on before the biggest band in the world. Our mates were proud of us, a lot piled over on the tour bus and we had a real night of it.”
They may well be among the 9,000 who’ve already committed to next Saturday’s show at the Motorpoint Arena, in support of fifth and very fine new Elbow album Build A Rocket Boys!
It continues a policy of ambition that extends to sales as well as content by a band that appears to have grown by stealth.
“Before our first gig, a daytime gig at Stand College, me and Guy watched Queen Live At Wembley and said ‘That’s where it’s at’ and we were convinced within a year we’d be there.
“We are definitely not lacking in ambition but it was never going to be at the cost of the song. The song is everything to us.
“We were never in any rush to get there. We were slowly learning our craft and getting to know each other as musicians. We’re still doing that; that’s what keeps it so fresh and we’re already thinking about the next record and how different to this we want it to be.”
You get the impression nothing is left to chance with Elbow and even happy accidents are carefully nurtured by musicians who take their time.
“We have to because of the way we write songs. It is quite a long process and every detail is considered when we’re putting music together. ‘It’ll do’ is a phrase you will never, ever, hear in our studio.
“We’re really proud of the job we’ve got. We realise how hard it is for musicians to get to the position we’re finally at after all this time. There’s a responsibility to do it justice and produce something worthy.”
And with Seldom they graduated to a new level which included wider mainstream acceptance.
“It’s not like we ever sit down and say ‘Right, time for the next record’. We’re constantly writing songs, so it’s more like the albums we put out are like chapters of where we’re at.
“While we were touring Seldom we were writing. We had a little writing room set up at gigs – because there’s so much waiting around we figured we might as well make the most of it.
“We actually said we’d give ourselves two or three months off after the MEN gig, but we were just itching to get back in. We had three weeks and were back looking through ideas we started on the road.”
The five returned to a friend’s lakeside cottage at Mull, used as a writing place, and found the seeds of progress were already sprouting.
“This time around it was more re-setting our heads, making sure we were on the same page, playing each other new music and just buzzing each other up for what was ahead of us.
“But it’s so well balanced, no one member of the band cares about it more than another. That’s what’s so lovely about it, I think. There’s never a battle. Music is something we very rarely disagree on.
“If you’re not quite feeling where a song is going, rather than be negative you take a back seat. If you go down a road and it doesn’t turn out great you can always pull things back. We realised a while ago you’re not losing anything by trying stuff.”
Continuity came from having Mark’s keyboard-playing brother Craig again produce the album, although all took something from playing those massive shows.
“The feedback we got was we made them feel small, we somehow shrunk venues. Grounds For Divorce is going to work in that environment but it showed our more delicate and beautiful numbers also work really well, if not a bit better – songs with more dynamics and more light and shade.
“We decided when we were putting the set together for this tour ‘Let’s just play our best songs’.”