Sunday 4th March
This was a much easier journey, the rail line between Birmingham and Manchester was running just fine. There was even time for a glorious Bundobust lunch and a nap at the Easy Hotel before getting ready for Elbow night two.
Having missed a fair chunk of John Grant’s set and been stuck at the back the night before I wanted to make sure we were at Manchester Arena in plenty of time. Which we were. Despite the small hiccup of my handbag being declared a rucksack and having to decant all my stuff into a plastic bag while Tom gamely took offending bag back to the hotel (he’s totally a keeper), I was there early enough to get to the front row. The arena is huge. And a bit scary. You go inside, then through a narrow concrete corridor and down a huge set of steps before you get to the arena floor. Being on my own was challenging, but folk came to the rescue “it’s alright, we’re Northern, we’re friendly and we’ll look after you.” Thank you kind strangers in the queue who helped me keep it together. Also thank you Sharon and Caroline who continued this once I’d reached the front and was waiting for Tom to return. I was in the front row! I was going to see Elbow again! I was going to see all of John Grant’s set!
He, it goes without saying, was warm and witty and wonderful. A glorious bear of a man, with a huge heart and dry sense of humour. His lyrics are playful, hilarious and heartbreaking. I already adored him. He and his band were brilliant, and they were given a very warm welcome by the huge crowd. As he admitted himself, probably the biggest he’d ever played to. The last time I’d seen him play was in a former church that’s now a drama studio that held 300 people. Manchester Arena holds 21,000. Grey Tickles, Black Pressure and Pale Green Ghosts were possibly the best tracks, but he could sing just about anything and make it glorious. The richness of his voice and the inventiveness of his music, well they just do things to me and I love him for it.
Elbow came on like sporting heroes on an open top bus parade, full of swagger and homecoming joy. I guess Manchester gigs are always a bit like that for them, and at least 500 of the crowd must have been their friends and families! Guy acknowledged his family, making sister Gina take a bow for giving him lyrics to Mirrorball. The pride they must all have felt in watching our kid done good must have been immense. If the night before had been warmth, based on surprise that the gig had gone ahead and that there was an audience, then tonight was warmth based on home town glow.
They played roughly the same set, which bothers me not a jot, with a back catalogue as good as theirs I’m happy to hear the same songs twice on consecutive nights. It did mean I was more emotionally prepared for Lunette into Tower Crane Driver, which became more poignant with the explanation as to why it had been written. Puncture Repair became even more healing with recognition of former drummer Richard Jupp’s place in the band’s history. It also became funny, as Guy threatened to tickle keyboard player Craig’s back as he played. Being close enough to actually see the interplay between them, the affection and good natured piss taking between musical brothers was lovely.
Being at the front allowed for a small portion of the intimacy to be restored, but it did mean I wasn’t as free to move so I am really glad I got to experience both versions of an Elbow gig over this weekend.
They added Station Approach to the encore, I suppose there was no way not to have included it. A song about homecoming and that sense of belonging I’ll never know again. John came back for Kindling and the truly adorable affection shared between him and Guy was evident. Bear hugs and manly cheek kissing were very much in evidence. One Day Like This was even more joyous with the sheer size of the crowd, impossible not to smile and feel uplifted, carried on a cloud of shared musical experience.
Manchester you bloody magnificent City, your people continue to welcome and celebrate life with heart and humour. Elbow couldn’t really be from anywhere else and for what may prove to be the last time I’ll see them live “who knows when we see each other again” it was fitting and beautiful.