A chat with Elbow's Guy Garvey before Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 

click to enlarge Big time: After years of enjoying a cult following, Britain’s Elbow — fronted by vocalist Guy Garvey, center — gained popular appeal. (Courtesy photo) - BIG TIME: AFTER YEARS OF ENJOYING A CULT FOLLOWING, BRITAIN’S ELBOW — FRONTED BY VOCALIST GUY GARVEY, CENTER — GAINED POPULAR APPEAL. (COURTESY PHOTO)
  • Big time: After years of enjoying a cult following, Britain’s Elbow — fronted by vocalist Guy Garvey, center — gained popular appeal. (Courtesy photo)
  • Big time: After years of enjoying a cult following, Britain’s Elbow — fronted by vocalist Guy Garvey, center — gained popular appeal. (Courtesy photo)

Mancunian prog-rockers Elbow have been making great Genesis-complex music since their overlooked 2001 debut “Asleep in the Back,” fronted by Guy Garvey’s eerily Peter Gabriel-ish vocals. At the time, they accepted they had a cult following, but not huge popular appeal. Yet things changed in 2008, when they won Britain’s prestigious Mercury Prize with their fourth recording, “The Seldom Seen Kid.” This year’s more adventurous “Build a Rocket, Boys!” arrived at No. 2 on the UK charts. Now they’re playing Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.

How have things changed for you since winning the Mercury Prize? We’ve all got slightly better shoes, slightly bigger houses, and more people in the street know who we are. And now we’re on the front of the music magazine, rather than inside, on page 48.

You’re also a DJ for BBC Radio, with a show called “Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour.” How did that happen? It started four years ago, while we were making “The Seldom Seen Kid,” and I filled in on a friend’s radio show. I enjoyed it so much that I was offered my own show on XFM’s Radio Manchester. They offered me five nights a week, so I said, “I’ve got a job! So instead of five three-hour shows, I want one two-hour show, 10 p.m. to midnight,” and they said yes. I was the first musician in England to have a radio program. I moved from XFM to BBC’s 6 Music after a year, and they left me in the attic. I do what I want, play what I want — it’s great.

But it’s taped, so you don’t get to take any listener calls, right? That’s true. And I don’t get the live feedback. But the main point of the show is, I give a reason for every song I play, whether it’s a story from my past, something people might not know about the tune, or it’s just my analysis of the lyrics. Rather than taking requests, I have my listeners send me just the title of songs that I may not have heard. So I’ve got this hardcore following of about 250 trusted voices, finding old music, new music. It’s even informing what we write in Elbow.

How did your show flavor the new album? I can say to the group, “Listen — these new indie bands are using old synths in a responsible manner — why don’t we have a try at that?” So on this record, it’s the synthesizers, it’s the space.

IF YOU GO

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2011

Where: Speedway, Lindley and Marx meadows, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday-Sunday
Tickets: Free
Contact: www.strictlybluegrass.com

Take Muni
- On the Richmond side of the park, access the 5-Fulton, 31-Balboa and 38 Geary lines
- On the Sunset side, take the N-Judah

Elbow

Where: Star Stage, Speedway Meadow, Golden Gate Park
When: 4:50 p.m. Sunday

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Tom Lanham

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