It’s not like it used to be. Sunday night, crowded around the radio waiting for the Official Radio 1 Chart Show to find out who would be this week’s number one. And, if it was a special week, poised with your finger over the record button trying desperately not to get the DJ talking over your favourite songs – why did they always do that? Nowadays there’s no chart show and singles and album sales are no longer the be all and end all for music artists.
It won’t be a surprise, then if you missed the fact that a local bunch of lads secured their second number one album a couple of weeks ago. For a start, it was announced on Friday via a press release on their website. No fanfare, no fuss, just a number one album. If you haven’t worked out who I’m referring to you yet, you’re probably not from Bury – it is, of course, Elbow.
Their story is one of unlikely triumph, so some would like you to believe. The seeds of the band we now know as Elbow were planted in Tottington Primary School, Bury (which, incidentally is where I trained as part of the now defunct GTP program) when three boys – Richard Jupp, Mark Potter and Pete Turner – became friends. One would become a drummer, one a guitarist and one a bassist. Their friendship survived through high school, where they began to write and perform (badly). Through a series of chance meetings and changes of direction the band was completed by Guy Garvey and Mark’s younger brother Craig.
I first met them just before they released their first album in 2001. For them to get to that point was nothing short of a miracle. Their first big break came a couple of years before that when they were signed by Island Records. After releasing their first EP to great critical acclaim and building a loyal following through lots of gigs around the Manchester area, their first album was written, recorded and ready to go when out of the blue they were dropped by their record label. They went from being the next big thing to having to take part time jobs in local bars to make ends meet. This would’ve finished most bands off, but against the odds they managed to negotiate another record deal, this time with V2, re-record the album and got it released.
If they though it would be plain sailing from thereon in, they were wrong… Two more albums followed, both of which were again critically acclaimed but massively under promoted, to the extent that even some of their most loyal fans didn’t know that their third album ‘Leaders of the Free World’ had even been released. The inevitable lack of sales which followed meant that they again faced to prospect of being dropped. This was even more of a big deal than the first time. By that time band members were married, some with children, for the band to continue something drastic had to happen. Through sheer hard work and persistence a third record deal was signed, this time with Polydor (ironically a subsidiary of Island Records).
This is the point at which you might become familiar with the Elbow story. Their first album for Polydor and fourth overall was ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’. It was again released to much praise form the music media, but again achieved modest sales success. Their big break came when it was nominated for, and won the 2008 Mercury Music Prize. After nearly twenty year writing, rehearsing, recording and performing Elbow became an overnight success. Shortly after they won the Mercury they played their first headlining arena gig at Wembley Arena and it was at this gig that I got my best insight into the secret of their success. At the after show party I spoke to their bass player, Pete Turner. Without really thinking I commented that I bet they couldn’t believe they were playing such a big venue. Not a bit of it, he said he knew it would happen one day, it was just a matter of time.
The Elbow story is not one of unlikely triumph. It’s one of hard work, determination, persistence, an absolute belief in their own abilities and a refusal to accept defeat. There were so many times when they could’ve called it a day, a running joke in our family was Pete’s lack of a plan ‘B’ should the band not succeed. Thankfully they didn’t listen. They kept practicing, writing and honed their craft to such an extent that when their break came (and it wasn’t lucky – you win the Mercury Prize on merit alone) they were at the top of their game and ready to take advantage of it.
I can’t think of a better example of a growth mindset. How else could they overcome so many hurdles and prove so many people wrong? If you don’t believe me, download their latest album ‘Little Fictions’ and go and see them live this summer – 30 years after they began to play together they’re better than ever.