Elbow pen official BBC Olympic theme song
It's midafternoon, and Guy Garvey and I are chatting at The Eagle, a decidedly "no-frills" pub in Salford, Manchester. Known locally as The Lamp Oil because it was once the haunt of workers who manufactured the stuff, it's a stone's throw from Blueprint Studios, the complex where Garvey and his band Elbow hatched their 2008 Mercury Prize-winning record The Seldom Seen Kid, and last year's UK number two follow-up, Build a Rocket Boys!
"We were drinking here after we won the Mercury, and the postman popped in to congratulate us," says the affable, ursine singer. "We've got the same friends as we've always had, and our families live nearby. I suppose it's that sense of belonging where you feel like you really know a place and it knows you. If a new building goes up around here I always think, 'But nobody asked me!'"
Garvey is clearly a local hero, and his status hasn't been lost upon the Manchester Tourist Office. Some years back, they even cribbed a line from one of the singer's interviews, printing his "They give the love back around here" observation on promotional items such as pens and mugs.
Naturally, Elbow's choice music also resonates beyond its immediate locale, and mindful of Garvey's largesse and philanthropic lyrics, some Britons have begun to see him as a national treasure. It's fitting, then, that he and Elbow have penned the BBC's official Olympic theme. Featuring a philharmonic orchestra and a Gospel choir, it's a piece of music that will underpin the broadcaster's Olympic Games coverage.
Garvey says he first got wind of a possible commission late last summer. The BBC had featured Elbow's One Day Like This in its coverage of the Beijing Olympics, so the group - known for their "everyman" appeal and for leading a mass singalong at the 2008 Glastonbury Festival - was an obvious choice when the BBC was inviting music pitches for London 2012.
Exactly who else was in contention is not on record, but Elbow won out, securing an Olympics commission that will put them on the global jukebox like never before. Still, as Garvey explains, he found inspiration where he always does: nearby.
"The song we've written is called First Steps," he says. "While I was scrambling around for a theme our bass player's baby daughter started walking and Pete [Turner] captured the moment on video. He's holding the camera, but he's also got his arms outstretched and little Martha staggers from her mum Ruth over to him. Just as she reaches Pete, she goes 'Dada!' loud and clear. You can see Ruth's face behind her, and she says 'I don't believe it!'
"I love all three of them so much, and I realised that all of the elements I was looking for were there in that piece of film", Garvey adds. "The song's about putting your hopes in someone, the physical aspect of human endeavour and pushing yourself to do something you couldn't do before."
The singer says that he knew the song would have to have some "gladiatorial" elements, and that it would need to be adaptable, so that it could work as a 'winning' theme or a 'losing' theme. He also opted not to sing on it himself. "It's an Olympics theme song and it has to sound like it belongs to everybody," he notes.
But what of The Games themselves - will Garvey be trackside or glued to his TV screen like the rest of us?
"People jokingly ask me if I've got an all-access pass," he says, "but I don't follow sports like I do politics or music. I do watch the athletics since my friend Bryan Glancy died [in 2006], though.
"Bryan's the guy that The Seldom Seen Kid is named after," the singer goes on. "His dad died a few years before him, and I remember him being a very dry character. Bryan once told me, 'You know what? The only time I can remember seeing my dad cry is when the athletics is on.'
"Some years after his dad died, I got a text from Bryan. He used to send you these leading messages to draw you in. This one just said: 'Chip off the old block.' I remembered that the Commonwealth Games were on, so I phoned him up and said, 'You're crying at the athletics, aren't you?' He said, 'Yeah', and we both start laughing our heads off. Of course, since Bryan died, I cry at the athletics as well …"
The London Olympics opening ceremony is on July 27.
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Published: March 19, 2012 04:00 AM