ALBUM: Guy Garvey ‘Courting The Squall’


This is a bold debut album, its maker having done whatever pleases his ear, mind and soul, and in doing so has flipped the numbskull music industry the finger. After nearly twenty five years and counted as a member of Elbow and one of the UK’s most recognised and celebrated musicians and lyricists, Guy Garvey is setting off alone with an increasing sense of creative buoyancy.

Recorded initially at Real World Studios near Bath and completed at Blueprint Studios in Salford– where, it seems, all musical luminaries are today heading to capture that musical lightning in a bottle – the album’s symphony is provided by Pete Jobson (I Am Kloot), Nathan Sudders (The Whip), Ben Christophers, Alex Reeves, Elbow’s brass section and Rachael Gladwin on harp and kora.

It’s a groove they’re all working from, Garvey’s delivery at times clipped and plaintive, almost rapped, while later on his voice takes on a clear, choral quality in lamentations that evoke the English north west of lore. The mix of textures dilates one’s ears.

Templates and rules have been abandoned for free flowing music, with Garvey taking a canny bet on creating with unfettered freedom. Courting The Squall is a showcase for a voice imbued with real northern soul (no, not that kind). On ‘Angela’s Eyes’, a pleasing discordance wakes up the listener as spoken word, blues guitar and a raw snare cut the air. It’s a tribal stomp before the unexpected countertenor of Garvey on ‘Courting The Squall’. The St Vitus dance lent by the drum kit on ‘Harder Edges’ allows Garvey to vocally riff over the stick work. It echoes like a sermon as lingering notes of a brass band turn plangent. Call it canal funk.

‘Juggernaut’ is washed by a melancholia while the walking bassline of ‘Yesterday’ underpins the devotional growl of male voices. This is northern blues turning grey as Garvey sings “All my darkest dreams go swimming into focus/And it’s hopeless”. Then ‘Electricity’ lopes in with something of the sweet sadness of The Ink Spots and Billie Holliday and you can almost smell the tobacco embers and taste the tears. It all makes for unexpected pleasure.

This is very definitely a spiritual album as evinced by tracks like ‘Broken Bottles’, ‘Chandeliers’ and ‘Three Bells’, which bear Garvey’s sadness and humour. A record like this could never be made in England’s south because it’s too real, too idiosyncratic and too honest.

And when you hear ‘Belly Of The Whale’ with its bassline straight out of JB’s ‘Cold Sweat’ that nails the kitchen sink pop lyric to the attendant brass section, you get a sense of the enjoyment that Garvey and Co must have had during the recording of this album, especially when the song hiccups madly into George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’ melody, just for a laugh. Unclassifiable and defiantly left field, this is a record worth owning.

Courting The Squall is released on 30th October via Polydor Ltd.

Jason Holmes