This Guy Garvey article was written by Matthew Ayre, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Gavin Wells
Elbow have gradually built up a steady following over the course of their six albums and have also established themselves as firm festival favourites in Britain. Yet, this tried and tested formula meant that Elbow were perhaps becoming a bit too middle of the road. Their last two releases were well received but also alarmingly predictable and it’s not surprising that Garvey needed the opportunity to take a step back from his day job and embark on a solo venture; trying out material that might not necessarily fit the Elbow blueprint that has served them so well.
‘Courting the Squall’ was born out of sessions Garvey undertook with fellow Manchester musicians and close friends, enlisting the help of I Am Kloot Bassist Pete Jobson, The Whip’sNathan Sudders on Guitar, as well as Keyboardist Ben Christophers and Drummer Alex Reeves. The record serves as a platform for Garvey to air his deeply personal lyrics, helping to form delicate and contemplative tracks that feel distinctly poignant.
The album opens with its most uplifting number, ‘Angela’s Eyes’, a rousing, bluesy jam with a rhythmic bass line that drives the song. Energetic synth lines interject the bluesy feel of the track, resulting in a song that instantly grabs the listener’s attention, with its unsettled rhythms and creative use of different instruments.
The album’s opening track, despite its brilliance, is misleading and ‘Courting the Squall’ returns to the moving slow tempo ballads, heavily associated with Garvey, for the remaining 9 songs. The title track features a gentle harp that underscores Garvey’s thoughtful poeticism. It’s a delicate track and Garvey’s soft vocals are well suited to this instrumentation, yet it seems strange to start the album at such a riveting pace, only to slow it down again so abruptly.
‘Harder Edges’ and ‘Unwind’ both sound like they could have been Elbow b sides and Garvey returns to familiar mid-tempo territory. The former, impresses with its chirpy brass section, helping to breathe a surprising new life into a song that initially appeared uninteresting during its opening two minutes. Similarly, ‘Unwind’ is a slow burner, with a constant bass line and simple drumbeat that is not altered, throughout the song’s near six minute length. It’s a lethargic effort from Garvey’s bandmates and the song suffers because of it.
‘Yesterday’ features crashing Piano lines that complement a moody, throbbing bass line. Garvey paints a lively picture with his vocal delivery and the song climaxes wonderfully with Garvey announcing ‘I am reborn, cos my girl loves yesterday and lives for tomorrow.’ Garvey’s relentless outpouring of emotions, coupled with intelligent lyrics help to create one of the stand-out tracks on the record.
‘Electricity’ is a quintessential Jazz song and is a welcome addition to the album. Garvey’s soft, romantic voice is complemented by guest vocalist Jolie Holland. The tender brass section and smatterings of cymbals create a smoky underground club vibe and Garvey sounds perfectly at home when acting upon his Jazz impulses. Across the whole album, there are small undertones of Jazz influences and the record would perhaps be stronger if Garvey had foregone some of the sluggish mid-tempo tracks in favour of making these Jazz influences feel more dominant.
‘Belly of the Whale’ returns to the bluesy energy that featured on the album’s opener and the groovy complexity of the bass line is a particular highlight. Garvey’s abstract lyrics are similarly interesting and are a welcome departure from the downbeat introspection that dominate the rest of the songs on this album. The brass sections on this track, as well as on ‘Broken Bottles and Chandeliers’ offer some of the most memorable moments on the record and also help to ensure that ‘Courting The Squall’ finishes strongly.
Ultimately, ‘Courting the Squall’ is full of engaging charm and portrays all of the romanticism and wit that Guy Garvey has undoubtedly become known for. Despite some similarities to his work with Elbow, the record certainly has enough of its own character to demonstrate that Garvey can experiment with sounds beyond the anthemic blueprint. ‘Courting The Squall’ is an intriguing first solo outing from the Manchester musician and helps to support the viewpoint that Garvey has a real talent for writing intimate and moving compositions.