Surrounded by the twelve thousand tress of the stunningly beautiful Bedgebury Pinetum, and in front of the thousands that had come to hear them play, Elbow took to the stage just outside Royal Tunbridge Wells, in Kent. As part of the Forestry Commission's annual events programme, 'Forest Live' (Now in its fifteenth year), firstly Steve Mason, and then Elbow, captivated all before them in this most picturesque of locations, rather aptly located in 'The Garden Of England'.
It wasn't so much as, "Way back up in the woods amongst the evergreens", and the stage was no log cabin but the setting, the venue and the balmy summers evening spent under a near cloudless sky listening to a near faultless performance was absolutely superb. In a corner of the ninety two year old Pinetum, and following in the illustrious footsteps of Blondie, Tom Jones and Paul Weller, to call out but a few, the two acts more than did their somewhat unfamiliar surroundings proud.
Steve Mason, pork-pie hat 'n all, took to the stage ahead of Elbow and rifled through a short sharp set that included songs from last years (Craig Potter, "The most attractive member of Elbow in my opinion" (SM), produced) 'Meet The Humans' album. He did a soaring take on, 'A Lot Of Love', a quite brilliant version of the lyrically deft, 'Alive', and clearly impassioned, dedicated, 'Never Be Alone', to the people of the Grenfell Tower. 'Planet Sizes' sounded awesome in the hazy early evening air before Steve closed out, after a minor misdemeanour from his ZZ Top like bassist...."I don't pay you £25 a gig to get it wrong....your appraisal's after the gig", with the Beta Band song, 'Dry The Rain'.
On the hottest day of the year so far there was every excuse to take on refreshments and polish off the very well stocked picnic hampers during the brief interval between acts. The sell out crowd couldn't have wished for a better night, as the temperatures began falling slightly the atmosphere that began building was palpable. The wait wasn't long at all and before we knew it Guy Garvey and his Mancunian band mates were on stage receiving rapturous applause before they'd even played a note!
Elbow started where they had begun some sixteen years ago with the first track from their debut album 'Asleep At The Back'. 'Any Day Now', sounded wonderful and was made more so by its stunning locale. The music was unquestionably good and Guy was in fine, charismatic form throughout the evening extolling life lessons, wisdom and humour in equal measure. "This one's for anyone who's made a life shattering mistake; have you ever made a life shattering mistake?" 'The Bones Of You' was delivered with a passion and a presence that Elbow, and in particular Guy, have an individual gift for. The crowd, young and old, were clearly mesmerised by his performance.
The first clap-a-long of the evening came courtesy of 'Fly Boy Blue/Lunette' as the interaction and participation really took hold and the band finished off with a flamboyant crescendo flourish. "I've gotta be careful what I say here, there are young minds being formed" Guy said as the stage was bathed in purple hews before they took about the first track from their latest album, 'Little Fictions'. 'Head For Supplies', a song about "the shopping list you need when you've just met someone and haven't left the house for days", rang out with an angelic vocal backing befitting of the evening.
There were two surprise stars of the night, somewhat brilliantly named Holly and Oli! (Unrelated) Firstly Holly, holding a sign saying 'It's my 16th birthday' (Her name written on the back), got an impromptu chorus of Happy Birthday To You (Twice). "Can we get Holly a present?" Guy enquired. A few choice snacks were offered before Guy himself brought over a cake upon a CD..."Now cut it up and share it around" he quipped. After making a really heartfelt and sincere speech about his home town and the gateway to his fair city, 'Station Approach' was delivered faithfully to the spellbound crowd.
Guy took a brief moment to order a drink before he said, "Let's do some of this shall we?" The first of many of the evenings choreographed and synchronized arm swaying ensued as another track off the band's seventh album resounded around the forest. 'All Disco' headed up a song about elevenses in Tewksbury, the sublime 'New York Morning', ahead of another new audience favourite, 'Magnificent (She Said).' Before setting about the song Guy was curious as to what to call his audience. "What should I call you he said, Tony, Tunny, Wellsy? "Friends", came the shout from the crowd. "What's your name?" Guy said, and after a little encouragement..."Sally". "Sally thinks I should call you all friends but I think I should call you all Sally!" The strings soared out into the twilight and Guy delivered up a stirring performance as the anthemic chorus was sung out.
The stars came out (On the stage at least) for a rousing 'Mirrorball' before a song dedicated to Chris Bevington, 'The Birds'. The brooding and steadily building momentum reached its ultimate and glorious finale as the harder and heavier guitar, strings and keys combined to release a magnificent noise. With arms aloft once more, 'Sad Captains', got the crowd ever more engaged in the entrancing performance. You could sense the night was drawing ever closer to its end. 'Little Fictions', set up a most moving, 'Kindling', before the final (Of the main act) song. This is where Oli, the second surprise star, shone. A little lad held upon his father's arms was the focus of Guys' attention as he gave him (Oli) "the power". He was to hold his arm up for as long as he wanted and the band were not to start until he dropped it. Oli, Oli, Oli the crowd chanted until he dropped his arm and 'One Day Like This' struck up. The atmosphere by this point was beyond electric. The crowd were as one singing in breathe taking harmony like a newly assembled choir rejoicing in a joyous cathartic experience of empathy and love.
The band returned for their encore, with the audience clearly in need of just a little more having broken out, unprompted, in another chorus of "throw those curtains wide, one day like this a year would see me right." It was a tremendous feeling of unity that had been brought about during the whole evening where Guy and the band had given a true, honest, hearts on sleeves performance that was engaging, emotional and entertaining. 'Lippy Kids', complete with a fantastic piano solo, highlighted just how good Elbow are with a performance of such quality you couldn't help be taken aback. "Shall we sing for one last time? I'm dying to sing; I'm not moving a muscle 'til you've had me singing summut." After making his own humorous song up about how he wanted to thank the Forestry Commission and how we should all donate part of our incomes to it Guy started about the last song of the night. A brilliant, note perfect version of 'Grounds For Divorce' played out to close out a superb and varied set.
The band were tight but agile and on the night there was no greater frontman you could have possibly wished for than Guy Garvey. He owned the stage and had the crowd in the palm of his hand. He held them gripped throughout the evening, each of them waiting on his every word mesmerised by his presence and persona. Elbow at Bedgebury will not only be a gig to remember for Holly and Oli but all of the many that were there that witnessed a band at the top of their game, delivering a performance of a lifetime in a venue just a beautiful as their music.
Photo credit: Wenn - Alan Rennie
Official Site -