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Elbow tugs on the strings of childhood, life and death in album 'Flying Dream One'


The band Elbow writes personal, deeply felt songs. On their last album, the lead singer and lyricist Guy Garvey reflected on the death of his father and his consternation over Britain leaving the European Union. This institution of British rock has a new album now put together over the course of this pandemic, and it is reflective, poetic and nostalgic, spotlighting tales from Guy Garvey's childhood. It's called "Flying Dream 1."


ELBOW: (Singing) Flying dream one, dead of the night when prayer group was gone. Mom and my sisters all blissful and feathered.

SIMON: Guy Garvey of Elbow joins us now from Brixton in London. Thanks so much for being back with us.

GUY GARVEY: My pleasure, Scott. Thank you.

SIMON: "Flying Dream 1" - it's a dream you had as a child?

GARVEY: Who knows? I have a memory of a memory of a memory of having had a flying dream when I was a child - must be rooted in something. But my mom still lives in the house where I grew up. I had occasion to stay there a couple of years ago and Proustian rush - sort of getting up in the middle of the night and just remembering this memory I seem to have of floating down the stairs there - a good way to get into talking about my childhood.


ELBOW: (Singing) Deep in my bones. Step into the air. Step into the air.

SIMON: And let's please do talk about childhood, because I know, certainly, the loss of a parent moves us to think about our childhood. The effect of so many people being at home during the pandemic has made us reflect on what our children will remember of it and think back to our own childhood. I wonder what these past 20, 21 months have been like for you.

GARVEY: Well, we had just come back from the U.S. after a brief stint promoting "Giants Of All Sizes." I had a surprise birthday party in my beloved hometown of Manchester, and then the following day, the world stopped. My wife was in a play at the Lyric Theater, the first time she's had her face emblazoned across huge billboards, and she was three dates into it.

SIMON: We should explain. Rachael Stirling is your...

GARVEY: Rachael Stirling is my wife, yes. On the third day, I was there at the play with her mother, who was the late, great Diana Rigg. And as soon as we were alone, Diana said, I have lung cancer. She came to us, and she spent her last months in our house. I have a now 4-year-old son called Jack, who was just about 3, and she spent her last days in a candy pink room and her grandson nipping into her bed for stories. And we became great pals. I've never befriended somebody who was dying before. And it was so profound. And she wasn't afraid of talking about it. In fact, she wasn't afraid. My wife was her most incredible self. The last song, "What Am I Without You," on "Flying Dream 1" is written to Rachael.


ELBOW: (Singing) The universe keeps singing this song. Your eyes are diabolical blue.

GARVEY: And I sing, I've been watching you walk on the water lately, and it's true.


ELBOW: (Singing) I've been watching you walk on the water lately. My arms outstretched when you do.

GARVEY: They did become the same person in terms of how close and her anticipating her mom's needs. It was one of the most incredible things I've ever seen and certainly one of the most profound things I've been part of.

SIMON: Let me ask you about another song, if I can, which the words touched me very deeply, "Come On, Blue."


ELBOW: (Singing) Dust to dust, trust and wonder glowing in your marrow. I picture your growing bones, you know, and I dread and love tomorrow.

SIMON: Is this about your child?

GARVEY: Yeah (laughter). I don't want him to grow up (laughter).

SIMON: I know the feeling. And when you say so beautifully, I dread and I love tomorrow, you want to have tomorrow with them, and yet you worry about them. And you know that even if things go well, you wind up in different places.

GARVEY: Yeah, yeah. I'm never, ever, ever going to let him get away without cuddling with me. Me and my father had a break of about 30 years.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh.

GARVEY: And that was a mistake (laughter).

SIMON: Yeah.

GARVEY: And when we finally started hugging again - Jesus, that's all you need (laughter) in the world. At the root of the lyrics musically, this lovely, echoey synthesizers, tremendously romantic thing that comes in the chorus is, and it just made me think about the universe spinning, just made me think about the night sky, maybe a cold night sky. That's what I could feel.


ELBOW: (Singing) Come on, blue. As if that moon's not there for you.

GARVEY: So I'm stargazing with Jack in the song because when I think about the future and that one day - if things progressed as they should, one day he'll be without me.

SIMON: Mmm hmm.

GARVEY: I felt compelled to write him a song for that day. Come on, blue, as if that moon's not there for you - I want him to know that I'm always there, even when I'm not.


ELBOW: (Singing) The open road unrolling, and you in reach beside me.

SIMON: Do you think in "Flying Dreams 1," you and your mates, if I might use the British phrase, have created something that maybe you wouldn't in other times, but something that you needed now, and we all do?

GARVEY: It's one of the rare times where we set out to do something musically and then done it. And we made some lockdown videos. We call it the Elbow Rooms, and we took requests from fans and they all wanted the gentler side of our work. And it's all we wanted to work on.


ELBOW: (Singing) And I've never been so sure that I was right where I should be in my whole life.

GARVEY: We've long had an idea to make a record like this, a one-mood record, really, where you go and live in it for 40 minutes. It is definitely what we needed, and the fact that it resonates with people is very satisfying.

SIMON: Guy Garvey is lead singer of Elbow - their new album, "Flying Dreams 1." Thank you so much for being with us.

GARVEY: Thank you, Scott. I've really enjoyed myself.


ELBOW: (Singing) And the only road I know now is you and I together. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.