Why Music Matters: Elbow Leaders of the Free World

In 2003 I miscarried a baby. It’s terribly common, to lose a child like this, but it’s not talked about much. It was a late miscarriage, 17 weeks, and involved a short labour process and a tiny but perfectly formed body. It was singularly the worst thing that has ever happened to me.

At the time I was lucky – I had a strong circle of friends nearby, a supportive employer and it was near Christmas so I was able to go home and see my family and best friend for their support too. And I went back to work, got married 9 months later and carried on. I worked to develop my career to be more interesting, found new things to do, places to go.

But the loss stayed with me. And the thoughts of inadequacy stayed with me. And friends moved away, family were 200 miles away and although I was happily married, this was one thing we didn’t talk about very much together. I didn’t want to try again straight away, I wanted to live a bit more.

I owned the first 2 Elbow albums at that time and listened to them once in a while. I liked them, I wouldn’t have called myself a massive fan, but I liked them. Then, in 2005, the day before my birthday (for some reason this seems important) ‘Leaders’ was released. Because of the baby, this one clicked for me.

I first heard it at work, someone else played it one morning on an early shift before the shop opened. Guy’s voice called to me from the ceiling speakers. I stopped in my tracks, thought, “Hang on I know that,” and put down my pile of books to go and check out the CD case. Ah yes. Elbow. Familiar. Suddenly I felt like we were friends. I bought it later that day.

I think everyone needs a best friend album. An album that’s the equivalent of giving you a hug and a shoulder to cry on before telling you they love you and to get the hell up and bugger off. This is mine. It immediately comforts, it offers thoughts of home, of love lost and searched for, of friendship and hope and romance in odd situations. As a friend, it sits in the pub with you and puts the world to rights, sings along with the jukebox, cries into its beer and then staggers with you to the taxi rank to get you home safely. I can play it over and over and over again and never be sick of it.

One day following the miscarriage I remember Simon was getting ready for work and came downstairs to find sitting at the table gazing blankly into space. I couldn’t talk to him and other friends were at work or college. So I sat for a long time alone. If this was now, I know I’d have put ‘Leaders’ on until the feeling passed. But for that day, it was just me.

I’m not sure I’m giving quite the right impression about this. It’s not all about bucking people up until they’re ok again. But it’s quite a lot about that. Elbow have a loyal bunch of fans, all of us feeling like we’re mates, hopefully if any of them (fans, I mean) read this they’ll get what I’m trying to say. It is about someone out there knowing how you feel and taking the time to capture that. It is about drinking your worries away. It is about capturing that one moment when everything’s brilliant and not losing sight of that.

I think, for me, this one’s the most personal album I’ve written about which is why I appear to have lost all lucid thought. But if these music posts have anything in common, they do celebrate lyrics, voices and identity. Elbow do all this. Subsequent albums may have given them the success they deserve but this will always be the one that captured my heart. And the one that hugged me and said, I love you, now get the hell up and bugger off.

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