At the beginning of his live broadcast from Manchester’s Central Library for BBC 6 Music, Elbow’s Guy Garvey told a story about walking past the building with his Grandad. “Every book in there belongs to you,” Garvey senior said to the young lad. “Make sure they keep it that way.”
On Sunday, Central Library, that stupendous rotunda in the heart of the city, played host to a special transmission of Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour. It was the duality of a show about drummers in a library that I loved the most. And this is a library which has a well-known echo chamber – the central circular reading room – and makes the least amount of sound resonate as if you are in the bottom of a big bass drum. But the show was being recorded in the new performance space on the entrance floor. Over two hours, Garvey was joined by 6 Music presenter and Radiohead drummer Phil Selway, New Order drummer Stephen Morris, Jim James from My Morning Jacket, and the brilliant Heartless Bastards performed a live set.
Talking to Morris after the recording I mentioned the famous central reading room acoustics. Morris pointed out: “It certainly keeps you quiet. It would be nigh on impossible to play the drums live in there but ideal, of course, for reading.”
Having said that, I do remember studying in there one time and being put off by a boy in earphones trying to work out a maths problem, unaware of the creaking noises his throat projected round the room as he wrestled with the numbers.
But the new noise around the library is exciting. The café is a meeting place, beyond which you can book a booth to watch films and programmes on the BFI film archive, and the interactivity of this record turns whispers into lively conversations. There are lots of new places in there to retreat to for some reading but it’s also become a hub for socialising and for many new and exciting events.
Morris told me that his visits to Central Library in the past haven’t ended well.
“I split my head open on one of those pillars outside while having a tub of ice cream in the interval of The Snow Queen as a kid. It put me off raspberry ripple for life.”
This particular event paid homage to Scott Johnson, the drum technician for Radiohead, who was tragically killed when rigging collapsed before a concert in Toronto in 2012. Johnson had devoted his life to music, was a drummer himself and was movingly remembered during an interview with his Dad Ken and a presentation of an electric drum kit for the free use of student drummers at the library.
When Heartless Bastards played Gates of Dawn the whole radio show became a homage to those who devote their lives to the art of music. Presumably because the band were playing at Manchester’s Ritz that night and their own drum technician was no doubt setting his drums up, Dave Colvin played on a speaker lid placed on a beer crate with a microphone in it, the snare a tambourine on the floor in a towel that he tapped with his foot. This brought up images of every kid banging pans and tapping knives and forks on wobbly tables – the incessant repeat of the learner – mastering their craft to get to this stage, to play a rhythm with anything. I thought about Johnson then, and how his Dad was Johnson’s roadie when he was in bands as a teen, and I thought about Morris practising in the front bedroom driving the neighbours potty. Those whose silence is broken by your racket don’t know who you’ll become. Maybe you’ll give up and everyone will get a bit of peace or maybe you’ll get better and be the drum techie, the drummer, the guitarist, the singer.
I once went in The Red Lion in Salford with my Mum. When I came back from the toilet, I was surprised to find her in conversation with Guy Garvey at the bar. “I’m in a band with some mates, we’re playing at a party at Islington Mill in a bit.” “Oh right,” said me Mum, “we used to have bands on in our pub didn’t we Cathy?” Just as we were going she said “Stick at it. You never know what will happen do you?” Elbow had won the Brit Award for Best Band nine months before.
So I really try, whenever I’m subjected to the sound of a new songbird trying to be the one to create something wonderful, I really try to think about what might grow from the chaos. Silence is golden but music is just as precious.
By Cathy Crabb
Photos by Carl Gibson
You can listen to Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour here: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0072q60