One Blog a Year like this will see me right

PXL 20240514 181326703 RAW 01 COVER


Musings from a night at the Coop Live with Elbow – Part 1 – the band

On Tuesday night I was at the much-discussed and long awaited opening of the coop Live arena in Manchester to see my favourite band, elbow. As “local lads from Bury” it was in the end fitting that they and not some global megastar, were the first act to headline this new facility.

But here I don’t want to talk about the arena itself. I have some thoughts on that I’ll put together as Part 2 to this blog. I want to talk about elbow as a band, as a team and share some thoughts on how we can learn from them in how we work as teams and in projects. Bear with me… I suspect this may be one of my longest yet…

Here are the keywords for the next bit: Friendship, Joy, Authenticity, Loyalty, Commitment, Friendship, Agility all wrapped up in Leadership. I hope that if you stay with me to the end, you will not only learn some things about my favourite band but also get a different perspective on some of the characteristics we aspire for in our leadership and as leaders ourselves.. I could add many more to the list of values and qualities I explore here, but am conscious this is already heading to be the longest long-form article I’ve ever written, so I will focus on those most relevant in translating from one domain (music) to a very different one (teams and projects) although I hope you will see perhaps they aren’t as different after all.

Elbow, like any band, are a team. .....there has to be something to this that we can understand and learn in our own teams.

First, let me give you a condensed NME-style overview.!

My own journey with elbow started back in 2009 with the release of their seminal and award-winning Seldom Seen Kid (their 4th album) from which the anthemic theme tune One Day Like This comes. If you’ve never heard of elbow then you’ll definitely recognise this song. But after that induction, I absorbed more and all of their work. I know there are fans out there who have been with them through much of their now 33 years together, I can’t claim that longevity, but I have followed them since and through the next 6 albums right up to the current Audio Vertigo which features heavily on their current arena tour setlist. I have now lost count of the number of elbow concerts I’ve been to – is it 6.. or 7?

Elbow, like any band, are a team. We all know many bands are dysfunctional, but I see elbow as different. Together for 33 years with only one significant team member change, the friendship and loyalty they exude for each other comes through on stage. There has to be something to this that we can understand and learn in our own teams.

PXL 20240514 204007166 RAW 01 COVER

Their frontman, Guy Garvey, is one of the least likely “rock band” frontman you’ll ever see (a paradox he seems to revel in on and off stage), yet he is their leader. And what a leader. Watching Guy on stage is like watching a master at work. His genuine smile is no wider than when he is introducing or showcasing his band members and supporting artists or when, as he often does, engaging with the audience and drawing them into the performance – generating ownership of the activity from all.

Guy has this habit of always asking the audience if we are OK…. The answer is always, of course, a rousing chorus of YES. But on Tuesday night someone at the front shouted back “Yes, are you OK?” and that then formed the framing for the evening… a to-and-fro between frontman and audience that drew us all into their world and them into ours.

Guy close up singing

Guy demonstrates on stage many of the leadership attributes and qualities that we would want and now expect to see in great leaders of complex teams..

  • Joy…the sheer radiating energy from Guy on stage is most obvious when working the band or the crowd, when he’s singing it’s an intense experience for him, you can see it.. but that tension relaxes and the smile broadens when showing off the skills of his team mates such as Pete Turner on keyboards or a riff from Mark Potter on guitar.
    • Joy (or Fun!) is often missed and wholly underrated as a leadership quality. Being in the moment and enjoying everything around you is hugely inspiring and can generate a whole new level of engagement and discretionary effort when others see you enjoying what they do as much, if not more, than what you do.
  • Authenticity… Guy and the band don’t pretend to be something they are not. Guy speaks honestly about his friends and family at every concert I’ve been to. He looks like an individual more comfortable walking the labrador to the local pub than a rock star but that’s the point.. there is no “front” or “edge”, you get what you see…and more importantly what you hear…
    • Being your true self is also the most effective way to operate. There is no effort or energy required to create the mask of who you think you should be. Showing others who you are, strengths and vulnerabilities both, will engender trust and loyalty from them.
  • Loyalty… I’ve mostly seen elbow perform in and around their own stomping ground of Manchester, and it is here they feel most relaxed and genuine. The audience is peppered with friends and family and hundreds if not thousands of loyal fans many of whom Guy seems to know by name. They are loyal to their fans and the fans (me included!) are loyal to them. Along the way we’ve had some difficult times… personally, the 2021 album Flying Dreams was a complete miss… I think I’ve only listened to it once… but my loyalty and friendship allowed me to persevere and embrace the “return to form” of Audio Vertigo.
    • Loyalty means perseverance. As leaders, we need to understand that humans don’t always work well, we have off days, and we need space to be resilient. That applies to leaders themselves as much as their teams.
  • Commitment…The band also understand that elbow fans embrace the “whole enchilada”. Whilst this is a new album tour, we also know we are going to get nearly 2 hours peppered with old and new. Old favourites (they know they will be lynched if Grounds for Divorce and Station Approach aren’t on the setlist), but we get to hear of forgotten favourites like the classically simple Puncture Repair and the one that always hits me right “here”.. Kindling.
    • Commitment to people, ideas and approaches provides a framework for consistency and congruence that, when allied with our own authenticity, generates engagement, trust and discretionary performance from ourselves and our teams. Two-way commitment generates ownership.
  • Friendship.. the warmth of the band’s internal relationship oozes from them all on stage, the way they interact shows a deep understanding of each other. And the genuine “friendship from afar” that I see in their fanbase (me included!) makes an elbow concert more than just a musical experience.... in many ways that refreshed friendship from last night does indeed fulfil the promise of the song “One Day A Year Like This will see me right..”
    • We don’t always have the luxury of working with the same teammates for 33 years, but we can always spend time (and it is value-added time) getting to know our colleagues, their styles and skills, and as a leader, much like Guy Garvey does for elbow, coordinate and conduct them to deliver something amazing.
  • Agility… Nothing fazes the front man.. whether it’s a dynamic interaction with the crowd, or – as it was last night.. a sudden glimpse of his hair in the giant screen leading to an off-the-cuff parody of Swiss Tony from the Fast Show… or as at previous concerts.. an immediate stop in the middle of a song because he’s spotted an unwell audience member and spends ten minutes coordinating paramedics and stewards from his vantage point at the front of the stage.
    • As leaders, we often try hard to put structure and discipline into what we do. But the role of the leader is also to ensure we remain agile and flexible, able to operate in the inherent uncertainty that working in projects and large complex organisations brings. We need to be “comfortable with discomfort” and understand how we share our vulnerabilities with colleagues so they can back us up.

Be authentic, joyous, loyal and vulnerable, agile, committed.

Like any team though, it is far from a one man show. Guy is ably supported by others who are happy to allow him to lead (note they allow him to lead as much as he takes the lead – their ongoing permission to him is critical) and just let their talent shine through. Brothers Mark and Craig Potter (Guitar and Keyboards), Pete Turner (Bass and keyboards) and the only non-original member, drummer Alex reeves.

Like any team each has their own principal role and skillset, but they also have other roles and skills they can bring to bear. Every so often, Guy picks up a guitar, to the performative groans from the audience… it's not his strength, but we indulge him. Likewise Pete Turner plays bass but every now and again, sits at the keyboard, especially on the best-ever titled song “Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver”. Core strengths and ability to try new things round the team out.

PXL 20240514 215449237 RAW 01 COVER

So where do we end up? Well, you’ll have no doubt placed me firmly in the elbow fanboy club. I admit it, and have no shame in so doing. Their music has been very important to me over the years. And I will continue to be their friend and be loyal to them. But what I hope I’ve extracted from all this, is that wherever you are, a project team, a company board, a rock band, the same human characteristics of team and leadership are in play.

Be authentic, joyous, loyal and vulnerable, agile, committed.

If you’ve made it this far you have definitely demonstrated commitment and loyalty, and for that I thank you! In return, your thoughts and comments would be welcome on the LinkedIn post that probably led you here.

Stand by for Part 2 where I share some thoughts on the now notorious Coop Live…but perhaps not from the perspective you expect…

Back to insights