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Elbow and the Hallé

Manchester International Festival

Rating * * * * *

Collaborations between rock bands and classical musicians often end in tears. It's hard not to wince at

Deep Purple's epic 1969 folly Concerto for Group and Orchestra, where the spaniel-haired rockers coaxed

the Royal Philharmonic into pretentious prog rock noodling. However, this Manchester international festival

concert is rightfully introduced by Elbow's Guy Garvey as "a very lovely thing". The Greater Manchester

band's songs – especially 2008's Mercury-winning The Seldom Seen Kid – are no strangers to classical

instrumentation, and they've already performed with the BBC's Concert Orchestra. But appearing with fellow

Manchester titans the Hallé (who, curiously enough, Garvey used to watch as a child) earns the very rare

honour of a standing ovation after only the first half.

Hallé composer John Duddell – who looks youthful enough to be in a boy band – clearly understands

where the band comes from, and Garvey's songs of family values, missed mums and alcohol-soaked

doomed love audibly grow into their often radical new arrangements. Garvey's band is almost 20 years old

but his vocal sounds world-weary enough to have witnessed "the first Manchester band's formation in

1858". Cast against the Hallé youth choir, it sounds like a duet between innocence and experience. He's

clearly bursting with pride, but explodes any possible pretension. When he invites the crowd to sing too,

instructing the choir to show how, he quips "Don't worry, you're not gonna do it like that!" Moments later, the

entire audience are augmenting The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver with roared chants and handclap

percussion. In another fabulous moment, Some Riot's line about "those fuckers" prompts gasps among

audience members used to more dignified affairs.

After an interval where Elbow presumably don't educate the orchestra in how to trash a dressing room,

Duddell's arrangements bring out further delicacy in the rock band, and vice versa. During specially

commissioned new pieces, the string sections somehow captured the sound and spirit of Elbow. Great

Expectations' lyrics about rainfall are accompanied by tinkling harp; Powder Blue is unbearably emotional.

"Normally by this stage in an Elbow gig people look very different," comments Garvey. "Maybe not a ball

gown, but a vest top." But otherwise, there are few of his usual mood-lightening jokes about nudity and

farting, as if he's loathe to interrupt something this special. Although signature hit One Day Like This is

slightly lost in mass euphoria, they really must do this more often – if they can possibly fit everybody on the

tour bus.

Dave Simson, The Guardian