Elbow frontman Guy Garvey isn’t his usually jovial self these days. He’s had a dismal couple of years, all lyrically leading to 2019’s “Giants of All Sizes,” the Mancunian outfit’s eighth and most melancholy, thoughtful album yet; the group’s promotional tour for it hits Oakland next week.
In January 2018, his father was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer, and by March he died. “He never felt any pain, didn’t lose his appetite, and didn’t lose a hair on his head through the chemo,” says Garvey. “When he died, he was surrounded by all my sisters, my brother and his grandchildren, singing to him and laughing with him. He said in those last two weeks, he had never felt more loved.”
Still reeling from the loss in October, Garvey, 45, was hit with a double whammy — the almost simultaneous deaths of two Manchester nightclub owners who had been instrumental in developing Elbow’s prog-inventive 23-year career: Temple Bar’s Scott Alexander and The Night and Day Cafe’s Jan Oldenburg.
“I carried two coffins and gave two eulogies in the same chapel in eight days,” he says. “They were both good friends, and both supporters of young people — young artists, young musicians.”
Then, Garvey was stunned to watch his country vote pro-Brexit and return Conservative Boris Johnson to power last year, despite his best Twitter efforts to urge Elbow fans to pull the Labour Party lever.
These issues found their way into new material like “Empires” and “Dexter & Sinister,” in which the Peter Gabriel-toned singer wheezes, “Empires crumble over time” and “I don’t know Jesus anymore,” respectively.
“I think people are confused about what honesty is anymore,” Garvey says. “They think it’s OK to be immoral now. Where are their values?”
No decent souls want to enter politics these days due to the intense media scrutiny they’d be under, he adds. “So the ones that are left are real sociopaths who don’t give a f—-. Even the good guys are sociopaths.”
And being a proud parent with his wife Rachael Stirling of his son Jack, who’s nearly 3, he’s particularly concerned about the future of the planet: “This record is a response to what’s going on,” he says. “It’s not what we’re known for, but it’s impossible to offer any positivity. We’ve got to reflect how bleak things are.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave. Oakland
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Contact: (510) 302-2250, www.ticketmaster.com
Irish-descended Londoner Maverick Sabre (born Michael Stafford) can relate to Garvey’s ennui. He also was hoping for a Labour victory. But on his new self-released “When I Wake Up” — which he’ll introduce in The City next week — the sleek soul stylist, in tracks “Preach,” “Weakness” and “Guns in the Distance” hopes to meld squabbling left-right factions into a harmonious entity.
The lapsed Catholic isn’t afraid to question faith in song, either. “I’m not knocking anyone’s beliefs. We all need to have our own,” the 29-year-old says. “But I think unity among people is far more important. I mean, who are we to say that we’re on a higher level than anyone else?”
Sabre has been crooning for a decade. Initially, he was content to contribute vocals to sessions with Chase & Status, Professor Green, Jorja Smith and Sigma. He even got to sing the scripted parts of his longtime Irish hero, Thin Lizzy’s late Phil Lynott, on Jeff Wayne’s 2012 reworking of his original “War of the Worlds” vintage concept album, during which he was privileged to hear all of Lynott’s original takes. “Now I wish I could have done mine again, maybe with more zest,” he says with a sigh.
Around that time, he released his first single, “Look What I Done.” He made a very deliberate decision to wait.
“I like to stay very true to myself, and very true to the emotions I feel within music. I won’t make music unless it emotionally brings something out in me,” says the the singer, who chose his stage name because it looked forceful on his MySpace page. In fact, after winning a MySpace vocal competition, he was awarded a London recording session with U.K. star Plan B, who let the kid crash at his flat for six months while he taught him the show biz ropes. “He introduced me to professional songwriting, to a lot of good people, and introduced me to myself. He really helped me find myself,” he says.
Now, like “Harry Brown” star Plan B, the photogenic Sabre is considering a jump to acting. “I’ve had a couple of offers already, which I’m definitely focusing on in the new year,” he says. “But at the moment, I’m too focused on music.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tickets: $20 to $22
Contact: (415) 861-2011, www.rickshawstop.com
Focusing on music is also the case with Scotsman Midge Ure, of Ultravox, Visage, Thin Lizzy and Rich Kids renown. On tour with “Soundtrack-1978 to 2019,” a compilation that includes “Glorious,” an anthem he co-wrote with Visage’s Rusty Egan and The Tubeway Army’s Chris Payne, he’s taking questions from fans during the shows and shaping each set accordingly. “It’s a different way of performing, and I find it really refreshing. I don’t know where it’s going — the audience dictates that. And at 66, I keep doing this because if I stop, that’s it — I’ll stop. And I’m not willing to give music up at this point.
Your most-streamed song is “The Man Who Sold the World,” thanks to Konami video game designer Hideo Kojima. How did you two meet?
When Ultravox got back together again 10 years ago, we got a message from LiveNation that this guy from Japan was a big fan, and he wanted to come back and say hello at our London show. And through an interpreter, Hideo explained that when he was a kid, he would listen to Ultravox music, and that would take him into his own world and enhance his imagination, and that’s when he started coming with these plans and drawings for his video-game empire. I’d recorded Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” for a dodgy U.K. ‘80s youth movie called “Party Party,” but he said he wanted to use it in the final installment of Metal Gear Solid. And about a year later, the game appeared, with the song in the entire opening sequence, and Ultravox was even hidden in the storyline.
Did he send you free systems and games afterward?
Absolutely. And I’m not really a gamer; it’s not my world. I’m probably too old for it. But my daughters started playing Metal Gear Solid and they were absolutely petrified. It’s all ghosts and spirits and evil things, and it really had them screaming. It was hysterical.
Any other surprising fans?
Oddly enough, the president of Latvia invited us to tea at the presidential palace, and we were driven there by motorcade. He was a huge Ultravox fan, and it turns out he played guitar, and his minister of finance was a drummer!
IF YOU GO
Where: Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15
Tickets: $24 to $59
Contact: (510) 238-9200, www.yoshis.com