Weather to Fly

The first time I posted on this blog about an Elbow song, just over a year ago, (“This Blue World” from the 2014 album The Take Off and Landing of Everything), I mentioned that a cousin from Liverpool, England introduced me to the band’s music some years back.

The album he recommended was The Seldom Seen Kid (2008), from which today’s song comes. “Weather to Fly” has long been a favourite of mine. I would often listen to it driving home when I was still working for a particularly difficult boss, as I find the song has a way of clearing the present moment’s challenges by substituting pictures painted by the words.

Are we having the time of our lives?
Are we having the time of our lives?
Are we coming across clear?
Are we coming across fine?
Are we part of the plan here?
Are we having the time of our lives?
Are we coming across clear?
Are we coming across fine?
Are we having the time of our lives?
Are we part of the plan here?

We had the drive and the time on our hands
One little room and the biggest of plans
The days were shaping up frosty and bright
Perfect weather to fly
Perfect weather to fly

Poundin’ the streets where my father’s feet
Still ring from the walls
We’d sing in the doorways or bicker and row
Just figuring how we were wired inside
Perfect weather to fly

So in looking to stray from the line
We decided instead we should pull out the thread
That was stitching us into this tapestry vile
And why wouldn’t you try?
Perfect weather to fly

We had the drive and the time on our hands
One little room and the biggest of plans
The days were shaping up frosty and bright
Perfect weather to fly
Perfect weather to fly

Poundin’ the streets where my father’s feet
Still ring from the walls
We’d sing in the doorways or bicker and row
Just figuring how we were wired inside
Perfect weather to fly

So in looking to stray from the line
We decided instead we should pull out the thread
That was stitching us into this tapestry vile
And why wouldn’t you try?
Perfect weather to fly

(“Weather to Fly,” by Guy Garvey, Craig Potter, Mark Potter, Richard Jupp, Pete Turner.
Unofficial lyrics courtesy of AZLyrics.com)

Most recently, I shared “The Birds” from Build a Rocket Boys! In that post, which I hope you will visit if you haven’t already, I link to my previous write-ups on Elbow songs. There I also talk of my admiration for lead singer Guy Garvey and his BBC 6 Music program, Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour. He’s been away from the show for a few weeks, and I do miss his inimitably jolly style.

“Weather to Fly” seems to tell a story of the band members as young mates (they first met and started playing together in the Manchester area in 1990 when Garvey was 16 years old). The lyrics talk of determination challenged by self-doubt, conflict and turmoil, but also indomitable dreaming and the seeking of independence while still influenced by the shadow of ancestors: “Poundin’ the streets where my father’s feet / Still ring from the walls…” This passage is poignant, and especially so if assuming it is written about Garvey’s father, since his dad would have been living when the band wrote the song but died three years ago.

On my last few trips into Liverpool, via Virgin Trains out of London, I too was deeply mindful of my ancestry. Nearing Liverpool, the train keeps to yarding speed after stopping at Runcorn, a small industrial and port town roughly midway between Liverpool and Manchester. On the last couple of times, during that final half-hour approach, I imagined my parents and older siblings living in Liverpool and Birkenhead and the struggles of life there, particularly during and in the years after World War II. Those train rides have been very contemplative and emotional, but soon shift to excitement at the sight of family waiting for us in Lime Street station. I’m pretty sure this song will have been in my head at least one of those rides.

Today while searching for the official audio, I landed upon a cover version made in lockdown sessions during 2020 by London’s The Swingles. Many of my vintage and older will remember their predecessors, the Swingle Singers, a group of Parisien singers that American vocalist and jazz musician Ward Swingle (1927-2015) formed in 1962. They sang popularized, a cappella versions of keyboard pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach on their 1963 albums Jazz Sebastian Bach and Bach’s Greatest Hits. I much prefer the Elbow studio version with its nuanced piano and voice introduction and evocative writing and musicianship. The Swingles’ rendition is unique and interesting, though I find it a bit thin and it seems to unravel unnaturally toward the ending.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the video for the song from Elbow’s official YouTube channel:

And here is The Swingles 2020 cover, from their YouTube channel:

Which do you prefer? Please leave me a comment, and let me know what you think.

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