Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Mediocrity at One’s Elbow

The other day Lauren Murphy wrote about her least favourite band of all time. It got me to thinking about my own personal bêtes noires. I saw Elbow for the first and only time in Vicar Street two years ago. It was shortly before they won the Mercury prize. They were riding a wave of acclaim, lauded by everyone from Pitchfork to The Sun.

It seemed to me a pretty pedestrian set by a very ordinary band. (Albeit, with a singer so concerned for the welfare of his audience, you might have mistaken it for a Make a Wish benefit.) But in the bar afterward, other journalists were unanimous in their praise, hurling superlatives about the place like confetti. It had been a sensation. The gig of the year. A triumph on a par with Hannibal crossing the Alps.

Of course, it was no such thing. The kindest to be said for Guy Garvey & co. was that their belated success represented a kind of victory for graft over talent or inspiration. But even that was too kind. This was a performance that traded on some of the most vacuous clichés in the rock and roll playbook. There was Bono’s empty bombast (Grace Under Pressure), Robbie Williams’ naked populism (On a Day Like This) and the calculated, down-to-earth “niceness” of a teenage X Factor finalist (between song banter.)

The only reason Garvey got away with any these cloying showbiz flourishes was because he was a fat, average looking bloke from the north of England with a singular lack of panache. Most people simply couldn’t see past that.

For all his sins, it was the relentless “niceness” that irritated me the most. Everyone gushed about it. There was hardly a gig review or magazine profile which hadn’t lauded him for it. Guy Garvey was, by universal acclaimation, the most mind-bogglingly nice, down to earth bloke on eartj. He was certainly the nicest man in rock. Indeed he seemed scarcely capable of passing someone in a corridor without impressing upon them the fact of his inherent decency.

That didn’t sit well with me. Most of us strive to be courteous and polite, but we do so discreetly and without fuss. There seemed something dubious about a person who paraded their niceness so ostentatiously. If Louis Walsh’s latest boyband protégées helped an old lady across the road, or rescued a kitten from a tree, most of us would just snigger and turn the page. But when it’s a fat bloke from the north of England, once again, our critical faculties seem to go to sleep.

And even if he is a nice guy… who gives a fuck? Van Morrison is one of the most obnoxious arseholes that has ever lived. Michael Jackson was a predatory paedophile. Phil Spector murdered someone. That doesn’t make their music any less thrilling. By the very same token, Guy Garvey could rescue ten busloads of orphans from a towering inferno in his bare feet. That wouldn’t make his music any less shit.

September 10th, 2010.

12 Responses to “Mediocrity at One’s Elbow”

  1. Gary M. Says:

    Lovely bloke all the same.

  2. Eoin Says:

    Are you ‘avin’ a laugh? Is ‘e ‘avin’ a laugh?

  3. krossie Says:


    Acquiring new target

    target acquired



  4. Eoin Says:

    (That was my impression of Ricky Gervais’ character from When The Whistle Blows)

  5. Eoin Says:

    @ Krossie – Muse are so awful I wouldn’t even try to reason it out. I’d book them to play a massive gig in the desert, invite all their fans to attend for free then drop a nuclear bomb on them all.

    Telling fact: Muse are (Fox News) Bill O’Reilly’s favourite band.

  6. krossie Says:

    Or burn them in pile of Koran’s whilst playing the Doctor Who music they robbed as one of their intros…

  7. gueuleton Says:

    You don’t seem to be talking about the worst band here but rather the most overrated. So I’d like to nominate Radiohead as the most pompous self important up their own holes band in the world. How people still go on about their genius is one of the mysteries of our time.

  8. Lauren Says:

    Thanks for the linkage Eoin! Have to respectfully disagree with you on Elbow, though. Ahhh, they’re lovely, so they are.

  9. Rob Says:

    Sounds about right Eoin, I saw them nearly ten years back at Witness or whatever it was called, performing tracks from their debut album, one song I remembered built to a fine crescendo and I felt some magic in that tent, drink and whatever else may have played their part but I went and bought their album and listened to it quite a bit, they seemed like a band with some promise. A few good tracks on there but they quickly fell off my radar and I haven’t bothered with them since. I gave them ten of my minutes at another festival two years ago, under influence of probably same or similar substances, suspicion confirmed, the magic was gone man!

  10. Eoin Says:

    In that case Lauren, you’ve left me now choice. I loooooove Counting Crows. Their cover of Big Yellow Taxi on of my five favourite tracks of all time. In fact, I’m thinking of developing a cure for male pattern baldness just so I can copy that man’s utterly deadly hairstyle.

  11. Lauren Says:

    I’m not gonna lie to you Eoin, I feel a strange mixture of nausea and guilty curiosity.

  12. Tony S. Says:


    For once I beg to differ. While Elbow can veer dangerously into U2/Coldplay radio-friendly anthem territory , SSK has some of the most beautiful lyrics I’ve heard in a long time, and I’m not thinking ‘Mirrorball’ either …

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