Sweet of Smell Suc­cess

2006 has been the year of Snow Pa­trol. The band sold more al­bums in Bri­tain than any­one else and are cur­rently on the sort of sta­dium mega tour that would make U2 blush. Singer Gary Light­body tells Jim Car­roll how the North­ern Ir­ish work ethic has paid

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - COVER STORY -

YOU prob­a­bly think that Snow Pa­trol have seen it all by now. This is the year, re­mem­ber, they’ve sold more al­bums in Bri­tain than any­one else (1.2 mil­lion and count­ing sales of Eyes Open, even be­fore the Christ­mas rush). The year you couldn’t turn on a ra­dio on ei­ther side of the At­lantic with­out hear­ing Chas­ing Cars. The year the band head­lined their own out­door shows in Dublin’s Mar­lay Park and Belfast’s Botanic Gar­dens. The year which ended with a Grammy nom­i­na­tion.

But there are ev­i­dently still new ex­pe­ri­ences all the time. Deep in the bow­els of Manch­ester’s MEN Arena, Snow Pa­trol step out of their tour bus and walk to­wards the stage for this af­ter­noon’s sound­check. A bab­ble of laugh­ter and small talk marks the band’s pas­sage through var­i­ous cor­ri­dors and halls.

But there’s si­lence as the five mem­bers stand be­side the stage and look around at where they’ll play tonight. The big­gest in­door arena in Europe, the MEN Arena can han­dle up to 22,500 pun­ters, de­pend­ing on which blocks of seats are used. It can be flipped for bas­ket­ball, ice hockey, box­ing and, of course, rock and pop con­certs. The Yanks would call it a “shed”, but “a bloody big venue” is just as de­scrip­tive.

It’s a long way from the com­pact bar­rooms and sweaty clubs which were once Snow Pa­trol’s do­main. Of course, the fact that they are now play­ing th­ese su­per­domes is a fur­ther sign that they’ve grad­u­ated to the pre­mier league.

The de­mand is there be­cause tonight’s show is com­pletely sold out, as are all the dates on their first ever head­lin­ing arena tour. Yet, as lead singer Gary Light­body ad­mits back at the band’s ho­tel, it’s still a lot to take in. “We have been in this tour­ing bub­ble all year, so we haven’t stuck around long enough in any one place to smell the roses,” he says.

“It’s hard to get a sense of what is hap­pen­ing, aside from play­ing big­ger venues all the time. But we hang out to­gether all the time so we don’t get car­ried away by what is hap­pen­ing. It’s not like we meet be­fore ev­ery gig and go ‘wow, we’re a big band now’.”

There’s plenty of ev­i­dence to back this up. As Snow Pa­trol take in their sur­round­ings at theMENArena, you’re struck by their slightly awed com­ments about the venue’s size. The pre­vi­ous night at Birm­ing­ham’s NIA, they re­ceived an award from the venue for draw­ing the big­gest crowd ever to a show there. It’s ob­vi­ous that this won’t be the last such award they will re­ceive.

But don’t bother look­ing for egos to go with any of the record-break­ing sta­tis­tics now rou­tinely at­tached to Snow Pa­trol’s name. Light­body says his ego is long gone. “I def­i­nitely had more of an ego when I was younger. When I started the band and started to write songs – ter­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble songs – I thought I was it, I thought I would be a star.

“Af­ter eight years of that not hap­pen­ing, you re­ally are do­ing it be­cause you love it. It took those eight years and go­ing the long way round to beat out the ego that I had.”

Light­body mar­vels at how a band like the Arc­tic Mon­keys have ad­justed to the glare of the lime­light. “I’m glad we didn’t get all this suc­cess right at the start be­cause I couldn’t have han­dled it any­where near as good as the Arc­tic Mon­keys have han­dled it,” he ad­mits. “They’re so savvy and in­tel­li­gent. I was writ­ing songs which were just pish at 18 and Alex Turner is com­ing up with clas­sics.”

He has, though, now got the knack of pen­ning clas­sics. Af­ter the break­through suc­cess of 2003’s Fi­nal Straw, the album which saw the band be­come overnight suc­cesses af- ter eight years of hard slog, writ­ing an­other batch of songs like Run and Choco­late turned out to be rel­a­tively easy. Be it the epic span of Chas­ing Cars or the mas­terly pas­sion of Set the Fire To the Third Bar, Snow Pa­trol’s song­writ­ing has hit a new high this time around.

Light­body at­tributes this to a new-found sense of con­fi­dence. “We def­i­nitely went into this record a lot more con­fi­dent than we had ever been be­fore,” he says. “I don’t know if we con­sciously thought that peo­ple would be lis­ten­ing to us af­ter Fi­nal Straw and if that en­er­gised us in any way. I sup­pose we had a com­fort zone this time.”

When they were writ­ing and record­ing in Din­gle, Light­body thinks the band be­came a fam­ily again. “Tour­ing is funny be­cause, even though you’re to­gether all the time, you do cre­ate your own space, your own lit­tle world,” the singer ex­plains. “All your con­ver­sa­tions be­come crazy. It takes a few weeks to

get back into a nor­mal rou­tine and talk about nor­mal things like what’s in the pa­per or on the telly.

“Go­ing to Kerry was like go­ing back to the old days again. We’d spend hours and hours just mess­ing about with mu­sic and hav­ing a laugh and hav­ing nat­u­ral con­ver­sa­tions about rub­bish. We’d even cook for each other, which was one of the things we missed when we were tour­ing.” He sighs softly.

At this junc­ture, in the midst of a tour which will not end un­til next Septem­ber, such do­mes­tic bliss is the stuff only of imag­i­na­tion. In Fe­bru­ary, they’ll take on Amer­ica again, a coun­try where the suc­cess of Chas­ing Cars has opened a num­ber of doors for them.

“You do no­tice the mo­men­tum in Amer­ica be­cause of Chas­ing Cars, but it is still a strug­gle to sell al­bums,” says Light­body. “We don’t want a song to de­fine us. We think we have a lot of sides and that we write more than just slow-burn­ing an­themic songs.”

It’s some­thing the band no­tice at ev­ery Amer­i­can show, the peo­ple wait­ing to hear just one song. “There are a lot of peo­ple in the au­di­ence who have al­ready de­cided they’re com­ing to see a band play a lot of slow, quiet songs,” says Light­body. “Then we come out and the first six or seven songs are re­ally loud rock­ers and they don’t know what to do. That doesn’t hap­pen so much in the UK or Ire­land be­cause peo­ple know our his­tory.”

But the Amer­i­can cam­paign will con­tinue re­gard­less, says Light­body. “We’ve al­ways wanted to do re­ally well in Amer­ica be­cause most of our in­spi­ra­tions and in­flu­ences are Amer­i­can. From very early on, we re­alised that the U2 blue­print was the only way to go there – tour, tour, tour and then tour some more. We­have spent a lot of time there, maybe to the detri­ment of Europe.”

He jokes that 2006 was the year when tour­ing with Snow Pa­trol be­came a haz­ardous oc­cu­pa­tion. “We had to can­cel loads of dates be­cause I lost my voice. Paul (Wil­son, bassist) re­ally wrecked his arm and shoul­der and we can­celled more shows. And we tried to fly to Amer­ica on the day when Heathrow Air­port was closed down.” In­deed, Light­body be­gan to won­der at one stage if the band were jinxed. “The last time I was home, I nearly cut my fin­ger off,” he says. “I went out for a meal with my fam­ily and when I got back to my house, I was steam­ing. I started tak­ing th­ese new knives out of their wrap­pers and I sliced right through my fin­ger.

“My first thought was what sort of a year is this? Have I just ru­ined the UK and Ir­ish tour that we’ve been look­ing for­ward to all year? That’s what ran through my head all the way to the hospi­tal. Luck­ily, it was noth­ing se­ri­ous.”

Be­cause he spent so much time on a tour bus, Light­body says he judged 2006 by what he heard from other bands. “Ev­ery­thing has im­pressed me this year. The Gos­sip, The Klax­ons, Arc­tic Mon­keys, Beiruit, the new TV On the Ra­dio album, Cold War Kids, Desert Hearts, Op­pen­heimer. If Fi­nal Straw had been re­leased this year, it might have got buried. There are so many good bands out there.”

He was par­tic­u­larly struck by a record from a fel­low North­erner. “That Duke Spe­cial record is the most un­usual record to ever come out of North­ern Ire­land. Its so grandiose and such a glo­ri­ous pop record, but yet it’s grounded in the North be­cause of his voice. My song of the year is Free­wheel, I’ve played that over and over again. I’ve sung it in the shower, on the bus, driven ev­ery­one mad with it.”

Light­body was also part of The Cake Sale project. “That song Some Sur­prise, that Paul Noo­nan wrote and that Lisa (Han­ni­gan) and I sang, the lyrics are just stun­ning. That line ‘with cir­cuit boards for my in­sides’ just kills me. He’s such a fan­tas­tic song­writer.”

There were, of course, Snow Pa­trol mo­ments to trea­sure too. “Play­ing on the main stage at the Fuji Fes­ti­val in Ja­pan was in­cred­i­ble. You’re play­ing right be­side a vol­cano. It’s an amaz­ing set­ting. Play­ing in Mar­lay Park and at the Botanic Gar­dens, those two crowds were the best ones ever.

“Surf­ing for the first time in Aus­tralia was bril­liant. I had never done that be­fore and I’d never been in the wa­ter where there were jel­ly­fish and sharks. It was ter­ri­fy­ing. That whole day on the beach is one I re­mem­ber fondly from this year.”

This arena tour also gets the thumbs up, al­beit cau­tiously. “It’s the first time we’ve ever had this much pro­duc­tion on a tour,” says Light­body. “It does feel like we’ve moved up a level. We’re still test­ing it out for com­fort and I’m still not sure about some as­pects of it.” Still, it’s yet an­other mile­stone to add to a grow­ing list. “I still re­mem­ber when the goal was to play the Lime­light in Belfast or Whe­lan’s in Dublin or King Tuts in Glas­gow,” says Light­body. “We just wanted to play a gig there, we didn’t care if we played to noone. And we did play to no-one for many years!

“All those land­marks still mean a hell of a lot to us, the first time we sold out a show in Glas­gow or Dublin. We judge ev­ery­thing by gigs be­cause we’re a live band, that’s our nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment.”

When Snow Pa­trol step on that Manch­ester stage and thou­sands start to shout and scream, a part of Gary Light­body will be back in Ban­gor where it all be­gan.

“It’s what I used to dream about when I was a kid with the ten­nis racket in front of the mir­ror play­ing along to An­gus Young. You al­ways imag­ined your­self on­stage at Wem­b­ley or the Point or a huge venue like that. You never thought it would hap­pen, but it is hap­pen­ing, sev­ered fin­gers aside. You have to en­joy it.” Snow Pa­trol play the Point, Dublin tonight and to­mor­row night. Both shows are sold out

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