SNOW PATROL are now, officially, the next big thing. Because when Northern Ireland says so, it must be true.
Radio One s Session In Northern Ireland took itself off to Derry s mighty Nerve Centre on May 25th, doing its bit for the corporation s Music Live week by bringing F.U.E.L, Hedrock Valley Beats and Snow Patrol along with them.
The theory behind the show was to link up with a series of similar showcase gigs being laid on by their sister programmes in Wales, Scotland, and England, all of who were pasting together line-ups of their own best young turks, paying lip service to the ethos of regional harmony while really wanting to put the others in their place.
The local crew did themselves proud. F.U.E.L are a quartet of hard-rocking rapscallions. Be warned, if there s a monitor there, it s getting stood on. Hedrock used the occasion to show their hometown just how impressive their pecks are now when they choose to flex them. Then it was left up to Snow Patrol to go toe-to-toe nationally with the opposition (Coldplay in England, Manchild in Wales and Scotland s Aerogramme). It proved to be a wise choice. The Bangor band put on a show that was all heart and decibels. If they didn t sweat so much, you could almost say they strolled to victory.
Most interesting thing, though, was gathering opinions after the performance. It didn t take long to work out that lots of people were getting very, very excited by Snow Patrol. Some were practically eulogising. There were evangelical glints in a few eyes. Which is a first.
People may be surprised by that. The band, after all, have spent the last year swiping awards left right and centre from all manner of swanky sources (this fine organ obviously included), have tickled the fancy of Rolling Stone, are signed to a label more credible than the Zaprudar footage, and seem only a nifty haircut or two away from a heavy rotational petting at MTV. You would think everyone would want to write them on their schoolbag.
But, up North, there s always been something of the Lennox Lewis syndrome about Snow Patrol. They ve been respected, but (a few loyal fanatics aside) they ve never really been loved.
Sure, a big factor in this is simply that it s still early days. Songs For Polar Bears has only been out eighteen months or so. They ve barely had time to take off their coats, never mind introduce themselves properly. But the fact that they even need an introduction maybe points to one of the problems.
Gary, Mark and Johnny s musical growth spurt happened while they were living in Scotland, and, as a band, most of their spot-squeezing took place on stages over the water. By the time most people in the North had heard about them they d already hammered out a grand level of polish and accomplishment. Although they talked the talk with a familiar local accent, the walk was altogether more unusual. To many, the opposition was disconcerting.
Now, though, only an absolute ingrate would deny that their spell in Scotland, at a time when Mogwai weren t bothering to sing from any hymn sheet at all, and when Teenage Fanclub were turning into everybody s favourite melodic big brothers, has been anything but creatively rewarding. And then there s the influence of that other mob their label mates Belle and Sebastian.
Stuart Murdoch and his lumpen band of feysters, at their worst, are the dull sound of sepia singing. Thankfully, on a musical level, their impact on Snow Patrol has been negligible. But as an exercise in establishing an anachronistic mystique to help attract a mad following, though, it s hard not to have a smidgeon of admiration for B & S.
This is where Gary and the boys seem to have been sitting up and taking notes. They re not afraid to seem literate. And you can tell they have a fondness for the road-less-travelled, confident it can lead somewhere flashy.
It s also very tempting when watching Snow Patrol play in the back yard (or even the fancy new extension) of The Undertones to try to locate them in the grand canon of Northern guitar bands. We have a peerless tradition running from Kevin s fantastically less than perfect cousins, the Outcasts and Rudi, all the way to Therapy? and Ash of throwing up noisy mongrels with hearts of pop gold. Even the Moondogs looked like they d bite you. I don t know what it is about the psyche up here, but it seems we like to fool ourselves that our best bands are playing with nicked gear.
Snow Patrol have little or none of the wideboy strut so prevalent in their predecessors. Songs For Polar Bears toys with the rhetoric of yank grunge dysfunction but, as anyone who has ever seen the band live will confirm, there is no hiding the good-humoured joy they take in the music, nor the refreshing lack of self-consciousness they display in relation to their audience.
Three or four years ago, a newly Top-Of-The Popsed Neil Hannon threw his drink over and gave the middle finger to a fan moshing around on someone s shoulders. At Snow Patrol s last Belfast gig they harangued bouncers who were getting heavy handed with a frantic front row.
Tim Wheeler blushes and mumbles in the time between wig outs. Gary Lightbody takes questions, elucidates theories (often pissed ones, but theories none the less), and practically provides a running commentary.
Musically, judging by Polar Bear, they come across as artsy without being arsy. Skewed but not screwed-up. If at times it sounds ever so affected, it s a venial sin, easily absolved by the knowledge that it is clearly a smashing launch-pad for an inevitable future lift-off.
Which leads us back to the mass approval at the Nerve Centre. Their core support has been swollen by enthusiastic others curious to see what the fuss is about, and the band have enough fresh goodies to make sure they re impressed. The new material that has been gradually seeping into the live show now puts the older chestnuts firmly in the shade. If Black And Blue , Chased By I Don t Know What , and future single One Night Is Not Enough are typical of the gear the second record is driving in, then Santa Maria will be a triumph. A very public triumph. Because if the Welsh, Scottish and English bands they were up against are the best of their respective bunches, then the boys are fit to grace any pitch.
The ball s on the penalty spot for Snow Patrol now, they just have to pick the right corner.