- 15 Jun 21
Happy 45th Birthday, Gary Lightbody! To celebrate, we're revisiting a classic interview with Snow Patrol's lead singer – originally published in Hot Press in 2001.
Belfast, then Glasgow and NEXT STOP – the cover of the Radio Times?
Stuart Clark joins fast-rising Snow Patrol on Scottish manoeuvres...
It’s 3 o’clock on a rain-soaked Tuesday afternoon and to be honest, Glasgow is looking a bit grim. Thank God then for the New Monaco Inn, a hostelry of considerable ill repute which only wants a quid in return for a pint of 8% Tennent’s Super. Sink a couple and you forget that not only is all the furniture nailed down but there isn’t a person in the gaff who couldn’t go 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. Reach the half-dozen mark and you start thinking that, hey, every pub should have bouncers on the toilet door.
“There’s an even worse one than that near us called The Crossbar,” says Snow Patrol singer Gary Lightbody proudly. “You know the scene in Trainspotting where Begby just throws a pint over his shoulder? They shot it in there.”
Dog rough or not, there’s another side to Glasgae which justified its selection as the 1990 European City of Culture.
It has more art galleries per capita than anywhere else in the UK, its own design hero in the shape of Rennie Macintosh and an insane number of bands.
“The great thing about the scene here is that, generally speaking, it’s not up its own arse,” is Lightbody’s verdict on his adopted hometown. “There’s none of the bullshit you get in London where people won’t talk to you ‘cause you’re not famous enough. Walk around Glasgow with a big head on you and you’ll soon be told where to stick your Top Of The Pops appearance! You only have to look at Belle and Sebastian to see how ego-free things are. They may be a top 10 act, but attitude-wise they’re exactly the same as they were when they were sad indie losers like us.”
The admiration society is mutual, with B&S percussionist Richard Colburn taking care of banging and shaking duties on the first leg of Snow Patrol’s UK tour. It’s a 12-date jaunt which is kicking off tonight in nearby Edinburgh. A quick belt down the M8 or not, the Ford Transit has already been equipped with the things that make life on the road that little bit more bearable. What is it that Lightbody & Co. wouldn’t leave home without?
“Fake tits. It relieves tension and boredom at the same time – especially if one of the others is wearing them under his jumper. A lot of bands make the mistake of buying pornography, which is no good ‘cause you can’t beat off on a tour bus.
“Fake tits aside, you want a bit of Eddie Izzard on video, The Simpsons and Spinal Tap. To listen to then, you’d have Low’s Secret Garden, Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly, Neil Young, Sparklehorse, Super Furry Animals and Grandaddy.”
It’s the Super Furries that get the nod tonight with the ensemble rendition of ‘Fire In My Heart’ – Welsh accents and all – fair bringing a tear to the eye. As does the Liquid Room, a supremely vibey venue which boasts its own faux Zebra fur dressing-room, and a girl on the door who’s the spit of Natalie Imbruglia. While spirits in the Snow Patrol camp are high, they’re not pouring out of the bottle as fast as the last time I saw them in Whelan’s.
“That’d be the Wags factor,” Lightbody acknowledges. “Normally you have a few beers and leave the rest of the rider for after the gig, but with him around it turned into a competition to see how quickly you could polish it all off. You have to remember that this is a man who spent several years in a band with Shaun Ryder. Anyway, the night started out drunkenly, got worse in the middle and completely fell apart at the end.”
The question that needs asking at this juncture, is how did three fresh-faced hopefuls from Belfast hook up with one of Manchester’s most notorious filth-hounds?
“A shared interest in fake tits,” Gary laughs. “No, it all stemmed from him coming backstage one night and telling us how much he’s in to what we do. We didn’t think any more of it until the eve of our last tour, when Richard and Mick from the Belles announced they weren’t available because of studio commitments. In particularly desperate need of a guitarist, we rang him up and were amazed when he said ‘yes’.”
Never mind cats, the Liquid Room is so packed tonight you’d be hard pressed to swing a vertically challenged mouse. It’s not just locals who are competing for their square foot of space, with two girls who saw Snow Patrol on MTV last week hitchhiking up from Leicester. Next thing you know, they’ll be having hit records.
“Steady on now!” Lightbody laughs. “Belle and Sebastian have been a great inspiration to bands here, in that the success they’ve achieved has been entirely on their own terms. They haven’t moved to London; they haven’t toured round America in a crappy little van; and they certainly haven’t diluted their songwriting. If, whilst exercising that degree of creative control, we get in to the top 30, you’ll hear no complaints from me.
Or from drummer Johnny Quinn who’s still revelling in being asked to get his pecs out for the readers of 19 magazine. In the end his reasons for declining were mainly fiscal.
“I’d prefer not to do it, but if the offer was substantial enough – say, fifty grand – there’s no way financially I could turn it down. There’s only so much living in student accommodation you can take!”
Of course, Snow Patrol are no strangers to student life having originally come to Scotland to attend Dundee University. They even managed to assemble their debut album, Songs For Polar Bears, while studying for their finals.
“Mark got a first in Financial Economics which means he can go and work for the Bank of England or NASA and mine’s in English and Philosophy which qualifies me for Tesco’s,” Gary Lightbody resumes. “It’s either be in a band, or stack shelves for the rest of my life.”
That in mind, Lightbody leads his colleagues through a set which during ‘Ask Me How I Am’, ‘Starfighter Pilot’ and ‘An Olive Grove Facing The Sea’ achieves a state of pure pop Nirvana. Long limbs flailing in a manner that’s equal parts David Byrne and Basil Fawlty, he works the crowd as if his life depends on it and is rewarded with a mass outbreak of stage-diving. Let them loose at Slane and there’s no telling what might happen.
“This did occur to us the other day when we heard there was the possibility of a second Slane. With all the percussion and keyboards and scratching, we make a big enough noise to fill any field. Not only that, but we’re cheap.”
Snow Patrol demonstrated their ability to make a racket last year at Witnness when they played on an afternoon bill that also featured JJ72, Turn and Wilt.
“It was the most magnificent of gigs. The crowd were everything you hope for, and we played out of our skins. It didn’t start very well because the hired amp I had wasn’t working, but I gave it a crack and it came on. From the front row to the back of the tent, everybody was grinning and giving us the ‘thumbs up’.”
Prior to their storming of Fairyhouse, there was a sense of Snow Patrol almost downplaying their Irishness.
“That’s not quite true,” Lightbody counters. “We are an Irish band, and we’ve always said we were. It’s the press across the water getting it wrong and thinking that we’re Scottish. We’d phone ‘em up and go, ‘Look, we’re not Scottish…you knobs!’ Then they’d change it the next time round.”
The band are equally adamant that them relocating to Glasgow has nothing to do with escaping the troubles.
“I tell you, Glasgow’s the wrong place to come if you’re trying to avoid sectarianism. This is the city that’s turned the wearing of football shirts into both a political and religious statement.
“Getting back to the original point, our reason for going to Dundee was to study, and our reason for coming to Glasgow was that the music scene’s so brilliant. We’re in Dublin all the time as well, so it’s like having four hometowns.”
Having sated the good burghers of Edinburgh, it’s back to their current place of residence. En route we’re treated to some more Super Furries, Joni Mitchell and Glasgow’s new Sebadoh tribute band, The Reindeer Section.
“There is an element of that,” admits the man who would be Lou Barlow. “I was at one of his gigs and drunkenly said to a group of my friends, ‘let’s form a band’. The next morning I’d forgotten about it, but they hadn’t and we’ve recorded an album that Bright Star in Belfast are going to release at the end of July, start of August. It’s a slightly ‘super’ group featuring Charlie, Willie and Gareth from Astrid, John from Mogwai, Aidan from Arab Strap, Johnny and myself from Snow Patrol, Bob from V-Twin and various other quality people. Johnny, Gareth and me did most of the basic recording, and then everyone else came in and weaved their magic.”
Talking of Mr. Barlow, Gary finally got to hang out with his hero of heroes last year when the American played three solo shows at Nice & Sleazy’s in Glasgow.
“I’d been backstage with him the time Snow Patrol supported Sebadoh at the Mean Fiddler, but was so starstruck I had to get Johnny to go up and get my guitar case signed. Since then we’ve been properly introduced and had dinner together, and I have to say he’s a lovely man.”
Proffering the feeble excuse that he’s got to go guitar shopping tomorrow, Gary passes up on the après-gig party which features an extremely enjoyable game of “let’s get the journalist shitfaced.” Somewhere in the drunken mire, I remember having a lengthy chat with Richard Colburn who was tying to work out how Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant was voted ‘Rock Record of the Year’ by the readers of American Playboy. Other news from the Belle and Sebastian camp is that they’ve recorded part of the soundtrack for Todd Solondz’s new film, Storytelling, and have two singles in the can and awaiting summer release.
I won’t bore you with the details of the following day’s hangover; suffice it to say that breakfast consists of a large Bloody Mary and an even bigger packet of Neurofen. Thankfully tonight’s gig is down the road at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, another cracking venue, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Whelan’s. Normally a candidate for The World’s Most Laid Back man, Lightbody is jittery about the number of fellow musos who are going to be in the crowd.
“It’s not like some cities where people are willing you to fall flat on your face, but at the same time you don’t want to make an arse of yourself in front of your mates.”
As it turns out, Snow Patrol are even more incendiary than they were at The Liquid Room, with top comedian and male stripper Phil Kay among those going ape down the front. While in no immediate danger of turning into Travis, there’s a swagger and self-belief about the performance, which suggests that crossover success is within their grasp.
“I’m not sure about us being the new Travis, but, yeah, When It’s All Over We Still Have To Clear Up has been well received by the critics. Except the NME who seem to have made a policy decision not to like anything we do. We’ll win ‘em over though.”
Any trace of rancour disappears when, in celebration of them ramming the gaff, the King Tut’s owner presents Snow Patrol with a bottle of 16-year-old whiskey.
“You’d think they’d give us a new one,” Lightbody deadpans before helping himself to a large dram. Catching up with him a fortnight later on the phone, it turns out that the partying continued all the way through to the last gig in Derby.
“My widsom teeth have been at me, so I had to keep on drinking to dull the pain,” he says by way of mitigation. “We even had a guy from the NME come to one of the shows and say he’s going to give us a good review. If things carry on this way, we’re going to end up on the front cover of the fucking Radio Times!”
I wouldn’t entirely bet against it.