- 15 Jun 20
Happy 44th Birthday, Gary Lightbody! To celebrate, we're revisiting our classic 2004 interview with Snow Patrol's lead singer.
Maybe it’s the Tom Waits smoked sixty before breakfast voice or the tomato red eyes, but something tells me that Gary Lightbody isn’t feeling the Mae West today. A state of affairs, methinks, that mightn’t be entirely unconnected with Snow Patrol bagging a UK top 5 brace with their ‘Run’ single and Final Straw album.
“You assume right,” Lightbody winces, recuperative cup of Typhoo in hand. “We got back to Glasgow in the tour bus on Sunday morning, went straight to The Shovel for pints and from there to a club called Optimum for a bit of a dance, which was great because people we didn’t even know were coming up and saying, ‘We’re proud of you, well done.’ And buying us drink. By the end of the night we were… well, you’ve seen the carnage when we party!”
Yes, I still have panic attacks about the time Snow Patrol and assorted members of Belle & Sebastian got me so twisted I felt it was perfectly acceptable to walk into the middle of Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street at seven o’clock in the morning, remove my trousers and have a leisurely pee among the rush hour traffic.
“And you were probably the soberest of the lot of us,” he laughs. “There wasn’t any peeing in the road this time – well, not that I recall – but the severity of my hangover was such that I didn’t go to football on Tuesday night.”
What, he missed Livingston’s 1-0 CIS Insurance Cup Semi-Final taming of Dundee?
“No, we have an inter-band kickabout every week which I try to get to because otherwise I do zero exercise. Actually, it’s minus exercise.”
What about the skill level or lack thereof?
“Stuart Murdoch from the Belles is a bit of genius, Gerry Love from Teenage Fanclub and Stephen from Bis are pretty decent as well and I’m complete rubbish. Which the entire footballing nation got to see on Saturday when I missed a penalty on Sky Sports.”
Yes, there were girly squeals of surprise when the Clarkian telly was turned on and there were Snow Patrol sat next to John Scales and Curly Watts on the Soccer AM sofa.
“I thought Curly, aka Kevin Kennedy, was a lovely bloke until he decided to show me up by scoring his penalty. (Ex-Wimbledon & Liverpool man) John Scales missing his cheered me up a bit but, no, I wasn’t happy.”
Here’s a psychological teaser for him – if Snow Patrol were a football team, who’d they be?
“Portsmouth because we’ve all been around for a long time, are a First Division side who’ve somehow sneaked their way into the Premiership and are going to have battle hard to stay there.
“I don’t want to sound like an arse when I say this, but hopefully if it’s good enough it’ll rise to the surface at some point. I’m not saying that Final Straw’s the best album ever made, but it can compete with anything that’s in the top 10 alongside it.”
Before making out like Chris Waddle, Gary informed viewers that henceforth the only chat up line he’ll be using is, “Hello love, I’m number five!”
“Please don’t make anything of that,” he pleads. “I was giving them what they want which is laddism. I actually feel less confident and more embarrassed about things than I did pre-going into the charts. There was a time – long ago! – when I reckoned that just because we’d make a record we were famous, but now the thought of using any of this as a social tool… Jesus Christ, that’d be awful!”
If he’s not going to use the number 5 line, what about “I’m a mate of Pink’s, me”?
“We were both doing CD:UK and she got her tour manager to ask if we’d go to her dressing-room. The first thing she says when we get there is, ‘Final Straw’s my favourite album, I absolutely love it and you guys are amazing’. We were like, ‘OK, brilliant, erm…’ Later that night the tour manager rings up and asks, ‘Can she come to your gig tomorrow?’, and sure enough she drove to Cambridge from London, saw us play and invited us to look her up when we’re in LA next, which will be in a couple of weeks.”
So Pink’s number is now residing in the Lightbody Nokia?
“Certainly not! No, she’s a very nice, down to earth lady who realised that her album probably isn’t our favourite. That said, out of all the Britneys and Christinas and Avrils, she seems the most natural and rebellious which is a quality we obviously like.”
Look out Chris and Gwyneth, there’s a hot new celebrity couple in town. But if it doesn’t work out with Pink, there’s always Cat Deeley who shamelessly made puppy dog eyes at our Gary on CD:UK.
“Behave! At the end of our song she asked me on air, ‘Is it true that you slept outside the studio last night in your tour bus’, which as I wasn’t expecting it got a mumbled, ‘Er, yes’ in response. I have a terrible habit of swearing at the wrong time, so it was just as well I froze.
“They gave us the option of miming which I wouldn’t do with a song like ‘Run’ because it’d remove the emotion. Once we come to release ‘Chocolate’ and there are all those high notes to hit, I might cheat when I’m not feeling my toppermost.”
How did it feel after seven years of relative anonymity to be on prime time?
“Bizarre!” he laughs. “When you see it on TV, it looks like each band has its own area but it’s actually a small room with two stages and a floor manager frantically wheeling the crowd around and saying, ‘Whenever these guys start you have to go, ‘Woo-ooo-ooo!’ Well, that’s the theory – there was no geeing up for us which meant that the audience’s response was spontaneous. They were rooted to the spot for the slow bits and pogoing madly when the guitars kicked in. I thought it’d be, ‘Snow who?’ but there were four kids right in front of me singing along to every word. The world’s gone mad!”
What a glorious lunacy it is, though, when bands like Franz Ferdinand, Lostprophets and The Delays are selling more singles than preposterously overexposed media tarts like Will Young and Victoria Beckham.
“There’s only so much shit that people are prepared to swallow,” Lightbody reflects. “What’s lovely about the success we’re having at the moment is that it’s happened quite naturally. Cynics think there’s a Belfast Mafia thing going on, but Colin Murray has always been there for us and made sure that all the other BBC Radio One DJs were aware of the album when it came out. The point at which I thought, ‘Fuck me, we may have a hit on our hands!’ was when Jo Whiley played all 5 minutes 47 seconds of ‘Run’ at lunchtime six months before it came out as a single. I said to the boys, ‘If Jo and Colin and Zane Lowe are going apeshit over it, Radio One will follow suit as a station’, which proved to be the case.
“Forget NME covers, the only guaranteed way to get into the British charts is if you’re heard by the ten million people who listen to daytime Radio One. Them rowing in behind us is brilliant, but I do feel a bit guilty that bands I love haven’t got the same lucky break and consequently are still operating in a bit of a vacuum. I mean, Sebadoh have never been in the top 10 and I wouldn’t consider myself fit to tie Lou Barlow’s shoelaces.”
1.40 in the morning is far too late for most hotpress readers, but if you were burning the midnight oil a few Wednesdays ago you may have seen the aforementioned Mr. Murray visiting the Lightbody family home as part of a Channel 4 documentary.
“My mum kept saying, ‘Get that bloody camera off me!’ but Dad loved it. There isn’t a neighbour or family member that hasn’t been bored to death by him going on about how well we’re doing, which is really sweet. It was their wedding anniversary when we played the Temple Bar Music Centre last year, so I brought ‘em down and introduced them to everybody.”
You know what they say: the family that rocks together stays together. We’re all aware that Gary Lightbody hasn’t a vindictive bone in his body, but there must be a temptation to go round to the label who dropped them in 2001, Jeepster, and go, “Ner-ner-ner-ner-ner!”
“The last time I saw Mark Jones from Jeepster was three months before they dispensed with our services and…I wouldn’t kick a man when he’s down.”
Is it true that Snow Patrol had to pay the £200 for their last album, When It’s All Over We Still Have To Clear Up, to be entered into the Mercury Music Prize themselves?
“(Pause) Um, how do I put this? They maybe didn’t have any cash left to spend on us.”
As somebody who went through a painful break-up themselves last year – I mean, who’d have me? – I can personally attest to the Cohen-esque qualities of Gary Lightbody’s songwriting. When on ‘Run’ he laments, “To think I might not see those eyes/It makes it so hard not to cry/And as we say our long goodbyes/We nearly do”, you can almost hear his heart disintegrating. Would it be fair to say that he’s no stranger to unrequited love?
“It’s more that I always make it so hard for myself. I’ve always split up or gone out with the wrong girl at the wrong time. Which isn’t to say that all the girls I’ve been out with I haven’t loved or loved being with because I have. It’s just that ultimately I make bad decisions which effect not only me but everybody around me.”
It’s one thing having an underachieving indie band sing about you, but now that Snow Patrol are bone fide pop stars I can imagine the young lady who inspired ‘Run’ being miffed that her ex is dissecting their relationship so publicly.
“It’d be difficult for me to change the way I write about things, so I don’t know if I’ve any solution to that,” he says a mite forlornly. “But, yeah, sometimes I’m probably too honest for my own good.”
Now that he’s earning telephone numbers, I imagine that Gary Lightbody will be invited back to his old school for prize-giving. Has his headmaster been phoned up by The Sun yet?
“No, but funnily enough Johnny’s dad rang the school we both went to the other day to see if they’ve a copy of his birth certificate – he’s got an American passport which needs replacing and he couldn’t find the original. The girl on the phone was saying, ‘Sorry, he’s been gone too long, I wouldn’t know where to look’, when the penny dropped and she went, ‘It’s not Snow Patrol, is it? Oh my God, we’ll all go up there now!’”
Are there any other famous old boys from your school?
“Yeah, C.S. Lewis went to Campbell College and Samuel Beckett taught at it. Actually, Beckett had a great line about ‘Campbell’s pupils being the cream of Ulster – rich and thick!’ I certainly wasn’t rich, but one out of two ain’t bad!”
As soon as he’s done with Hot Press – “Thanks to everybody who voted for us is the Readers’ Poll by the way” – Lightbody is returning to the womb-like safety of the Snow Patrol tour bus and driving down to London for their maiden Top Of The Pops appearance. Looking forward to it?
“I think everyone growing up has a Top Of The Pops moment,” he reminisces. “Mine would have to be Kurt and Nirvana completely destroying the myth of the show in a single song. You didn’t see it? Ohmygawd! You had Dave Grohl in the background hitting his cymbals really effeminately and Kurt playing his guitar without touching it. The only thing that wasn’t mimed was his voice and that was all weird and low as well.”
Where does all this Top Of The Popping leave the Gary Lightbody-led all-star combo that is The Reindeer Section?
“Now that we don’t need them anymore, they can all fuck off!” he deadpans. “It might be later rather than sooner, but we’ll get another one going, yeah.”
TOTP dispensed with, Snow Patrol embark on an UK and Irish tour which stops off next month in Belfast and Dublin.
“We’re being moved up to these huge places like the Liverpool Academy which is crazy,” he reflects. “The key is to enjoy it but not take it too seriously. This is not our world, we’re rummaging around in other people’s houses at the moment. We have to remember that.”
Rummage round other people’s houses? They won’t need to when they get the keys to their own mansions. Whether they and their livers like it or not, Snow Patrol have arrived.