Page last updated at 08:50 GMT, Monday, 16 November 2009

Snow Patrol: Home is where the heart is

Snow Patrol on a roof
Snow Patrol have come a long way since forming at University 15 years ago

By Mark Savage
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

On the list of rock's greatest cities, Belfast doesn't rank too highly.

Berlin is up there, its austere architecture lending alienated cool to Bowie and U2.

And New York has been eulogised in song so many times that, on his latest single, Brooklyn native Jay-Z has been reduced to listing landmarks like a tour guide on an open-top bus.

But Belfast? The only people to reference it in a hit song are those twin beacons of cool, Simple Minds and Boney M.

Local lads Snow Patrol have never been critical darlings, either, but they can claim to be Northern Ireland's biggest musical export - with more than six million albums sold in the UK and US alone.

Gary Lightbody
Gary Lightbody plans to release records with two side projects in 2010

And while most bands would up sticks for the big city, Snow Patrol's frontman Gary Lightbody quit London at the height of the band's fame to move in next door to his parents in Bangor.

Just 20 minutes from Belfast city centre, Bangor is a small seafront town, where tourists drift about in giant pedalo swans before queuing up for a cold "poke" (don't be rude, it's just the local term for an ice cream cone).

It may seem an incongruous place for a rock star to set up home - but Lightbody's decision to flee the big city was informed by the same earnest sentimentality that makes his lyrics resonate with millions of fans.

"When I found out my sister was pregnant, I moved home so I'd be settled by the time my little angel of a niece was born," coos the star.

"Nothing matters apart from her, to me. That's all that holds any real weight in the world."

Snow Patrol next to a wall
The band's best of CD that compiles hits, b sides and side projects

And the singer admits that the family's new arrival may have awakened his own paternal instincts.

"Maybe I just got a little clucky, and I want kids of my own and I'm living vicariously through my sister and brother-in-law," he laughs.

"I don't care. She's the apple of my eye."

Lightbody refuses to be drawn any further - but attentive fans will know his turbulent love life ("I wrote six albums about break-ups," he once said) has taken on a happier course recently.

The lyrics to last year's A Hundred Million Suns were unashamedly romantic, and the singer describes new single, Just Say Yes, as being about "loving someone so much that you get exasperated they aren't showing the same amount of passion that you are".

Take back the country

The song is taken from a compilation CD, Up To Now, celebrating Snow Patrol's 15th anniversary.

It's being supported by a UK tour, which kicks off in Brighton next week, for which the band have an unusual theme: Country music.

The quintet have decided to reinvent their biggest hits, such as Chocolate and Chasing Cars, as Nashville ballads. Lightbody adds that they've been experimenting with Motown and heavy metal during rehearsals, too.

We're not cool and we're not dangerous, so there's not much to write about other than how much we suck
Gary Lightbody on Snow Patrol's press coverage

"Expect the unexpected," the 33-year-old says. "The only discernible similarity to our records will be the melody."

"We're going to play two sets so it's going to be close to three hours a night, so you've really got to be a fan to enjoy it.

"If anybody has bought a ticket and is reading this and going 'Oh, Christ, I can't take three hours of it', it's too late, I'm afraid!"

The album and tour are "a wee look over the shoulder", rather than the end of the band, Lightbody stresses; a way of charting Snow Patrol's progression from penniless students to globe-straddling rock stars.

As recently as 2002, they were without a record deal, sleeping on fan's floors and playing in tiny, unwelcoming venues.

Lightbody says he was so strapped for cash, he couldn't even buy Christmas presents for his family.

Gary Lightbody in a body of light
Gary Lightbody in a body of light

The band were "kept afloat" by their involvement in side project The Reindeer Section - which also featured members of Socttish indie bands Mogwai, Belle and Sebastian and Teenage Fanclub - until Polydor picked them up in 2003.

Success came quickly after that, with lighters-aloft anthem Run hitting the UK top five, and the US top 20; followed swiftly by the epic ballad Chasing Cars.

Critics have never been kind, however, with one NME review memorably dismissing the band as "music for Ford Focus owners and their girlfriends".

"To be honest with you, I have a love/hate relationship with the press, especially with the NME," Lightbody grins.

"I love the magazine and they are very, very funny about us.

"It's not difficult to understand why they hate us, because we're not cool and we're not dangerous, so there's not much to write about other than how much we suck."

So which car would he recommend as the ideal setting for a Snow Patrol CD?

"Erm... I don't know," the singer ponders. "I hope every possible car imaginable."

Even a Skoda?

"Especially the Skoda."

Up To Now is out now on Polydor records. Snow Patrol's Reworked tour travels across the UK in November and December.

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