Eddy Says

Eddy says: Be strong… but don’t forget to be weak too

By | Published on Tuesday 25 October 2011

Snow Patrol

Everyone has to start out somewhere, and for most people in the music world that somewhere is just this side of the poverty line. How long you stay there, grafting away seven days a week for little return, has very little to do with talent and a lot to do with luck. And even those bands who appear to be “overnight sensations” have often spent months, maybe years, in that waiting zone. But, usually, the really talented people do make it, if they are willing to persist, and except favours where they can. This week, Eddy recalls how he once befriended one such musician, a certain Gary Lightbody, whose story should inspire all the newer artists currently sitting in that waiting area.

We all have our weaknesses. Musical weaknesses that is – artists we love unconditionally which may not quite fit in the genre hole we are more usually associated with. I remember when I was at Radio 1, we sometimes joked about some of our colleagues’ weaknesses – with John Peel it was The Undertones, obviously, while Andy Kershaw’s was Bruce Springsteen. I suppose John Kennedy’s weakness might be Razorlight, but I’ve never broached this subject with him! But everybody, no matter how cool, or how street, has one. Or, in my case, several. Those who know me well will know that my main weakness through the latter part of the 90s was Snow Patrol. I have always loved that band, or, more honestly, that man. Gary Lightbody.

When I first heard their demo, Snow Patrol were called Polar Bear, and my friend Mark Jones (not to be confused with Wall Of Sound MJ) had signed them to his little West London label, Jeepster. Their offices were overlooking the same park I lived on.

Mark was officially the most honest man in the UK record industry, confirmed by a hilarious poll conducted by the now defunct SKY Magazine. They sent a blank demo tape to every major label in the UK and then tracked the responses they got over the next several months, posting the results on a double page spread. Almost every label responded, but some took six months to do so, and in almost every case they received the same stock letter: “Thank you for your demo, we’re sorry but it’s not what we’re looking for at the moment”. Only two labels responded by pointing out that the tape was blank. Out of those two, only one got back within a week. Actually, he got back within 24 hours. That was Mark Jones, then a junior A&R man at Polydor.

Jeepster was a great little label, and Snow Patrol a great little band. I quickly became their number one public fan. Colin Murray liked them too, and I played them to Zane, who also fell in love with them, although he may not admit that publicly now for fear of a knock on his door and a wag of the finger from the Cool Police!

In the early days, I must have seen Snow Patrol play, I don’t know, the lion’s share of 20 times. In every case, I saw them play to a crowd (if you can call that few people ‘a crowd’) of anywhere between five and possibly 75 people. I remember one gig where I was practically alone, in a big student venue in London. Tumbleweed was blowing across the venue and a lone church bell could be heard in the distance, yet even at this gig, with just me and a handful of other people, one or two of whom clearly didn’t know why they were there, I could hear utter brilliance, and untapped and under-appreciated genius. And not just while the songs were playing.

In between every tune, Gary, like a professional stand up comedian, would speak, inform, entertain, cajole and self-deprecate in the most utterly charming way. I remember feeling ashamed that I was on telly every day and he wasn’t. I felt that HE should be presenting my MTV show, and that I was just getting in the way of somebody truly talented.

In the end, through the love and support of many, but particularly the wonderful Jim Chancellor at Fiction Records, and our mutual friend Garret ‘Jacknife’ Lee, Snow Patrol made it. And then some. Their third album, ‘Final Straw’, became the indie version of ‘Thriller’, with so many hit singles coming off it that, for a time, Snow Patrol were undeniably the biggest band in the UK. Worldwide success duly followed. Even the doubters and haters couldn’t stop them, it was like a landslide.

And there had been plenty of doubters and haters prior to that album’s success. I recall one hilarious-in-retrospect conversation with Xfm’s then music programmer (the same guy who tried to stop the rise of Kasabian, a story I wrote about in one of the very first Eddy Says columns). I told him how brilliant I thought ‘Final Straw’ was, and how convinced I was it could finally break Snow Patrol as a band. He disagreed, telling me he was unlikely to support the record on daytime Xfm because “Eddy, there are no singles on this album”. Bless him. That is right up there with “The Beatles? Naah, not what we’re looking for at the moment” or “The internet? Don’t think it’ll catch on mate”. Though he went to Radio 1 and is doing very well there.

So, anyway, my weakness became the biggest band in the country. And, as is often the case when little bands I take under my wing have hits, we sort of fell out of touch, but I always followed Gary’s career, and every once in a while we’d meet up at a DJ gig, or he’d get Losers to do a Snow Patrol remix, something I’m massively grateful for.

Every time I heard a new Snow Patrol track on the radio I’d think back to those tumbleweed gigs, or their tiny, rusty, Transit van and the battered gear it contained, and I’d smile broadly with a sense that the universe was working right. And a few times over the years, I will confess to getting a little misty-eyed when I heard yet another massive song of theirs on the radio.

I have more weaknesses now and I’m hoping the same thing will happen to them in the future, but the Patrol have been popping up in my life quite a lot again recently, in random ways. First, out of nowhere, Gary sent me a sweet message saying he’d love to catch up and play me his new album, and hear what Losers were up to, and so that’s what we did. And I can report that the new Snow Patrol album is an epic piece of work. It was recorded in LA, and you can really hear America rubbing off on it, but in a good way. I think it’s the best thing they’ve done since ‘Final Straw’.

And on Sunday, the Patrol entered my consciousness again, in an indirect way. I went for a lovely Sunday lunch and invited a few local muso mates to have a South London convergence, a hook up of like-minded souls. One of them has made one of my favourite albums of this year, another tore the roof off the Remix Bubble in July with a rampant techno set, and the other is a brilliant producer and guitarist in one of my favourite bands. None of them knew each other, with me being the only common thread. At one point, one of them, who I know is really skint, offered to buy me a drink, and I refused. He was slightly offended at first, but I explained to him why via an anecdote, which I’ll share with you now.

I told him that, years ago, I think around 1998-99, Gary Lightbody was sitting on my shitty, dark orange, IKEA sofa, for the umpteenth time, having just eaten a dinner, having a beer and a post-dinner-social-spliff, something most of us partook in back in those days. He looked at me with a pained expression and said: “Eddy, I feel terrible. I’m always coming round here, and being fed by you and your Mrs, always drinking your beer, always rolling your weed, this is just too much, I want to contribute towards all this!”

“Gary”, I reassured him. “What’s happening here is very simple. At this moment in time, I am earning a great deal more than you. I’m not earning very much, but the sad fact is, that at this current point in time, it’s probably more than twice or three times what you’re earning in a year. So I’m not going to let you buy me a drink, or pay for dinner, because one day the tables will turn, and – believe me on this – there will come a day when you will be earning so much more than me, that it isn’t even funny. When that day comes, buy me dinner”. I meant that metaphorically of course – I could have been saying “let me remix one of your records” or “give me a sneak preview of your new album”. With all that in mind, I told my new neighbour that I’d pay for his drink, and his lunch, and one day, he could reciprocate, in some way, same as I told Gary all that time ago.

And then, with Gary and his band so much back in my mind, and again out of the blue, today I got an email from Snow Patrol’s manager asking if I wanted to come and see the band play this Thursday at The Forum. I told her I’d love to go. Then it occurred to me that I’ve never actually seen Snow Patrol play a gig since they became famous. I’m scratching my head and wondering how this could have happened, but there it is. I suppose I got busy having a child, a divorce, a custody battle, building a house, losing a house, gaining custody of a child etc while Gary got busy being an A-listed, globe-trotting musical phenomenon, so I suppose it’s not that surprising I’ve never seen them play since the turn of the millennium.

I’m aware that there are people who read this column who have ‘made it’ and are currently at the top of their respective games. But I know newer artists read this too. And to you guys, and I know it’s a bit of a cheesy story, but I say remember Gary and where he was, for years, before the big time came his way. Keep your head up. Keep doing what you do. Accept favours when they come your way from friends who recognise your talent. And have faith in yourself and don’t give up. You don’t have to make it as big as Gary to be happy, or to be ‘successful’. You could, like me, just get by doing something you really love, and be astonishingly, infectiously and gloriously happy, like I am. Bottom line. Keep the faith. Use the force. One day your ship will come in.

Meanwhile, on Thursday I’ll be seeing Snow Patrol play in front of a comparatively huge crowd. Something I have never, ever seen. I have only ever cried at three gigs, but I suspect that by shortly after 9pm on Thursday night, that number will have crept up to four.

X eddy