The frontman on writers block, beating the bottle and coming to terms with his father’s illness
Andy Hill
12:46 20th June 2018

“The best piece of advice anyone ever gave me,” Gary Lightbody recalls in his soft Belfast burr, “is that the only way to beat writers block – is by writing.”

Well, yeah. 

“Five different songwriters, over the years, all gave me that exact same tip. Write. Even if it’s terrible. Even if you’re scared. You need to get the shit songs out before you reach the good stuff. Like drawing poison from a wound.”

Exactly who on earth those five songwriters think they bloody are, lecturing Gary Lightbody – who can boast comfortably over 15 million album sales and a billion streams to his name – is beyond me. 

But whatever; after a crippling seven-year bout of writers block the poison’s finally banished, and praise be – Snow Patrol’s new LP is actually (whisper it) really good.

Wildness, released last month, is a melodic, hook-laden affair pitched squarely at punters with a sneaky soft-spot for dependable, unpretentious meat-and-potatoes indie. Which is everyone, surely.

“I still don’t feel I’ve got songwriting down to a fine art,” reckons Lightbody, who to date has five Platinum discs on his mantlepiece and roughly a gazillion streams chalked up thanks to collaborations with the likes of Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift. 

“All I care about with the Snow Patrol stuff, our remit if you like, is that the songs have melody and heart. Or melody and honesty.”

The new LP certainly isn’t short on candour, with much of the emotional torque deriving from Lightbody’s recent battle with alcoholism. 

“You know when friends are telling you you might be drinking too much – that’s usually a good indication,” he recalls “Especially when it’s my friends saying that. Because they’ve been known to enjoy a drink or four.

“I was drinking every single day. Come 5 o’clock I would crack open my first beer and go from there.”

Simplicity has always been Snow Patrol’s hallmark, to the delight of fans and snarky derision of haters. And here, on album tracks like ‘A Dark Switch’ and especially ’A Youth Written In Fire’, he really spells it out for us.

“This isn't like the first time anymore / And I've been chasing after all / Digging for the lost memories / Of a youth lived in fire.”

His lowest ebb, aside from the health issues that always crop up after prolonged periods of alcohol abuse, was when he saw himself through the eyes of a young couple at a bar one evening. 

“I was sitting in a bar, drinking on my own again, as I’d always promised myself I never would. This couple came in and sat down at the table beside me.

“They hadn’t seen me until now. This all happened wordlessly by the way. Anyway, they looked at me, glanced at each other, nodded… then silently got up, walked across to the other side of the room, and sat down at a different table. That’s the state I was in.

“As of the third of June this year, it’s two years since my last drink.”

Good on you buddy. Elsewhere on the record he tackles forlorn lost love on the uncannily sweet ballad ‘What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get?’

“Quite a few of my friends over these past couple of years have gone through divorces,” he explains. “That song is me trying to reach out. I haven’t been divorced, right enough, but I’ve had longterm relationships come to an end. You know how it feels. 

“I want to say ‘Come here. Come over. I’m in the room, I know the way, we can help each other.

“But the real point of the song is – why don’t you treat the love you have like it’s the only love you’ll ever get? You may as well. Love can be extremely hard to come by, and life is very fucking short.”

This latter theme is tackled on ‘Soon’, a gut-wrenching slow-burner that deals with Lightbody’s father’s encroaching dementia.

“One of my favourite days ever with dad was shooting the video for ‘Soon’. 

 “It’s just me and him watching home movies over at my house. It was a beautiful day. 

“Making a music video you hear the same song 20-30 times, but I still don’t know if the meaning of the lyrics sunk in. He’s in and out. There are still good days though.”

Nonetheless, far from wallowing in sadness, Gary Lightbody is infectiously upbeat. This Friday (Jun 22) his old university, in Dundee, is presenting him with an honorary doctorate (“I scraped my degree by the skin of my teeth, they’re certainly not giving it to me for academic work”) and a while back he even blagged his way onto an episode of Game Of Thrones, “singing a song on horseback”.

Moreover he’s excited about Snow Patrol’s forthcoming tour, and the opportunity to revisit some old haunts, for the first time, with a clear head.

“We’ve been away for seven years. You just can’t expect people to want to come see you, to be excited about your return. You shouldn’t be arrogant enough to think it will happen like it did. But to play arenas again, and for them to be selling really well, it’s amazing.”

And lest you think Lightbody is dreading the fact that – while his new material is bang on point – the biggest crowd reactions will inevitably be for old hits ‘Run’ and ‘Chasing Cars’, think again:

“I’m still extraordinarily proud of those songs. 'Run' was the first hit we had, after being together for ten years, so it means an awful lot. It changed everything, put us into bigger rooms, in front of more people. We sold more albums, got to play new places. Then 'Chasing Cars' blew the roof off and we got to play the whole world. And we still get to do that.

“When we play 'Run' or 'Chasing Cars' live and everybody sings along, jesus... it’s impossible not to be moved – and we always are. Every single time. It’s a fucking privilege.”

Snow Patrol tour dates:

DEC

5 - Newcastle, Metro Radio Arena

7 - Belfast, The SSE Arena

11 - Dublin, 3Arena

JAN

25 - Birmingham, Birmingham Arena

26 - London, O2 Arena

29 - Leeds, First Direct Arena

30 - Manchester, Manchester Arena

31 - Glasgow, The SSE Hydro

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