Hall of Fame - Snow Patrol
Stuart Bailie on how Final Straw broke this band into the big time
In January 2004, the British media suddenly started to enthuse over a 'new' act from Northern Ireland called Snow Patrol. Their single ‘Run’ was becoming a radio favourite and names such as U2, Pink, and then REM started saying complimentary things about the band.
Within weeks, Snow Patrol would see ‘Run’ rise to number five, bringing their album Final Straw to number three and priming everyone for a series of euphoric festival shows. The audience chorused the words to ‘Run’ at Glastonbury, T In The Park, Oxegen and the Isle Of Wight events.
The band toured America and were contenders for the Mercury Prize and its American counterpart, The Shortlist. By the end of the year, they had sold a million albums in Britain, they had topped the Irish charts and they had marked their homecoming with an unparalleled four nights at the Ulster Hall and a show at the RDS in Dublin. They also featured on Band Aid 20, singing backing vocals on the Christmas number one.
It had actually taken the best part of ten years to become hailed as an overnight success. In 1994, singer and guitarist Gary Lightbody met bassist Mark McClelland during Fresher’s Week at Dundee University, where they had both chosen to study. An early version of the band was called Shrug, which was changed to Polar Bear. Unfortunately, another band had appropriated this name, and so Snow Patrol was the chosen alternative. There was an allusion to their name change when they released their debut album in 1998, Songs For Polar Bears.
By this stage, they had recruited another Ulster musician, Jonny Quinn on drums. Their Scottish DJ friend Tom Simpson was billed as a 'turntable tactician', and would remain a close associate of the team. While Snow Patrol was essentially a leftfield rock band with a fondness for American acts like The Pixies and Sebadoah, the use of synths and DJ effects on tracks such as ‘Starfighter Pilot’ gave their music and additional edge.
They had signed to Jeepster Recordings, a small label that also featured the indie notables Belle And Sebastian, who would also become close to Snow Patrol. The band had shifted their base to Glasgow, and became integrated with that city’s strong music scene.
Frustratingly, few people in the media were aware of the band, despite a strong second album, When It’s All Over We Still Have To Clear Up (2001). There was a lull in their career, and Gary embarked on a series of side projects, billed as The Reindeer Section. This produced two albums, Y’All Get Scared Now, Ya Hear (2000) and Son Of Evil Reindeer (2002). These were released on a Northern Ireland label, Bright Star Recordings.
Nathan Connolly from Ulster act F.U.E.L. joined on guitar. The band had also signed a management deal with the influential Big Life company, which in turn let to a new recording contract, this time with Fiction, a subsidiary of Polydor. With this in place, the band began recording Final Straw with the Dublin producer Jacknife Lee, who would later work with U2. The album came out in later 2003, accompanied by a single, 'Spitting Games' and the early reaction was muted. However, the triumph of ‘Run’ was still to do its work.
In 2005 the band were nominated for three Brit Awards.