Bed wetters and drum sticks - the Bangor boys storm Ward Park
Morrissey once sang, 'We hate it when our friends become successful,' and it could be said that there’s more than a grain of truth to this. As Snow Patrol stand in front of approximately 45,000 in Bangor’s Ward Park, it must surely have proved to be a valediction for the band, the triumphant homecoming they all surely feel they deserve.
But it has been a rough ride for the Bangor-via-Dundee indie-rock band, having to endure a huge amount of critical barbs over the latter half of this decade, a period of time which has seen them sell over ten million albums worldwide. As their commercial standing has skyrocketed, the critics have turned on the band, with accusations of irrelevancy being cast in their direction thick and fast.
And in a sense, it’s very easy to see why this has been the case. The Snow Patrol which initially made an impression on indie tastemakers back in the late 90s with punchy singles like ‘Starfighter Pilot’ and ‘Velocity Girl’ no longer exist.
Gone are the days when lo-fi production and indie-rock hooks were the order of the day, and insular indie boys and girls could stand in the shadows at the back of poorly attended gigs, listening for the lyrics that would join the dots in their own lovelorn lives.
In 2003, the band released Final Straw, a record which would take them from the periphery of the music press ‘Where are they now?’ columns, and propel them to mainstream success.
No longer the exclusive property of the protective few, the band were handed on a platter to a global audience, hungry for anthemic choruses and emotional peaks. Lighters could be waved in the air, terraces could chant the choruses, and – most importantly – a huge number of people could find themselves reflected in the words of Gary Lightbody.
Whereas before, enigmatic specifics were the currency the band dealt in, the songs now began to tell keenly observed vignettes, which offered little in the way of critical analysis, but could be empathised with by millions. Not for the first time, a songwriter connected on a deeply personal level with his audience, by arguably stripping back the personal content of his songwriting. From here on in, the fans started pouring in, and the critical knives were drawn.
All of this makes the band’s Ward Park appearance a real 'Us vs Them' affair. The people who were there at the beginning will turn their noses up dismissively at the fly-by-night fans that jumped on the bandwagon with Final Straw (and have stayed on that particular bandwagon for seven years, lest we forget).
On the other hand, the mass audience who now ‘own’ the band can’t wait to get to the sing-a-long moments in the set, and would no-doubt be bewildered at the inclusion of some of the early material.
Ultimately Snow Patrol can’t win. The indie fanboy at the heart of Gary Lightbody has undoubtedly been stung by the critical assessment of his band, and the desertion of the indie tastemakers that once celebrated him. After all, he started a band in the first place because he was a music fan, and is now having to fend off accusations that he probably wouldn’t be into his own music anymore.
On the other hand, he has written songs that have literally touched the hearts of millions of people, profoundly moved them and become an important part of the fabric of their lives. How many people have wept with the unbearable pain of a broken heart, whilst ‘Run’ played in the background? How many people have told someone, 'You’re All I Have', and felt their chest swell with love?
Things change. Dylan went electric. The Beatles became a studio band. The Clash said, 'Cut the Crap!' but didn’t. Ward Park was a special moment in the history of a band caught in a difficult position.
Whether they can top it, or whether there is credence to the accusations of 'declining standards' is irrelevant. It was the triumph of a well drilled, professional, world class touring act, who managed to pull off the biggest gig Northern Ireland has ever seen, with no small amount of humble grace and charm.
When the final chapter of Snow Patrol’s story is written, Ward Park will be seen as a high, rather than a low. Anything less would be a character assassination of the highest order.
Image via Northern Ireland Tourist Board