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feature

Show Patrol: Inside Snow Patrol’s live comeback

On Snow Patrol's 25th anniversary, IQ follows the band's triumphant return to the road as they traverse Europe and take on the Americas

By Richard Smirke on 04 Apr 2019

Snow Patrol

image © Bradley Quinn

Back in October 2012, when Snow Patrol were nearing the end of their hugely successful year-long Fallen Empires tour, their manager Peter Mensch flew out to see them play in Santiago, Chile, and offered some choice advice to the Northern Irish rock band.

“I said to them, ‘Gee, let’s not wait three years to make another record,’” he recalls.

No patrol
Snow Patrol evidently took the advice to heart, as they didn’t take three years to make a follow-up to Fallen Empires. They took seven. “That was not part of the plan,” deadpans Mensch. “They are the band that’s taken longer off than any band I’ve ever managed, so I’m learning on the job. There isn’t a playbook: Seven-year Absences for Dummies.”

The reason for the group’s prolonged withdrawal, singer-songwriter Gary Lightbody explained last year, was down to his personal struggles with writer’s block, depression and alcoholism. Thankfully, the singer gradually overcame his demons, which helped provide the creative fuel for Wildness, Snow Patrol’s seventh studio album, which was released last May, debuting at No. 2 in the United Kingdom, topping the charts in Ireland, and becoming a top-ten hit throughout Europe.

Go Patrol
Having not played live in almost five years, 2018 also saw the long overdue return of Snow Patrol to the touring market, beginning with a small run of 900- to 2,000-capacity shows in England, Ireland and America. They were followed by some European festival dates and a three-month stretch supporting Ed Sheeran on a sell-out run of US stadiums. In December, the band kicked off its own European arena tour, which included sell-out shows at Belfast’s SSE Arena, Arena Birmingham, Dublin’s 3Arena, Glasgow’s The SSE Hydro, London’s The O2 and Amsterdam’s Ziggo Dome, as well as dates at Hamburg’s Barclaycard Arena and Berlin’s Velodrom.

“I didn’t know if we’d be able to be as big as we were in 2012. Or if we’d be smaller. Or how much smaller”

“I didn’t know what to expect,” admits Mensch about the Wildness Tour, which continues throughout 2019 and includes 21 dates in North America; headline shows in Dubai, Mexico, Colombia, Paraguay, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina; as well as European festival dates and a 33,000-capacity homecoming concert at Ward Park, in the band’s hometown of Bangor, Northern Ireland.

“I didn’t know if we’d be able to be as big as we were in 2012. Or if we’d be smaller. Or how much smaller,” continues Mensch. “When your last dates are six years apart in some cases, you don’t know [if the fan base is still there]. As your audience gets older they get tougher to motivate… [Snow Patrol] could have just disappeared altogether.”

“When a band is away for seven years there’s always a little bit of a grey area as to what they are going to come back to, especially with such a changed landscape in the industry,” says X-ray Touring’s Steve Strange, who has been Snow Patrol’s agent since their second album, 2001’s When It’s All Over We Still Have To Clear Up, when the band was playing 80- to 200-capacity rooms. Breakthrough album Final Straw, released two years later, and its 4 million-selling follow-up Eyes Open, featuring the huge global hit Chasing Cars, made Snow Patrol one of the UK’s biggest touring rock bands. They’re popularity may have dipped slightly in the years since then, but they’re still a major touring force around the world, as the success of their latest tour proves.

“They don’t have a fickle audience. It’s a very loyal one and my prediction has proved correct,” notes Strange, who says he was “never concerned” about the band’s ability to still move tickets, despite their lengthy time out of the spotlight. “They’re a band that has got a great legacy of hits and that has come back with a very strong record. I’m very happy with where we are. We’re in very good shape for a band that has let a seven-year gap happen between cycles.”

“When a band is away for seven years there’s always a little bit of a grey area as to what they are going to come back to”

X-why-z’s Christian Vadillo-Bilda, who promoted five shows in Germany, notes, “It was hard to predict in the beginning which level of venue we should go for, as the band has been away for such a long time. So we decided to go for a mixture of 5,000-capacity venues to arenas in some markets, and it worked well. We sold out the ‘smaller’ venues and did up to 7,000 tickets on the bigger shows.”

Thawing out
Before Snow Patrol could return to the road, however, a comprehensive review of the band’s live set-up was required, explains long-standing tour manager Neil Mather. “The technology had changed so much in the six years they had been away from touring. We went to the lock-up and there was equipment there that was at least twice the size of what it now is. The backline pretty much required a complete rebuild from top to bottom along with a re-evaluation of the whole set-up.”

Rehearsals subsequently took place in London at Music Bank and SW19 at the start of 2018, ahead of the band’s keenly anticipated live return at London’s Islington Assembly Hall on 11 April 2018, swiftly followed by dates at New York’s Irving Plaza and Hollywood’s Fonda Theater. From there, the band travelled to Ireland for a brief run of intimate club and theatre shows before jetting back to America, where they spent three months performing to over a million people as the main support on Ed Sheeran’s gigantic stadium tour. The invite to open for Sheeran came direct from the singer, who supported the band on their 2012 Fallen Empires Tour and has written a number of songs with Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid.

For Snow Patrol, “the Sheeran tour was a fantastic opportunity to reposition the band in the States,” says Strange, who credits it with boosting ticket sales for the group’s headline run of US shows in April and May, many of which have since sold out. As well as reacquainting American audiences with Snow Patrol, the Sheeran trek also gave members and crew the chance to work on plans for their own headline tour.

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 82, or subscribe to the magazine here