I love this city tonight
I love this city always
It bears its teeth like a light
And spits me out after days
Snow Patrol — October 2008
A Northern Irish band playing London — on the night before St Patrick’s Day. It really has been been quite a week.
In Snow Patrol’s home town of Belfast, as in Omagh all those years ago, an outbreak of mindless violence has lent passion to the public desire for peace. Shootings carried out by dissident republicans of the ‘Real IRA’ and designed to break the peace process have proved to have the opposite effect.
In Washington, Michelle Obama dyed the White House fountains green and President Obama met with Martin McGuinness.
Each event was unthinkable a decade ago, but with the IRA disbanded and Sinn Fein committed to achieving peace through democratic means, the branding of the gunmen as traitors by McGuinness has closed one full circle of the Irish peace process.
It’s been a long hard road to come this far, both for Ireland and for Snow Patrol. The band was formed in 1994 — the year my elder daughter was born and only twelve months after a massive IRA car bomb destroyed the office blocks of South Quay, just a mile away across the river here in London.
That was another world and another mindset, before the Good Friday Agreement brought all sides together and Omagh failed to split them. In the years since then, London’s eastern fringes have grown and thrived.
Here in Greenwich, the birthplace of universal time, a new millennium was marked beneath this vaulting tented roof.
Dubbed a monstrous white elephant then, the elegant Millennium Dome has been transformed into a remarkable 20,000 seat arena for the greatest acts in the world today. In 2012, the O2 will host the Olympic basketball and gymnastics.
After a birth into critical obscurity, it might be said that Snow Patrol spent their first decade across the Millennium fading further still from view. It wasn’t until 2003 and release of their third album, Final Straw, that things began to change.
With festival appearances in Glasgow and Glastonbury, a showing at Live8 in 2005 and a spell as U2’s support band on tour, gradually they grew a following.
Finally (almost ironically for an indie band) it was the featuring of the mesmeric Chasing Cars on primetime TV series Grey’s Anatomy which dragged them blinking towards the limelight.
A string of successful singles followed through 2006 from the slick and polished Eyes Open, and with a new album out last autumn, Snow Patrol hit the road this spring with the glow of confidence and A Hundred Million Suns behind them.
And so here we are in Greenwich, as chatty lead man Gary Lightbody would say. This might be Europe’s largest and most spectacular indoor concert hall, but there’s an immediacy to the show this evening which reflects the band’s Irish warmth and their humility in getting here.
I’ll sing it, and you can sing it back to me invites Lightbody as the audience provide the backing track to Shut Your Eyes. And so we do for this song, with its greatest ever guitar riff of the 2000s, and through many more to follow.
The new material is tried and tested well, beginning with a flawless vocal opening to If there’s a rocket… continuing atmospherically and optimistically across The Golden Floor, then bursting through Crack the Shutters to an energetic cut of Take Back the City.
With a swelling sheaf of songs to fill the largest venues, the band have the measure of this metropolis tonight. In sum, the setlist weaves a rich tonal combination, the darker shades of ballad and early bash through Run, Chocolate and Spitting Games shadowing the punch of their shiny spiritual successors Hands Open and Chasing Cars and the emotional depth of You Could Be Happy.
Surely we are, as the show finds a stirring close on Open Your Eyes, a vision played across the screenplay of an early morning journey through the sunlit streets of Paris — the arrival in another great city just one more step on a lifetime’s path of slow-burning aspirations and inevitably accepted disappointments.
It seems just a minute too long to wait before the band return to play their 16-minute experimental epic The Lightning Strike to the accompaniment of animated swirling stars and planets. Interesting and evocative — certainly. Fitting encore material — probably not.
But by now we’ll forgive Snow Patrol even their own paler Pink Floyd moment, and after an age our patience is eventually rewarded with a final flourish through You’re All I Have — an absolute ripper, this one — it’s the best song of the night.
As we file out of the concert, the dome’s white hot roof and yellow struts glow hopefully upwards into the new millennium which they were built to grace. This arena has finally discovered the vision and the dream it was really built for.
Across the nightfall, Canary Wharf’s high towers stand lit up across the Thames. Since they were built, London has thrived and survived two terrorist onslaughts before a full-blown financial crisis. Now she faces an uncertain future ahead.
Only yesterday, it seems, I brought two small infants to see the Dome. Yet beside me now stand two teenagers at their first rock concert. Our evening here with Snow Patrol has been fourteen good years and more in making.
Progress finds its time, in time — and as with a good pint of Guinness on St Patrick’s Day, then so tonight with Snow Patrol in London — it’s really true that good things come to those who wait.
139. Snow patrol – Holmenkollen, Oslo
193. Through the Gherkin’s glass darkly – nightfall and fear in the City of London
116. London is Olympic – The London Marathon
56. Paris – a view from the Champs de Mars
187. This is the Modern World – From The Jam, Guilfest 2008
92. Live from London – Live8
Nice gig report Roads. I’ve not really got the nat with Snow Patrol, but what I’ve heard has been impressive. Nor have I been to the O2, much to my chagrin. ACDC would have been my choice for a first experience; sadly I’ll be away when that juggernaut hits town.
I thought McGuinness struck about the right tone in his response to the recent outrage. I was less keen on Adams’s apparent reticence to condemn the violence, but I guess we must, in those immortal words, not only give peace a chance but also the pioneers of peace. Sometimes it’s tough to turn your prejudices around.
I’m optimistic for the future of the province and it’s new-found relationship with it’s southern neighbour. The overriding reaction to recent attrocities has been steely strong, cold, hard and unyeilding. This new brand of would-be terrorists have a hell of an uphill struggle ahead if they mean to carry on. There’s a sense of collective will eminating from the island, north and south. These blessed years of relative peace, far from making the people soft, have set a collective resolute jaw towards a brighter future.
We’re hoping to take our golf society to the northern shore in the autumn. Not a bold show of solidarity, more an effort to negate the impact of a plummeting pound. But it’ll be a pleasure to be there, to meet and share good ale and conversation with the people of that beleagered nation.
Thank you, Sweder, for such a reflective and thoughtful comment.
I share your unshaken optimism for the future of Northern Ireland and of Ireland, too. On my visits there I’ve always been struck by the warmth of welcome offered to the stranger, as well as by the general puzzled resignation which was such a long-suffering and stoical response to living with the daily and pervasive threat of violence.
As you rightly say, that resignation is no more, and a new and steely determination to end the bloodshed and to adapt to (if perhaps not ever entirely forget) the historic emnities. The Peace Movement in the 1980s offered much, but I feel it wasn’t really until the heroic efforts of the McCartney sisters (whose brother had been murdered by gunmen) to push forwards the cause for peace, both at home and in the USA, that progress began to seem a possibility.
To a bystander, the details of Irishness and Northern Irishness continue to amaze — how there is a single Irish rugby side, but separate football teams. How Guinness and good humour and music are celebrated across all communities.
In all those aspects, Snow Patrol are representative of a post-political and more tolerant new generation. Take back the city is as apt a dream for Belfast as almost anywhere imaginable. Having grown up through the seemingly endless years of violence, the determination to enjoy the peace dividend is fierce and not willingly shaken. I’d like to think that the shades of dark and optimism within Snow Patrol’s music reflects that background, but perhaps that comes as a given for all those nurtured by the Emerald Isle, no matter from which part.
You’ll love the Antrim coast and its beautiful scenery and boundless hospitality. There can be few more heavenly places to play golf than Portrush, and where better to celebrate the joys of living than a welcoming hostelry with sufficient supplies of Guinness. Many thanks again.
Following along this tangent and reflecting on recent events, there’s an article about the subtleties of Irishness and Northern Irishness within today’s Guardian.
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Thanks, Samy — glad you enjoyed it.
Just got tickets for Snow Patrol at London’s Albert Hall in November.
And here they are, playing tribute to Noel and Liam’s fraternal Oasis meltdowns, at the V-Festival last week.
I’m going 23rd & 24th…
Many thanks. Those V-Festival clips look great.