Gary Lightbody– vocals, guitar (1994–present)
Jonny Quinn– drums, percussion (1994–present)
Nathan Connolly– guitar, vocals (2002–present)
Paul Wilson– bass guitar, vocals (2005–present)
Tom Simpson– keyboards (2005–present, touring member since 1997)
Songs for Polarbears (1998)
When It’s All Over We Still Have to Clear Up (2001)
Final Straw (2003)
Eyes Open (2006)
A Hundred Million Suns (2008)
Fallen Empires (2012)
Snow Patrol are a Northern Irish alternative rock band, with members from Northern Ireland and Scotland. Formed at the University of Dundee in 1994, the band is now based in Glasgow. The band’s first three records, the EP Starfighter Pilot, and the studio albums Songs for Polarbears and When It’s All Over We Still Have to Clear Up, were commercially unsuccessful and were released by independent labels Electric Honey and Jeepster, respectively. When the band moved to a major record label Polydor Records, they released their 2003 album Final Straw which surpassed 4x platinum sales in the UK. This was the first time the band achieved significant commercial sales, following it up with international success in 2006 when Eyes Open sold 4.7 million copies worldwide. The songs “Run”, “Chasing Cars” and “Signal Fire” are among the band’s biggest hits. Snow Patrol have been nominated for three BRIT Awards and have won five Meteor Ireland Music Awards. In 2008, the band released their fifth studio album A Hundred Million Suns, and released their first compilation album, Up to Now in 2009. Worldwide, the band have sold over ten million albums.
Early years (1994–2001)
Originally formed in late 1994 by Northern Ireland University of Dundee students Gary Lightbody, Michael Morrison and Mark McClelland the as Shrug, the band started by performing gigs at the university and surrounding pubs such as Lucifer’s Mill. Their first EP, called the “Yoghurt vs Yoghurt debate”, was a rousing success. In 1995, they changed their name to Polar Bear (or Polarbear) to avoid issues with an American band that was also named Shrug. Shortly afterwards, drummer Mike Morrison left the band after suffering a breakdown to return to Northern Ireland. In mid 1997, Polar Bear released a three-track EP, Starfighter Pilot, on the Electric Honey label. The band again renamed, this time to Snow Patrol, because of a naming conflict with another band of the same name fronted by Jane’s Addiction’s ex-bassist Eric Avery. At this point, Jonny Quinn, from Northern Ireland, joined as permanent drummer.
Snow Patrol joined Scottish independent label Jeepster in 1997, home of Glasgow band Belle & Sebastian. Jeepster had the same idea for Snow Patrol as the approach they had with Belle & Sebastian, who had become popular by word-of-mouth and not heavy promotion. The band were happy to be associated with an indie label, because it provided them the independence. At that time, they felt all Jeepster records would work like that, and did not deem it necessary to have a work ethic or promotion behind them.
Snow Patrol recorded two albums under Jeepster, Songs for Polarbears (in 1998) and When It’s All Over We Still Have to Clear Up (in 2001). Both were recorded while the band lived in Glasgow, where Lightbody used to hold a job at the Nice n Sleazy’s Bar in Sauchiehall Street. Both albums were critically lauded, but failed to make any impression commercially. Despite the record deal, the band was struggling. They started to work harder, and toured more to promote their albums, but continued to be in debt. They slept on fans’ floors after concerts and pretended to be members of Belle & Sebastian to get into nightclubs. They owed rent to their landlords and used to receive regular visits and letters from them when on tour. After the failure of the second album, the band began to think what was going wrong. The band realized that the label’s lax attitude towards management and record promotion was harming their career, even thought these were the qualities they had liked before. They realized that a lot of help was needed to succeed.
Final Straw (2001–2005)
Jeepster dropped Snow Patrol in 2001, a decision that was criticized by Hot Press magazine as brainless. Then band manager Danny McIntosh compared the band’s relation with the label to a marriage gone sour: “[they] gave us our big break, so we fell madly in love with them. Then the fighting and the arguing started and, well, let’s just say that both sides filed for divorce”. By July 2001, many major labels had started showing interest in Snow Patrol, but the band were cash-strapped and had no record deal. Lightbody sold a major part of his record collection to raise money to keep the band going. Lightbody calls the time “miserable”, but was confident of getting signed to another label quickly. However, the music scene in the United Kingdom had turned its attention to American bands and British bands were not getting signed. The band spent this time constantly writing songs. Lightbody, bored at this point, assembled The Reindeer Section, a Scottish supergroup, and found a record label to release the group’s recordings. Quinn said that though the time was hard for everyone involved, the question of splitting up never arose. It was during this time the band wrote “Run” (which had been around since 2000) in a room on an acoustic guitar, which later became the band’s breakthrough single. The band’s “low point” came when they played a concert to 18 people at a strip club in High Wycombe. The show took place in a shoddy VIP area, and the management had to unscrew poles used by pole dancers in order to make space for the band to play. Quinn calls the show “horrendous”. Desperate for attention, the band raised £200 to nominate themselves for a Mercury Prize, but failed to get shortlisted.
In 2002, the band started to be managed and published by Jazz Summers of Big Life. Guitarist Nathan Connolly, previously of F.U.E.L. had been working in an HMV store room in Belfast at the time. Connolly and the band had a mutual friend, who introduced them to him. Connolly moved to Glasgow to join the band in the spring of 2002. His mother commented that he had been “kidnapped by rock stars”. By 2002–2003, the band had started to lose faith of getting signed, and was considering getting jobs to raise money to finance the album themselves. During Lightbody and McClelland’s years at the University of Dundee, they had been noticed by Richard Smernicki, a senior student. Through Richard, brother Paul too had come to know the band. Richard graduated in 1996, two years before Lightbody and McClelland, to become Polydor’s Scottish A&R representative. Paul became Polydor’s Press and Artist Development Manager and Fiction’s label manager. Later, Jim Chancellor, an A&R executive for Fiction, and Alex Close (fellow talent scout) approached the band and judged them on “the quality of the songs”, according to Lightbody. The band contemplated their future for a few months before eventually signing. Manager Summers too had a major part in getting the band signed.
The band, however was still nervous, afraid of the fact that the label might push them around, and make them do things they did not want to make money. Their fears came to life when Chancellor introduced them to the producer the label had hired for them, Jacknife Lee. Lee at the time had no production experience with a rock band. Again, the band got no help from the executives. They immediately began working for their third studio album, and credited producer Lee for truly helping the band and doing “an amazing job”.
Final Straw was released on 4 August 2003, under Black Lion, a subsidiary of Polydor Records. Its music was along the same lines as the band’s first two albums, and no attempt was made to change the sound to something more radio-friendly. The album, along with “Run” (which debuted at #5 in the UK Singles Chart), gave the band their first taste of mainstream success. The record peaked at #3 in the UK Albums Chart. Archer’s final date with the band was 27 September 2003 in the St Andrews Students’ Association. They followed the success of “Run” up with three more singles from the album: “Chocolate”, as well as a re-release of “Spitting Games”, both reaching the top 30, and “How to Be Dead” reaching number 39.
The release of Final Straw in the United States in 2004 saw the album sell more than 250,000 copies and become the 26th most popular album in the UK of that year. In mid-2005, during their tour to support Final Straw, the band toured with U2 as an opening act on U2’s Vertigo Tour in Europe. The band then returned to the United States to continue touring in support of Final Straw.
That summer also saw Snow Patrol playing a small set in London at the worldwide benefit concert Live 8. After finishing their opening act duties and extensive 2-year tour of Final Straw in late July, the band took a few weeks off and began writing and recording songs for a new album. Snow Patrol’s new version of John Lennon’s “Isolation” was released on 10 December 2005 as part of the Amnesty International campaign, Make Some Noise. The song was later issued on the 2007 John Lennon tribute album, Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur.
Mark McClelland’s departure
On 16 March 2005, McClelland left the band, with Lightbody stating ‘a whole new set of new and unexpected pressures… have unfortunately taken their toll on working relationships within the band, and it was felt the band could not move forward with Mark as a member.’ At the end of March 2005, former Terra Diablo member Paul Wilson was announced as the official replacement for McClelland and Snow Patrol also declared longtime touring keyboardist Tom Simpson an official member of the band.
Eyes Open (2006–2007)
The band completed recording Eyes Open in December 2005, with Jacknife Lee returning for production, and this album was released on 28 April 2006 in Ireland, and the UK on 1 May 2006, with the first UK single “You’re All I Have” having been released on the 24 April 2006. The album was released in North America on 9 May. While “Hands Open” was the first American single, “Chasing Cars” pushed its way onto the download and pop charts after it was heard during an emotional scene of the second season finale of the television show Grey’s Anatomy on 15 May 2006. Due to the song’s surprise popularity, it was released as an overlapping single in early June and the video was re-recorded to include clips from the show.
On 30 July 2006, Snow Patrol appeared on the finale of the long-running BBC music show Top of the Pops, performing “Chasing Cars”. The band was the last act to ever appear on the show.
Snow Patrol recorded a live session at Abbey Road Studios for Live from Abbey Road on 4 October 2006. The performance was included on an episode shared with Madeleine Peyroux and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and shown in the UK on Channel 4 and the US on the Sundance Channel.
The band was forced to postpone a majority of the American Eyes Open tour after polyps were discovered on Lightbody’s vocal cords, and failed to heal after initial postponement of three dates on the tour. Dates were rescheduled for August and September. The year would continue to be difficult on the band for the U.S. legs of their tours, as they were also forced to cancel two west coast festival appearances in mid-August due to the threat of terrorist attacks on U.S.-bound flights from the UK. Two band members made it to the U.S. while two were stuck in London. Subsequently, they all made it to the lone U.S. tour stop in Boston days later but failed to recover any of their luggage, forcing them to shop for clothes on Newbury St. that afternoon. Their gear arrived hours before show time, just in time for sound check. The band also had to cancel appearances in Germany and France after bassist Paul Wilson injured his left arm and shoulder.
On 26 November 2006, Eyes Open had become the UK’s best-selling album of the year, overtaking previous leader Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not by Arctic Monkeys. Despite very strong sales for Take That’s comeback album Beautiful World, Eyes Open marginally earned the title of the UK’s best-selling album of 2006, with 1.6 million in sales. The album reached platinum certification in the US as well, selling over 1,000,000 copies, and it maintained a spot in the upper quarter of the Billboard 200 list for over fifteen weeks, on the heels of the popularity of “Chasing Cars”. The band also holds the distinction of having one of iTunes’ top downloaded albums and songs of 2006. Ahead of the band’s February tour, Eyes Open topped the Australian charts some eight months after its release on 22 January 2006. Back home in Ireland, Eyes Open became one of the best selling albums of all time, staying at the top of the charts from the end of 2006 to early — mid 2007, and remaining in the charts to the present.
Snow Patrol appeared as the musical guest on the 17 March 2007 episode of Saturday Night Live, hosted by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. They performed “You’re All I Have” and “Chasing Cars”. The band toured Japan in April, followed by European festival dates, Mexico, and the US in the summer. They ended their tour in Australia in September 2007.
The band contributed the song “Signal Fire” to the Spider-Man 3 soundtrack, as well as the film. The song was the lead single from the soundtrack and was featured in the credits to the film.
On 7 July 2007, the band performed at the UK leg of Live Earth at Wembley Stadium, London. Shortly after the band’s performance, Simpson was arrested at RAF Northolt for missing a court date in Glasgow, having been charged with possession for cocaine.
1 September 2007 saw Snow Patrol headlining a “home coming” mini-festival in Lightbody and Jonny Quinn’s home town of Bangor, County Down. Around 30,000 people came to see the band.
On 25 November 2007, Snow Patrol performed an acoustic session for the charity Mencap, in a small chapel in Islington. They were one of the main bands to take part in the project, called “Little Noise Sessions” which was curated by Jo Whiley.
A Hundred Million Suns (2008–2009)
Gary Lightbody stated that recording for the follow-up to Eyes Open was to begin in Autumn 2006, with Jacknife Lee returning a third time for production. Since then the band stated that they wished to take a year off after the back-to-back tours of Final Straw and Eyes Open and intended to emerge at the end of 2008 with their next album. Lightbody is also set to release an album as part of a solo project called “Listen… Tanks!” but a date for this has not yet been publicly announced.
A post, dated 23 May 2008 on the band’s official website stated that recording for the next album had been under way for a week; they began on 19 May 2008. The new album, entitled A Hundred Million Suns, was released on 24 October 2008 in Ireland and 27 October in the UK and US. The first single entitled “Take Back the City” was released in Ireland on 10 October 2008. Filming for the music video to “Take Back the City” took place on 11 August 2008 in Central London. The music video was directed by Alex Courtes.
The band kicked off their Taking Back the Cities Tour on 26 October 2008. Singer Miriam Kaufmann currently tours with the band and sings backing vocals, most notably on “Set the Fire to the Third Bar”, which originally featured Martha Wainwright. The ‘UK & Ireland Arena tour’ ended on 23 March. The final show was played at the Odyssey in Belfast to a 9,000 strong crowd including family and friends of the band, and the Northern Irish football squad. It also reported that the band played to an estimated 200,000 fans during the tour.
The band next visited South Africa, playing a couple of dates at the Coca-Cola Zero Festival, supporting Oasis. The band then began a European leg of the tour and then supported Coldplay for a month on the Viva la Vida Tour in June. The band also supported U2 on a handful of European shows on the U2 360° Tour in July/August.
In April 2009, following the conviction of the founders of Swedish file sharing website The Pirate Bay, Lightbody commented in interview that “They shouldn’t have been jailed… the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.” In an interview to Xfm, Lightbody revealed that the band is recording some new songs that are set to release later in 2009. He commented that the band felt the songs act as a “bridge” between A Hundred Million Suns and the next album.
Snow Patrol is set to release the 22nd album in the Late Night Tales series of mix albums by artists, which has been curated by Lightbody and Simpson. The band covered INXS’s song, “New Sensation” for the occasion. Lightbody has also spoken of plans to release songs from the Listen… Tanks! project (with Snow Patrol producer Jacknife Lee) and Tired Pony, a solo country album.
The band will also release a compilation album featuring tracks from the band’s 15 year history. Up to Now will be released on 9 November 2009 and will include thirty tracks spanning two CDs, of which three are original new songs. “Just Say Yes”, a song Lightbody wrote and earlier recorded by Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger will be released as the lead single on 2 November, about a week before the album.
The album additionally contains past singles, covers and rarities, including songs from the band’s side-project The Reindeer Section. An expensive limited edition coffee-table book is also in the works.The band also wishes to make a tour documentary in the future, on the lines of U2’s Rattle and Hum.
Fallen Empires (2009–present)
Snow Patrol will enter its “next phase” with their sixth album. The band has taken a new musical direction, and Connolly has advised fans to keep an open mind. The band currently has some unreleased material, which Connolly has described as “very different from each other”, but emphasised that they have the lyrics of Lightbody, and strong melodies. He predicts a mixed reaction out of listeners. The album is said to showcase techno music and will be released in late 2011. However, Connolly has stated that “Just Say Yes” “isn’t necessarily a hint of where we’re going”.
On 12 January 2011, Lightbody launched a blog to give details about the progress of the next release from the band. Initially, the posts included photos and stories from the 2010 tour but in February the first details about new material started to emerge. “We’ve ten songs in progress, some missing choruses or missing verses or missing something as yet undefined. Our goal is twenty songs.” Lightbody said on a post dated 4 February.
The first song title to be announced was “Lifning”, although the singer admits he is uncertain of the proper spelling since it is an imaginary word that he made up. Other ways of spelling it, according to Lightbody, are “Lifening” and “Life-ning”, respectively. The meaning of the word is “to have lightning and light thrust into your life or to simply let them into your life” says Lightbody. The song features the dulcitone played by producer Jacknife Lee and the lead singer himself is seen playing a shruti box on the track. Later in the day of 7 February, the first guest appearance was hinted at. In the post, Lightbody says that a Ladybug visited the studio for a few vocal takes, complimenting him on his Stevie Nicks-like vocal contribution. Exactly who this person is remains unclear as there are several people in the music industry with that moniker. In addition, Lightbody did not state what track the guest vocal was recorded for.
On 2 March, Lightbody revealed the working title of yet another one of the new songs that the band had been working on. At the time, the track was entitled “Unspeakable Things” after being called “Overload” just a couple of days earlier on. This caused the singer to point out that track titles changes as the songs take shape over time. The following week, Lightbody announced that he had finished writing another new song, “The Garden Rules”. The attached photograph hints of instruments such as the melodica, celesta and mellotron flute being featured on the track. In addition, he says that the number of vocal takes are kept to a minimum similar to how he recorded the album with his side-project Tired Pony in contrast to previous recording sessions with Snow Patrol.
During the first week of April, Lightbody wrote about a collaboration for the new record together with The L.A. Inner City Mass Choir. The group was discovered by Jacknife Lee after browsing YouTube a couple of weeks prior to the post by Lightbody. A few days later, the singer stated that Jacknife Lee was once again playing the dulcitone, on a track that would remain nameless for the time being. However, later he claims it does in fact have a name but says: “I know it will change because I hate its name. Playing into the night”. Whether or not “Playing Into the Night” is the working title or not remains uncertain, though.
A third collaboration would be announced on 12 April when Lightbody said that the band had invited American folk rock artist Lissie to the recording sessions. Reportedly, she provided vocals to the previously mentioned “The Garden Rules” along with songs called “I’ll Never Let Go”, “Those Distant Bells” “West of Here” and “Fallen Empires”. Lightbody particularly praised her for the vocals recorded for “I’ll Never Let Go” and described them as similar in style to those of soul and gospel singer Merry Clayton on the track “Gimme Shelter” written by the English rock group The Rolling Stones. Shortly afterwards, the band were said to have left the studio, The Eagle’s Watch, in Malibu, California as declared by Lightbody on 17 April 2011. Moreover, he mentioned that the forthcoming album will probably have a Deluxe Edition which will feature a movie shot during the group’s stay at the studio among other things.
In May, Lightbody and Connolly were summoned to the studio of Jacknife Lee to supposedly record additional vocals. In late May, Lightbody said of the progress that the album was to be finished “and therefore very likely” to see a release later in the year. He also expressed his content with the result saying “It’s different but it’s great.”
Lightbody mentions in a blog post in late June how Canadian musician Owen Pallett was called in to write string and brass arrangements for approximately 7–8 songs off the new record along with fellow composer Nico Muhly. According to the information given by Lightbody, the two were working with the band at Ocean Way Studios in the Los Angeles area at the beginning of the month.
Snow Patrol released a new single for radio airplay, “Called Out in the Dark” on Thursday 21 July on BBC Radio 1 on Zane Lowe’s radio show. According to official sources, the single itself will be released independently and as part of an EP later on and the UK release date is said to be 4 September. More details on the EP were announced on 3 August, when the group’s website revealed the artwork and tracklist contents. Along with the new single, the release will also contain three new tracks called “My Brothers”, “I’m Ready” and “Fallen Empires”, respectively. In addition, it was revealed that the EP is intended to be a digital release limited to the UK and Ireland.
Shortly after the premiere of the new lead single, the quintet’s official website confirmed the news that the name of the new album will be Fallen Empires. Lightbody also confirmed in a Dutch radio interview that the album is due in the first weeks of November preceded by another single before that. He revealed that the band intend to tour the UK and Ireland in January and February 2012 with details on the rest of the European tour to be announced at a later stage.
A video for “Called Out in the Dark” was recorded in the Los Angeles area on 30 July and is based around an idea from Gary Lightbody. He stated in a Tumblr post that Brett Simon is the director of the video and that Noemie Lafrance is in charge of the choreography for it, previously known for her work with singer-songwriter Leslie Feist. Lightbody expresses some anxiety about the fact that he’s part of the choreography but admits that “part of the idea is that I’m not supposed to be good at it” and concludes: “If you don’t try new things you fade away and die”.
“Fallen Empires” was released on 14 November 2011 in the UK. Singer-songwriter Johnny McDaid joined the band during the recording of the album.
The second single to be taken from the album “Fallen Empires”, which was released on 13 November 2011, was announced on the band’s website as “This Isn’t Everything You Are”.
The band also contributed to a 2011 compilation entitled Johnny Boy Would Love This… A Tribute to John Martyn, for which they covered his song May You Never, from the 1973 album Solid Air.
Influence and other ventures
Gary Lightbody and Tom Simpson are both fans of the football club Dundee F.C.. In 2008, they met the club’s board of directors to find ways to financially help the short-of-cash club. The band also owns a stake in the Houndstooth Pub in New York City.
Snow Patrol have founded Polar Music, a publishing company run through Kobalt Music. The venture is independent from the band’s publishing deal with Universal Music. Polar Music will sign artists regardless of their genre, as drummer Jonny Quinn explained: “there is no agenda — if it’s good enough and we believe in it 110%, we will sign it.” Quinn, and his fellow band members Connolly and Lightbody are acting as A&R. The company’s first signing is singer-songwriter Johnny McDaid, previously of the Northern Irish band Vega4. Quinn has said that they wish to sign artists to a a one-album deal, and don’t want to put undue pressure on the artists with a bigger, multi-year deal. Polar Music had its first chart hit in the first week of October 2009.
The success of Snow Patrol has influenced the thriving Belfast music scene positively. This includes Lightbody, who returned to the city and now lives there. The band’s kindness towards local bands, partly by founding Polar Music, and Lightbody being an active part of the Oh Yeah Music Centre has resulted in high optimism in the scene. Musicians like Bono (of U2), Michael Stipe (of R.E.M.), Nikki Sixx (of Mötley Crüe) have also expressed their admiration for Snow Patrol