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The long-awaited return of Snow Patrol

Stripping the sound back: Snow Patrol. Photo/Supplied

Hit-making band Snow Patrol are heading back to New Zealand after a long hiatus.

For a while, Snow Patrol looked as if they were the ones in need of a search party. The big-in-the-noughties band from Northern Ireland have been out of the public eye for much of the past decade, on an extended hiatus that they feared might become permanent.

The reason for the break, it emerged, was frontman Gary Lightbody’s battles with mental health, alcohol and his father’s dementia.

Lead guitarist Nathan Connolly admits there was frustration over Snow Patrol’s inertia and moments when they doubted they would ever return.

“We’d try to support Gary and push him in the right places, but this was unmapped territory for us. We didn’t know what he was going through, and we weren’t aware of what it was putting him through. We’re fortunate to have a lyricist whose words mean a lot to people, who’s poetic and simple and gets to the heart of things. But, this time, it ripped him apart.”

Thanks largely to the enduring popularity of one song, Snow Patrol have been able to pick up where they left off. Their 2006 single Chasing Cars struck pop-culture gold when it crescendoed through two TV series finales (One Tree Hill and Grey’s Anatomy) that year, and it’s been earworming its way through adverts and movie soundtracks ever since.

It’s also been big among the dead. On charts kept by Britain’s largest funeral-home operator, it has remained for four years in a row the most-requested indie song to go out on. It’s not about to push the all-time favourite, Frank Sinatra’s My Way, off the UK undertaker hit parade, but it says something about Snow Patrol’s emotionally charged music, which filled stadiums but often left critics cold.

Connolly says that when Chasing Cars was written, they knew it was “a little bit special”, but had no idea what the song – powered by Lightbody’s lyrics and Connolly’s driving guitar – would mean for their careers.

“It’s what you dream about as a musician, for one of your songs to mean that much to someone that it connects them to a moment – their struggles, joy or grief – and makes them feel powerful,” he says. “Gary has written that song so simply, and it connects. It’s an honour that it means so much to those people.”

After their 2006 album, Eyes Open, it seemed as if Snow Patrol was on a Coldplay-like trajectory, filling stadiums and shrugging off the haters. Lightbody was the first of many music stars to cameo in Game of Thrones, in its first season. But seven years passed between lacklustre 2011 album Fallen Empires and its follow-up, Wildness, and an ensuing support slot on Ed Sheeran’s US tour.

The time it’s taken to deliver Wildness means Connolly knows the band have “skipped a generation” when it comes to audiences. Hence, the tour with Sheeran, to reintroduce themselves.

They’re back playing arenas in some parts of the world, but on their first visit to Auckland since 2007, they’ll be an unplugged three-piece in a theatre. It’s a format that puts the emphasis back on the words, says Connolly.

“When we strip the sound back, it becomes more tender and it really shines a light on the lyrics, because they’re naked and not relying on the bombast or the huge guitars.”

Snow Patrol: Live and Acoustic, August 8, at Auckland’s ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre.

This article was first published in the June 8, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.