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Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody reveals Stephen Merchant 'buried' him over rock-star attempt

Lightbody had bought himself his first leather jacket after moving to LA, but when he turned up at a pub, Extras star Merchant jibed: “All right! Mad Max has arrived”
David O'Dornan

Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody has told how comic Stephen Merchant crushed his confidence when he tried to carry off a rock-star image.

The Bangor-born singer, who performed on stage with Ed Sheeran at his Belfast gig on Friday night, had bought himself his first ever leather jacket after moving to Los Angeles and put it on to meet friends in a bar.

But when he arrived he was roasted by Extras star Merchant, who jibed: “All right! Mad Max has arrived.”

Lightbody (45), who is shy and introverted off stage, admitted he was stunned to suddenly find himself a laughing stock.

He said: “He just completely buried me in front of everybody.

“The one and only time I had any rock-star confidence about me was completely decimated in the space of a few words.

“My one dalliance with rock’n’roll behaviour, never to be repeated.”

Snow Patrol found fame relatively later in their careers after a decade of trying. Lightbody even took a call-centre job in 2001 after the band had been dropped from a record label, but he only lasted two days.

He added: “That’s how useful I am to society when you take the guitar away from me.”

But after “one last try” the group finally struck gold with hit songs such as Run and Chasing Cars. But as they found themselves in huge arenas and supporting the likes of U2, Lightbody was finding it hard to adapt.

“We had no idea how to play to that kind of crowd,” he said.

“We were just very aware that this could be taken away from us at any time and that, in fact, it — the success — might be a mistake. I was waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘Actually, sorry, it’s not supposed to be you guys, so if you could just move out of the way that’d be great’.

“You’re never fully cocksure, or confident. So you’ll find no footage of me entering a room like, say, Conor McGregor.

“I love someone’s ability to do that, and I revere it, but it’s so far from what goes on in my own head.”

At their peak in 2006 with their album Eyes Open, Snow Patrol toured constantly for 18 months, which took its toll, and, looking back now, Lightbody described it as “insane”.

He continued: “Each of us collectively in the middle of a series of nervous breakdowns at any given moment.

“It was fun to be in such a big band, and we laughed like idiots for most of every day, but there was also so much tension. So much.”

In Nick Duerden’s new book, Exit Stage Left: The Curious Afterlife Of Pop Stars, Lightbody revealed he was spooked when he heard that fellow music artist Henry Rollins had retired at the age of 52 as he felt he “had his songs”.

At the time, Lightbody was 40 and suffering his own bout of writer’s block while also yearning to write something relating to his Northern Irish roots and uncertain whether that would be palatable to record label bosses.

He said: “I kept thinking, ‘F***! F***! Is that what’s happening to me? I haven’t got any songs left? I’m fishing in a dry well? It made me feel impotent.

“I got heavily into early Irish history and wanted to delve deep into our past. I thought that was really interesting, not to make a traditional Irish music album so much, but an album with at least an echo of the past.

“An exploration of our roots. So that’s what I set my mind to.

“I’d literally been running away from myself for years, so I had to try to find some semblance of who I was.”

This period coincided with a sense of loneliness: other band members were more settled, such as guitarist Johnny McDaid, who was in a relationship with Friends actress Courteney Cox and who had become very close with Ed Sheeran, the two of them writing songs together.

Meanwhile, Lightbody, teetotal now but problem-drinking back then, said of his life at that time: “It was a mess.”

But he was able to pull himself out of the mire by penning Don’t Give In, turning his life around by quitting booze, and releasing the band’s 2018 album, Wildness.

He added: “We’re still able to play the same tours, we still get into the charts, and so that’s OK. I’m fine with it.”

Exit Stage Left by Nick Duerden is out now.

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