Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody: 'I'll try to save any tears until after but Ward Park 3 will be emotional'
Snow Patrol singer Gary Lightbody shares why May's homecoming gig is so special
Gary Lightbody is preparing for an emotional return to Ward Park in his hometown, Bangor - as the countdown continues towards Snow Patrol's huge celebration of Northern Irish music.
But the band's frontman is hoping he will be able to keep the tears at bay until after their carefully crafted set on May 25.
The return to Ward Park for their third concert there - called Ward Park 3 - was announced last year, and it was the one their fans had been waiting for.
It marks the hat-trick for the band after their massive gigs there in 2007 and 2010 - something Gary says makes it feel more like a tradition.
He said: "It is something that we've wanted to do for a long time.
"To do the trilogy, that turns something from a couple of standalone gigs into something that feels like a tradition.
"This is something that completes the set, at least for now.
"Maybe as things progress we'll want to do it again but at the moment we're not thinking beyond this one," Gary added.
"We wanted to make this one doubly-special by making sure it was an all-Northern Irish affair with bands from all over Northern Ireland and celebrating our wee country at its finest.
"Our music scene is something we can all agree is something that is really, really exceptional in this country, along with a lot of other things culturally, and sport, we've always punched above our weight, but for Ward Park we wanted to make sure it celebrated the best of Northern Ireland."
The emotion and the significance of the massive event won't be lost on the band's singer.
The 42-year-old said: "I will try and save any tears until afterwards.
"But when I see the stage built and when the first band takes to the stage, that will be a very emotional moment.
"When music starts blaring out of the stage at Ward Park for the first time in nine years, that will be something very special."
For the band there is no better way they can imagine celebrating the 25th anniversary of Snow Patrol's formation.
It's that bit more special as it comes after they have been on the road touring again after their seven-year hiatus.
Gary said: "We were away for seven years, not on tour, not making records, well, trying to make a record but not doing it very quickly, and it's been amazing to be back on the road again.
"We've played in a lot of places and the response has been amazing.
"I've just been blown away really, it's been great to be back on the road and just having a lot of fun."
He calls his bandmates his extended family.
"We've not all been in the band for 25 years but we've spent a lot of time together and been through a lot together and it's amazing to be back on the road," he added. "I wouldn't do it, really, with anybody else.
"We all have our other projects that we do but they are only ever for a small amount of time. This is the long haul, this is the life that we want and we have it together."
While Gary has enjoyed many highlights throughout the band's return - one of the most special moments was their show in Belfast's Ulster Hall last May.
"The Belfast shows were brilliant, especially the Ulster Hall show which was one of the first ones we did last year, it was just a really special, special time.
"My mum and dad are at all our Belfast gigs, but that one I could actually see them in the crowd and it was very special."
Referring to other tour highlights, he added: "When you are playing places where English is the second language and people are singing every single word of every single song, it's kind of nuts."
As they prepare for Ward Park 3, the band have finely tuned the best of their huge catalogue of material for their set, and are confident fans won't be disappointed.
"We've got 90 minutes, with the back catalogue we have, we are very lucky, we could play for another hour or more on top of that," Gary said.
"A 90-minute set needs to be lean, so we have a pretty good idea of what it's going to be.
"Anyone at the SSE Arena gigs will know how good the staging and lighting was, our lighting director Davey Sherman from Cullybackey is a genius and he has designed something really, really special for Ward Park.
"Of the three Ward Park shows, it will be the one that looks the most iconic."
The band are especially proud of the one-day event as it will feature Northern Ireland talent, with acts such as Two Door Cinema Club, Foy Vance, Ash and many more.
There will also be a second stage showcasing the future of the Northern Ireland music scene.
He said: "We are very delighted that they've all agreed to play the show.
"There is so many different types of music on display - all coming from the one country. It's an extraordinary strength and depth of a music scene."
During Snow Patrol's return Gary was praised for his honesty about his battle with alcohol and depression - which he said was a factor when it came to his writer's block.
Many of the themes were explored in their latest album, Wildness.
But Gary says the difference in his life now is "remarkable".
He added: "The difference in my life now to where it was, even three years ago, before I quit drinking, is remarkable.
"I'm not saying there aren't days that I'm not down or whatever, but they are very few and far between these days, and it's amazing.
"I was kind of worried about being back on tour and you have these flashbacks of tours gone by, and I thought it was going to be tougher than it was, but it's been a joy."
Gary says he was touched by the response he got from sharing his struggle - and how he had people writing to him talking about how much the Wildness album in particular meant to them.
He said: "I'm just another person joining a conversation that started a long time ago, I'm not saying anything particularly new.
"There are a lot of people that have struggled with the types of things I was talking about on this record for a long, long time and there are a lot of people that speak about it with a lot more clarity and intelligence than I do."
Gary says it means a lot to him when people take the time to get in touch - especially through letters.
"It is a beautiful thing to hear what people think about the new record and what it means to them," he said.
"But it's a conversation that was going on before I started talking about it and I hope it will go on long after and I hope more people join that conversation."
While Gary was tight-lipped about their plans for new music - he told fans to keep their eyes and ears open for something very special.
He explained: "I can't go into too many details.
"But we will be announcing soon, there will be new music this year, it won't be a traditional new album format but it'll be something that celebrates our 25th anniversary, and some of those songs will be new and some of those songs won't be new and that's all I'm saying.
"All of them will be new in that they are all new recordings, but they might not all be new songs."
But for now, Gary says the band have never been better and they really can't wait for Ward Park 3.
He said: "It's been a long time coming. I don't think we've ever been better as a band, or played better, been tighter, or played the songs better.
"It will be a really beautiful day for Northern Ireland because every act on the bill is from our wee country and they are all extraordinary.
"I'm really, really looking forward to it."
Tickets are available at all usual Ticketmaster outlets for Ward Park 3 in Bangor on Saturday, May 25.