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Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody: I've had enough drink for four lifetimes

Exclusive: Snow Patrol frontman on his rollercoaster journey and recent success

Snow Patrol’s frontman Gary Lightbody
Snow Patrol’s frontman Gary Lightbody

By David O'Dornan

Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody reckons he's living in a new lifetime where he is sober - but said he can't rule out ever drinking again.

The singer has been on a rollercoaster journey that will see he and the band honoured next week with a Legend Award to celebrate their successful comeback after a seven-year hiatus.

A relentlessly busy schedule since the release of last year's Wildness album has been sustained in no small part thanks to Gary's new clean-living lifestyle and after three-and-a-half years alcohol-free, he says he doesn't miss it a bit.

He said: "It does fill me with dread to go back to it. I wasn't doing myself any favours at all. I drank enough for four lifetimes. I figure if I spend the rest of this lifetime sober, I'll be fine.

"I just made a decision. I know it's not that easy for everybody and I appreciate that and have great empathy with people that have struggled to kick the habit if they want to kick the habit.

"And that's the most important thing really, if you want to kick a habit you've got to want to. And that was the difference for me, I didn't want to before.

"I thought I did but I didn't, and you'll know the difference once you truly want to, because the difference is everything because you just stop.

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Gary Lightbody
Gary Lightbody

"The hungover gig was always a difficult one. I was very shy - I still am - but I was very shy when we first started on stage and then drink would help you get over that. Then it got to the stage where I would just lose my voice drinking too much and I had to stop when we were on tour.

"Then when you take seven years off tour, you're going to get some problems there. I'm making up for a lot of lost time now. The first five years of that seven years off was spent drunk and that's when my problems really dug in and I had to stop."

Gary (43) said a number of techniques have helped him - like remembering the morning after and how to cope in social settings.

He explained: "This is the thing, with me I still remember the last hangovers that I had. Any time there would be even the passing thought - and it's very, very rare these days - of drinking, my first thought would be that hangover.

"So it would immediately come into my head - like, 'Oh no I don't want to go back there again'.

"There's a bit of a stigma to not drinking. My dad always used to say - jokingly I think - don't trust a man who doesn't drink. So there is a bit of stigma to not drinking here.

Gary Lightbody and David O'Dornan
Gary Lightbody and David O'Dornan

"Rather than saying I'm not going to have a drink or I'm not drinking tonight, say 'I don't drink'. And that generally changes the dynamic of the conversation, because then people don't have anywhere to go and just move on.

"And it doesn't mean you can't drink two days later, one day later - it doesn't mean I won't drink in the future. I just don't want to drink right now.

"That's the other thing, this thing where people go, 'I'm never drinking again'. It's a really bad mindset to get into because then you're letting yourself down.

"You make promises to yourself that you eventually might not keep or quickly might not keep, so it sort of sets you on the wrong path as a negative thing.

"Whereas if you just say, 'I don't want to drink today' or 'I'm not drinking right now' - these are the things you say to yourself. To other people you say, 'I don't drink'."

Despite the band's blistering return to top form which included a sell-out homecoming show at Bangor's Ward Park and starring at the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland awards, life has not been without its challenges on and off stage.

Snow Patrol perform at the SSE Arena in Belfast on December 7th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph )
Snow Patrol perform at the SSE Arena in Belfast on December 7th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph )

Gary has spoken recently about his dad Jack suffering from dementia and while his beloved father still recognises him, he added: "Unfortunately with the nature of the disease, the condition, he's not doing great but there's still some good days."

Meanwhile, on stage two band members suffered bad injuries that saw them forced to cancel gigs, with Nathan Connolly hurting his hand and Johnny McDaid hit by a more serious spinal issue.

Gary said: "In 25 years there's not been very many gigs cancelled, that's for sure, but we had to cancel quite a few of the festivals, including Glastonbury, which we were gutted about but the most important thing is everybody's health.

"Johnny had a very serious spine problem that he needed to get surgery on and is now fixed and is recovering and will hopefully be back to us for the Reworked tour coming up.

"So that has a happy ending obviously with him being alive and well, that's the most important thing and if we stay together we might get an opportunity to play Glastonbury again - it's not the end of the world."

Gary added that he is not without other solo ambitions outside of Snow Patrol. Having penned the soundtrack for a new movie, The Last Right, starring Brian Cox and Colm Meaney, he is keen to do more.

He said: "I've just finished the soundtrack to another movie and I'm about to do a soundtrack to a TV show, so I'd like to spend more time in that role.

"And yeah, I'd like to go another... I don't know how long.

"In 10 years I'll be 53. When you think about it in those terms it's starting to get venerable.

"So I don't know how much longer we go with Snow Patrol but I would love to keep going until we don't want to do it anymore."

Snow Patrol are the Oh Yeah Legend Award Recipients 2019 and will pick up the honour at the Ulster Hall on Thursday at the Northern Ireland Music Prize, which will include a special performance from the band.

Charlotte Dryden from the Oh Yeah Music Centre said Snow Patrol are "wonderful ambassadors for Northern Ireland" and added: "They have never forgotten their roots and not only have they been generous to their fans at home, but supportive and helpful to many of our emerging bands too."

The NI Music Prize is part of the annual Sound of Belfast music festival that continues until Saturday, November 9. Visit soundofbelfast.com for more details.

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