Snow Patrol’s festival survival guide
Oxegen2009: Embrace the bacon sarnie, leave the tiara at home and get the crowd involved. Festival veteran – and headliner at Oxegen next Friday – GARY LIGHTBODYon lessons learned
Hmmm, we’ve been very lucky the last few years as we’ve been able to use the festival band catering and get something decent to eat before the show.
The food on site at most festivals used to stretch no further than hot dogs and burgers or a greasy bacon sarnie in the morning (which I have to admit I’m partial to and will normally go for an early wander on site to find one, before going to see who’s on first and greedily devouring them both).
During the past few years, variation is creeping in.
Glasto was always good for that sort of thing and you can find almost anything there, but the other festivals took a while to cater to our ever-broadening palettes. Now most festivals have some options. None of them cheap though, which brings me onto ...
Not cheap either. Although, if I’m honest, I find that the more booze the better the festival crowd. This is perhaps an irresponsible thing to say, but it’s true. It’s no surprise that the Irish, Scottish and Australian festival crowds are the most vocal and energetic. It’s because more than any other three countries I can think of, in these three, fun and booze go hand in hand. Sure in Russia they may drink more, much more, but they do it to keep warm not for fun. Again, I’m not advocating anything, I’m just telling you what it looks like from the stage.
One thing you don’t want to be is the guy we saw one year at T in the Park in Scotland only about an hour after the gates opened. A guy twirling round outside the dance tent, peeing joyfully then falling over before what looked like falling soundly asleep. If the festival is over before it’s begun then that’s way too much booze.
There’s simply no gig without them. Pretty obvious statement really, but one worth making. Yes the line-up is important, but for a festival to be of true worth it has to build up a reputation for the way the fans are treated there. Safety is important, but it needs to be balanced with a general happy atmosphere. You can’t do this by abusing people if they stage dive or making a debacle of the ticketing or entry to the event. The bands may never play your event again, but the festival organisers want the fans to want to come back every year, and to tell their friends.
These days I have to say we rock up in the tour bus and it’s easy as pie, but we spent quite a few years having a hell of time getting to and from the site – just like everyone else.
Then there are tents. Putting said contraption up in the dark is always a hoot. Finding it again at five in the morning is some further hooting. Get there in daylight and try to get you and your friends set up in a circle so you’ve some kind of, albeit flimsy, security and a little privacy.
Other than that, being in a field full of tents is fun, for a weekend (not forever) and everyone’s in the same boat (literally if you’re at Glasto), so it should be one big happy family. Sometimes it isn’t, though, as, unfortunately, no one checks if someone’s a dick when they buy their ticket. Watch out for them.
These are very idiosyncratic aren’t they? For me cold beer is luxury at a festival. If you’re camping, then a cooler is a nice wee bonus. We used to go to festivals when we were younger, and if by the time the second day dawned, you had any beer at all it was warm. The beer on site is usually a fucking rip-off, so on a shoestring (and many times we did it shoe-string style), it’s best to b.y.o.
Aside from that, going to a festival isn’t really about living the life of Reilly. It’s more about the camaraderie and the tunes. Leave the tiara at home. It’ll only get lost, stolen, covered in filth or all of the above.
HOW TO BE A HEDLINE ACT
Persistence. After this year’s festival we’ll have played T in the Park a record-equalling number of times. We started out in the PRS (new bands) tent in 1997 and have played on every single stage – sometimes more than once. We’ve also played Oxegen/Witnness many times, starting out small in the late 1990s. There are, of course, other essentials such as having a few hits and building up a live reputation around the country the festival is in.
There are bizarre exceptions, though: recently we headlined the last night on the 40th anniversary of the Pinkpop festival in Holland. You would think we’d have to be as big there as we are in Ireland to land the headline slot. We are not. Chasing Carswas a hit of sorts, but we haven’t sold that many records there. Even the people who worked at the Dutch label were a bit mystified by it when I cornered them on our selection.
This did not help confidence pre-gig. Bruce Springsteen had headlined the previous night for God’s sake. Right from the off, though, the crowd were up for it. In fact, it was one of the best crowds we ever played to, comparable (I’ll whisper it) to the Irish fans if I’m honest. The new album, which wasn’t a hit before Pinkpop, is a hit in Holland now, so sometimes – not very often and the only time it’s happened to us – things work in reverse. Generally though: gigging hard, hits, gigging hard, more hits, harder gigging and thenheadlining a fest is the normal order of things.
I don’t really go out there with much of a plan (nor does any of the other lads in the band). Anyone who’s heard my rambling between songs will attest to that. What is important is getting the crowd involved as soon as you can. Letting them know you know they’re there for a start. I’ve been to gigs before when the band never even said hello to the audience and it pissed me right off, so I don’t make the same mistake myself.
I’m sorry, what? Yes, yes it’s well known that bands who have a good run of it have wonderful people in the wings, tuning and restringing guitars and more besides, and without our awesome crew we’d not be able to find our arses with both hands in broad daylight. As for preparing, we do spend weeks before the touring of an album learning how to play each song between the five of us. As on the album, there are often many more than five parts on each song, so it is like starting again sometimes.
Once the tour is up and running, a gig is like 10 rehearsals and you learn fast or die spectacularly on stage. So by the time the festivals come around this year we’ll have had since last December on the road, so if we don’t know it by now, as the old song says ...
HOW TO SURVIVE THE ARTISTS AREA
Ha. We don’t fight with other bands, so backstage at festivals is always fun to catch up with people we don’t often see except at this time of year. Any bands that have a bone to pick with us can always come up and have it out with us in the artists’s area. I’m afraid any time that has happened we’ve only ever ended up drinking until the wee hours together, the gripe, whatever it was, long forgotten. We’re annoying like that.
Life is way too short ...
THE BEST THING ABOUT FESTIVALS
Hooking up with friends in bands and seeing them play. Seeing new bands or bands you’ve been dying to see live for the first time. Also the atmosphere in general. It’s a big party after all.
THE WORST THING ABOUT FESTIVALS
In Ireland and the UK of course is the weather. When it’s good though, rare as it is, it’s bliss. I woke up in a tent two inches full of water once at T in the Park. Fun fun fun!
MY FAVOURITE FESTIVAL
Fuji Rock, Mount Fuji, Japan. For many reasons, but mainly because of the setting. An active volcano will set the pulse racing at the best of times, but when you arrive there and see thousands of people camping on the slope of it, liable to roll out of their tents and into the river at any time, you know you’re about to see something really special. We played on the stage facing the volcano and it was just thrilling. A gorgeous place.
LEAST FAVOURITE FESTIVAL
Well, to be honest, I love festivals, so don’t have a least favourite one – but one year the Hurricane Festival in Germany was (un)eventful. In 2004 we left Glasto, after playing it for the first time, to drive overnight on the tour bus to Hurricane in Germany. A drive that was due to take 12 hours (we were due on stage at midday there) took 20 and we missed our slot by a few hours. So we had left the amazing Glasto site to drive a long, long way for nothing. Didn’t stop us making a complete nuisance of ourselves backstage, though. A band with nothing to do at a festival but drink is a dangerous thing indeed.
TOP FESTIVAL MOMENTS
Saw the Secret Machines (above) for the first time at the South By South West Festival in Austin Texas. Technically it’s more of a convention than a festival, but for the purposes of this story ... They were playing a tiny club on the river and they blew my tiny mind. I cried during that show, it was so overwhelmingly good. They had three big spotlights behind them that silhouetted them into the crowd and nothing else, just the sheer weight and wonder of their music. It was life-changing.
At Oxegen one year it may have been Witnness at the time, I saw Lil Louis Vega from Masters At Work, who I’d been a massive fan of for years, play a DJ set. He started with the whole of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech. By the time the beats kicked in, me and everyone else in the tent was just about licking the ceiling.
Snow Patrol play on Friday July 10th