Some people take the long way round to rock stardom. Joined by a clutch of fellow ex-pats from Northern Ireland, Gary Lightbody formed Snow Patrol while at university in Scotland.
Two albums later, they took a shot at the big time with 2003’s Final Straw. Its romantic desperation hit a multi-platinum chord. Basking in the glow of the even-better new album Eyes Open, Lightbody revealed what makes him tick.
Name: Just Gary Lightbody. I don’t have any middle names.
Born: In 1976 in New Ards hospital, five miles from Bangor, Northern Ireland, where I grew up.
First Memory: I was four years old when I started primary school. I remember a girl in my primary school class was picking her nose and wiping it under the table. The teacher–who was a ferocious woman at the best of times–turned over every table in the classroom and had her clean them. All the girls in the class cried, and all the guys in the class stared at their shoes and didn’t know what to do.
Biggest Thrill as a Child: Going to see Return of the Jedi when I was six or seven years old. Even queuing up for that movie I felt completely thrilled. The only time I’ve felt like that since was sitting in the cinema before seeing The Phantom Menace. It moved me to tears remembering how excited I was. Then over the next two hours George Lucas destroyed any good memory I had of Star Wars with one big toy commercial.
Front Of the Class or Back of the Class? I would have been closer to the back of the class. I was a very average student. My favorite subject was English Literature, obviously.
First Record Bought: It would have been a tape of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
First Concert Attended: Red Hot Chili Peppers supported by Henry Rollins in Belfast. The audience was spitting at Henry, but not in a disrespectful way. This is what happens at gigs in Belfast. Henry said, “If one more person spits at me, I’m gonna come in the crowd and start knocking heads!” One man made a whole crowd of people sh*t themselves.
First Girl Who Broke My Heart: Sarah Jean Patterson. She went to a school near my school. She didn’t really break up with me. She just told me to stop calling.
First R-rated movie: I went to see Police Academy when I was 10 with my Auntie Jean, who was an extremely lovely but old-fashioned woman. She finally succumbed to my nagging and we went to see it. There were boobs and fellatio and you knew it was wrong. After a while I didn’t even want to be there. She was horrified I even knew about a movie like this.
Last Book Read: Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was the last book I read that blew me away. I was laughing and crying in public places.
Last CD I Liked: There’s a new album called Passing Strangers by Scott Matthews who is a genius. It’s like the ghost of Jeff Buckley flying a space ship.
Favorite Sandwich: Every time we’re back in Glasgow, I go to a local sandwich shop called Il Cappuccino. I have the New York Special which is Monterey Jack cheese, pastrami, dill pickles and mustard. I add a few jalapenos to give it an extra kick. Put it onto the grill and it’s awesome.
Favorite Item of Clothing: My Gsus jeans. I wear them every day. I do the Mark Kamen thing, where I go to the launderette in my jeans, wash them, then put them on again and walk away.
Previous Jobs: I worked in countless bars as a bus boy until I was 18 and was allowed to work behind the bar. One bar called The Viking was on the edge of this quite rough estate. A lot of the guys had serious tattoos. One you get to know them, they’ll do anything for you. I had long hair at the time and they used to call me Mowgli, after the skinny kid in the Jungle Book.
Favorite Time of Day: Early in the morning just when the sun’s about to come up. In my early 20s I was a bit of a vampire and I barely saw the sunshine. Now I go running, and I love it.
Hanging On My Bedroom Wall: I have a lot of art that Tom our keyboard player drew. There are some really lovely portraits that he’s done, but they’re kind of ghostly. They resemble figures but they don’t have any human qualities. They’re dark and creepy. That’s the stuff I like.
Ideal Holiday: I would love to go to Egypt to see the pyramids, or to Athens to see the Acropolis. I’m more into historical holidays now. I’m in my thirties, so I’m feeling guilty about wasting my youth and intelligence.
Hobbies: I read a lot, write, and play football. I’ve followed Dundee United since university. But I’m not in it for the glory. We got to the final of the Scottish Cup three years ago. Since then they haven’t given us much to cheer about.
Ambitions: We’ve been intensely working on Snow Patrol for a long time. I’d like to do some work with another band, producing or something. I would like to try some darker things, too. A lot of what I’m writing now doesn’t sound like Snow Patrol, anyway. It sounds very scary!
Favorite Madonna Record: “Music” was the first Madonna record that made me want to listen to it again on my own discretion.
Swear Word You Use Too Much: I’m not religious in any way, but I use a lot of religious symbolism when I’m swearing. I’ll stick with something simple: F*ck. I say it far too much, to the point that I have to remind myself when I’m on live TV or radio not to say it. But if you crack your thumb with a hammer or you just got a letter from the IRS that’s the only word that will do.