Snow Patrol: An Olive Grove Facing the Sea
tylus Magazine's Seconds column examines those magic moments that arise when listening to a piece of music that strikes that special chord inside. That pounding drum intro; a clanging guitar built-up to an anthemic chorus; that strange glitchy noise you've never quite been able to figure out; that first kiss or heartbreak; a well-turned rhyme that reminds you of something in your own past so much, it seems like it was written for you—all of those little things that make people love music. Every music lover has a collection of these Seconds in his or her head; these are some of ours.
I went to see Snow Patrol at Kentish Town Forum a few weeks ago, primarily because they’re my girlfriend’s favourite band. They were good, and Gary Lightbody in particular was a much better live singer, and frontman in general, than I had expected. Perhaps they were a little slick, but that’s what you expect when a band has supported U2 and their last album sold 1.2 million copies in the UK alone.
That’s a lot of records for a little indie band on Jeepster whose debut single was called “Starfighter Pilot,” and who had a tune on their first album titled “Absolute Gravity” which featured the lyrics “And the way she walks / Oh my God she’d get it / All my friends reckon she is oh so fine.” Said tune also had a crunchy rhythm, noisy guitar and some appealingly inept scratching (of the turntabular variety). It doesn’t sound much like “Run.” Not a lot off their first two albums does, to be honest.
When Jeepster folded, Snow Patrol moved to Polydor and evidently grew some commercial legs, but at what expense? Eyes Open may hedge a number of bets—too many songs are too similar to “Run” in structure, pace, and tone, the whole album is, like Final Straw, far too loud and impersonal in terms of its actual sonics—but it still demonstrates an occasional creativity and disarmingly honest sensitivity that the band have carried with them since they began. Even so, something has been lost… At Kentish Town Forum last month Snow Patrol studiously ignored their pre-popular past, playing nothing from their first two albums because… the public gets what the public wants, and the public wanted hits. And then the guy who used to play trumpet with Alfie ambled onstage, brass in hand, and they played an old song…
It might be that “An Olive Grove Facing The Sea” is just the Stalkers Handbook version of Big Star’s “Thirteen” (“Won’t you let me walk you home from school? / Won’t you let me meet you at the pool?”), a lustful teenager hiding at the swimming baths after class to watch an older girl breatstroke alone, but in my mind, to my ears… it’s a dream, a hymn to an imagined presence, a mermaid fantasy (“She was an angel / I saw her swimming there”—what else could an angel that swims be but a mermaid?), a daydream, perhaps. A wish.
It’s a strange, heady, and yet disconsolate mixture of infatuation, yearning and drama, unrequited love, unrequited lust wound up with loneliness and confusion and conflicting desires (to be held, have your hair stroked, comforted, and yet to be kissed with desire not affection) so that it becomes “love” or an imagining thereof… but painted so delicately, with such detail and care, such poise, that it seems real, heartfelt, true… rather than obsessive, psychodramatic, and disturbing it is beautiful. This is testament to the performance, the guitar strings brushed gently, the cymbals played for reverberation and resonance, rather than struck for impact, slow and deliberate, a repetition because dreams repeat.
At the correct moment, in what might be a chorus or just another rapid eye movement, the guitar becomes electric and begins to stream, like a wave, and the singer, a lost boy looking, is drowning, being pulled under, trying to catch his breath and trying to suffocate too because suffocation...
A lone trumpet cuts a forlorn silhouette on the shore, soloing to mourn the singer’s passing. And we all know that a lone trumpet is the saddest sound of them all, high and distant and observing from somewhere else… We can just sense, far to the west, at the moment of submersion, the voice of the angel, swimming.
And all the while Lightbody, in a glass case, realising what he’s doing, confessing, begging, “I am in such a mess…,” “Just let me love you…,” hiding somewhere, watching, in love from a distance with an image, a ghost, an idea, scared to reveal himself, desperate, desperate to step out from cover, to dive in, breath in water, suffocate, drown, die, and be enveloped in her arms. “Stay with you all night…” he pleads, “Till I fall asleep / Till I fall asleep…” and on the final repetition he stretches the words, because he knows they won't do so on their own, “Till I fall asleep…” but he doesn’t mean sleep, he means die, he means forever, which is why he must breath water. “Just let me be here, I wont tell anyone.” For the rest of his life. That final line, that last assonance, uttered, is the moment, beyond the drums placed like flowers, beyond the guitar urging you to give in and drown, beyond the trumpet observing all. Because it is the voice which is human, which begins and ends expression.
Cumpleaño feliz, mi querido. Te quiero.