Coming up England by a different line. Not my words, but those of Philip Larkin, British poet and miserable genius. God rest his soul. He loved a train. As do I. I studied Larkin at school and every time I am on a train I think of that line from his poem "I Remember I Remember." I can't help it. It is engraved on my psyche like many of the little mind scars that your school days slice into you: the times tables; squeaky chalk on dusty blackboards; the bloodcurdling chant of FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT in the locker rooms while two idiots square up to each other; and the memory of standing bare-legged on the rugby field in the dead of winter on mud so frozen that the studs (cleats) of my boots were more like ice skates. In fact why the hell did we wear those stupid boots on days like that? They were more of a liability than anything else.
God I hated rugby at school. Being as skinny as a broom handle and as formidable as a wisp of cotton candy sure didn't help. I recall being lifted by Graham Wallace straight up in the air by my ankles so that I flipped upside down in a heart beat and my face hit the ground hard, as I swung like a clanging, broken pendulum (Graham Wallace is now a policeman I believe. Go figure). No I was not built for rugby. But then, what was I built for? Love? Maybe. Love making? Alas no. Speed? Ha. Maybe in lovemaking. Anyway I digress, I may do that a lot. In fact that's what I may be built for, digression. On 22 November we were coming up England by the Great Western train line on our way to Oxford, as we had been asked to speak at the prestigious Oxford Union at Oxford University.
Now in the past people as diverse as President Ronald Reagan, Michael Jackson, Johnny Depp and (seriously) Kermit the Frog have spoken there and now we have been blessed with that honour. I have to say I was a little more than daunted. I mean how does one follow Kermit? These Oxford students are the new, brilliant, fecund minds of their generation following in the footsteps of Sir Christopher Wren, Oscar Wilde and JRR Tolkien to name only a few. What the hell then have we got to tell them? They are already smarter than I am and they're teenagers. I went to university sure (Dundee, Scotland since you ask) but I skipped more classes than I went to because by that stage the band had started and we were off on tour most of the time. Either that or I was hung-over. I fear, however, this news may demotivate these young geniuses. And that I will not stand for. I will not be an advocate for rock and roll over education. If I could have my schooling over again I'd throw myself into it more. Although that would mean no Snow Patrol. Wait, I'll get back to you on that. Put it this way, I have thought many times that I should go back to college and get a degree I feel I actually earned. But there we were in one of the world's finest and most celebrated seats of learning. We've got to show them something...
So I thought about what we are known for. Not our rakish good looks and rapier wit, surely? Nor our lavish parties and celebrity pals. No, what we are known for is our songs. Many more people would know our songs than would even know the name of the band. And thank god for that. I wouldn't want it any other way. We can walk down any street in any city in the world without getting accosted. Without even anyone raising an eyebrow most of the time. And even when we're recognised it is generally a very passive affair. One may for example clock two folk nudging each other. One clearly saying the words 'is that the bloke from Snow Patrol' the other might even hazard a 'yeah.' The couple in question will then have a joint shrug, mouth the half word 'oh' to each other and then go on with their lives. You see we are not glamorous. We do not smack of the forbidden or the fantastical. We are not Lady Gaga. Wow, I'm not sure I have ever said something more obvious in my life.
Recently our hometown of Belfast was struck down splendidly with MTV European music awards (EMAs) fever. The kids of Belfast were apoplectic with joy at the volume of stars they knew to be somewhere in their city: Gaga, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Coldplay and Justin Bieber among others. It was the kind of joy Belfast has never seen before. We were in city (a country) at war in the darkness for so many years and now with over a decade of peace under our belts the country has become a place of music and laughter and art and togetherness. It's a sight to behold and the world looked in on Belfast for the first time and saw the biggest, brightest party we ever had. But the Beiber Fever in particular. Well that was riotous. I witnessed kids chasing any car with tinted windows down the street and banging on the doors shouting Justin in the hope that the blacked out window would roll down and young prince Bieber would appear as if by magic and high-five them or flash them a smile, or marry them. I'm not sure those kids ever did find his car. I hope they did. And I hope he high-fived them.
Anyway, no such fervour followed us. In fact quite the opposite. Nathan, our guitar player, was walking back to his hotel and was stopped by two young girls. They asked him in their sweet and tiny Belfast trills (ahem) "Hoy, mate, who are you," "I'm Nathan," said our Nathan. They looked at one another a little crestfallen as if the name should have jogged a memory but didn't and one said in loud whisper "Well he must be SOMEbody, he's wearing a hat."
This is my point. We are not famous but our songs are. So I thought I'd lead with that at the Oxford Union and instead of making a speech, I'd feel out of my depth anyway, we'd play a few of those songs and then answer some questions. Keep it simple eh? So the train rumbled on towards Oxford and the English countryside stretched out, as it does, in rolling blankets of green and I caught myself smiling a little smile and I raised my wee plastic glass of train wine to Philip Larkin, anonymity and to keeping it simple.