The look on Gary Lightbody’s face from the moment Snow Patrol walked on stage. It was a like a kid in a toy shop, open mouthed, wide eyed, disbelieving what was in front of him and how he seemed to have the right to play with all of the toys.
Ward Park 3, as it was called, was the third such venture of Snow Patrol, following similar undertakings in 2007 and 2010. 35,000 people. The biggest concert in Northern Irish history. This third concert started at 2 o’clock and the undercard of Northern Ireland’s finest acts filled a day. To such an extent actually that Bangor had to accommodate Ryan McMullan and David C Clements the night before.
As I watched Lightbody’s beaming smile, total satisfaction and hand thumping his heart in an act of utter love I couldn’t help thinking that it was a like a wee boy playing in the park, like Gary did in this park, imagining that he was in a band and that he could put up a concert… over there. Through their ninety minute set Lightbody played the fan as much as he did the star.
In those boyhood dreams he might have thought that maybe he could even get Bono to join his band on stage! Between 1985 and 1995, maybe beyond, the hope at every gig in Ireland was that Bono might come on stage for a song. Ward Park 3 had absolutely no such anticipation. Not even when Snow Patrol inexplicably decided to cover One as a tribute to bands from the Republic Of Ireland.
I was a little worried about Gary’s stumble through the first verse when suddenly Bono’s voice… then I can see him larger than legend on the big screen in front of me. “Is he really here,” my daughter Caitlin asked and I wondered was it a recording, then there he was. Gary’s mouth is drooling, eyes even wider. It’s a love fest, Bono cheering on his younger northern brothers and ending with U2’s political knocking down of walls, “there is no them, there’s only us”… As he leaves, Lightbody utters, “Oh my goodness,” and the band quickly riff into Chasing Cars, the only thing that can follow that!
That Bono’s appearance was immediately all over social media and today’s tabloid headline should not distract from the success of Ward Park 3.
Nine hours were four too many for me but seeing only Foy Vance, Two Door Cinema Club and Snow Patrol was utterly wonderful. Vance’s song fitted perfectly. He even has one called Bangor Town for goodness sake. Upbeat Feelgood is a perfect soundtrack for such a day and then a lovely touch as he dedicates Guiding Light to the Archer family, Iain and Paul well known brothers in this music community, who lost their mother just a couple of weeks before. Iain and his wife Miriam, along with Ryan McMullan join Vance on backing vocals!
Two Door Cinema Club with young Trimble all tight cut hair, mustard polo neck and green blue suit, admit that they were teenagers for the first Ward Park gig and couldn't have dreamed... Could Bangor have dreamed of having two such world recognised bands at once. The younger pretenders gave us the County Down version of Arcade Fire with American accents in their chat. The potential is good but they are not stadium friendly yet and miss that boy next door whimsy of Mr. Lightbody.
Whoever else was on the bill, the vast majority of the crowd were here for our hosts and when they arrive to the strains of Chocolate Lightbody’s arms are in the air and his face is filling the big screens with utter glee!
Boom, straight into Take Back The City and the screens are jerking with images of Northern Ireland, places and people Morrison, Best, McIlroy and most poignant and contemporary Lyra McKee. A last photo of Hume and Trimble with Bono holding up their hands at the Yes Campaign Rally in 1998 is maybe Snow Patrol’s most political statement, it’s what rock can do and maybe a hint at Bono’s appearance later on. In the rest of the set, new songs sit comfortably beside the old and Run as always is best of all.
With Connolly throwing shapes, pounding the riffs, Quinn and Wilson thumping the beat and McDaid adding all kinds of touches of sophistication, Lightbody leads the band and orchestrates the crowd. He has a dose of the cold and his voice is not at its strongest. He uses the excuse to get the crowd singing even more than usual, the call and response of Shut Your Eyes most Ward Park anthemic!
After Bono has left the stage and the planets have shimmied back into place, the encore is most potent of all. Just McDaid and Lightbody in the now familiar If This Is All The Love You Ever Get? Mellow, emotional, spiritual:
What if it hurts like hell
Then it'll hurt like hell
Come on over, come on over here
I'm in the ruins too
I know the wreckage so well
Come on over, come on over here
Communally this is like a Communion liturgy. Utterly beautiful.
With the closing Just Say Yes everyone is deeply satisfied. I still think a wee dedication to our politicians in just a last throw away depth charge wouldn’t have gone amiss but we’ve had the political tonight.
Ward Park 3 was a celebration of who we are, with our band, and our boy. Even applauded by His Bononess himself. We are all walking home looking forward to 4!