“It’s a mess
It’s a start
It’s a flawed work of art
Your city, your call
Every crack, every wall”
At the launch of the 2016 4 Corners Festival, Hannah McPhillimy took Snow Patrol’s Take Back The City in an original way, keyboard led, reshaping chords and revealing other angles into the anthem that was. She made us feel old that it was all over the radio when she was at school!
Snow Patrol have also reworked Take Back The City since Hannah’s version back in 2016. Last year’s Reworked album brings a yearning poignancy to the song. Every time they sing “I love this city tonight/I love this city always” I realise that I do!
When Take Back The City was the lead off single on Snow Patrol’s A Hundred Million Suns it was is a bit of a departure. Up until then Gary Lightbody was writing about romance, mostly the melancholy side. In a Q magazine, at the time of the single’s release, Lightbody explained that the song is about his home city of Belfast which he has learned to fall in love with all over again. When Lightbody left for University in Dundee at the beginning of the nineties Belfast was a besieged city.
There were a couple of years when every road into the city had police checks and people were being shot almost daily. By the time Lightbody returned, around 2005, the city had had a decade without bombs and bullets; it was a place revived with new shopping centres, city centre bars and clubs and music venues big enough for Snow Patrol’s success. Just like its returning sons, Belfast is thriving!
Though the negative side of Northern Ireland’s conflict haunts Take Back The City it is a song about loving the city, enjoying the city and reshaping the city. Lightbody sings about the broken record of entrenched political sectarianism and about the futility of picking sides in a historical fight he doesn’t understand.
The main thrust of Lightbody’s ode to home though is about sucking the marrow out of the city, sometimes admitting to partying too much. Where I have personally been inspired is in the verse:
“God knows you put your life into its hands
And it's both cradled you and crushed
But now it's time to make your own demands.”
I am sure Gary Lightbody does not have the same missional intent as those of us who organised the 4 Corners Festival but this is a very interesting take on our relationship with our home cities, towns or villages.
The city shapes us, cradles and crushes us into the adults we become but after that we are the shapers of the city. Our task as the Churches is to engage with our city as “World Formative Christians” to take a phrase from theologian Nicholas Wolterstorff.
Since he released Take Back The City in 2016 Gary Lightbody has put his money and time where his mouth was. Whether encouraging young artists, or doing In Conversations like the one he is doing with me at 4 Corners Festival, he has contributed hugely to this mess, this start, this flawed work of art. Every time I hear it I want to get up and go and build a city of grace!