photo: Bernie Brown
What can I say? What an utter privilege.
It was like the thrill of my life but I was so in the zone of “I don’t need to be rubbish here” that it probably flew past too quickly.
I have had such privileges before. The Ricky Ross event two years ago was amazing but I knew Ricky better. We’d had an afternoon together to conjure something. I had never met Gary Lightbody until 10 minutes before we went on. Yet, with our friends in common I felt I did.
So, very quickly Gary is sitting beside me and I am aware that I have to deliver. The interviewee is only as good as his interviewer and I could botch this one big time.
I am also aware of the range of people in the room. We have the Snow Patrol fans that have come from all over Europe for tonight. They will want something new from Gary.
Yet, there are those who are not big Snow Patrol fans but have come to a 4 Corners Festival event to hear something about reconciliation in Belfast and beyond. Some of them also wondering why Gary Lightbody is speaking in Church and maybe expecting him to preach a little!
Some might just want me to shut up and let Gary sing!
I am tying all these threads together in my head but most important of all is Gary. I need to make him feel relaxed. As much as our mutual friend Davy has convinced and reassured him, he is suddenly vulnerable to a minister in front of a packed church!
What happened for the next hour and a half, and then the two and a half hours after that, was that Gary Lightbody proved every idea I have had about him from a distance to be utterly correct. His warmth, charm, authenticity and grace simply spilled over into an amazing evening.
Half way through I got to thinking about Gary’s grace and realised that even if I asked a stupid question Gary would have given a good answer to prevent me from looking stupid. When someone in conversation makes you feel that way it is always a good thing but in front of 400 plus people it is a gift.
I had prepared like never before. Indeed, some of my congregation and friends are struggling to come to terms with me and prepared in the same sentence! That was for Gary’s sake. I didn’t want to catch him out or make him feel vulnerable, so I was more scripted than usual. Gary was so open that he didn’t even look at the questions I sent.
It is in those questions that I have all my fear. Oh I wanted to know about Granny Rea but would the audience? I wanted to go into my favourite lyrics but would the audience? It could have been great fun for me to have a chat with Gary Lightbody but there were hundreds of others to consider.
So, some Snow Patrol stories from the early days and right up to the writing of Wildness.
Stories of family and Belfast and how Gary has watched it change as he returned time and time again before settling here.
Stories of school and A levels. It was a joy that I got the same D grade in English Lit as one of rock’s best poets but humbling that the rock star got an A in RE to the minister’s B!!
There was serious talk about The Troubles, mental health and his father’s recent death. All balanced by off the cuff humour and a story about a pheasant called Paddy. We even had photos of Paddy!
It was emotional.
It was laugh out loud.
It was dark.
Yet, through the cracks the light shone in.
I got all my answers and more. I came out more convinced than ever that Gary’s Granny, who he sings about being with him every day and guiding him, is a real role model for all Gary does. I loved hearing about how being a Christian led to her indifference to religious labels and her welcome for the minister or the priest. Grace personified. All that the 4 Corners Festival is about. I just wish Fr Martin and I had been the minister and priest! She would love this Festival!
We ended with grace. The 4 Corners Festival theme is Building A City Of Grace and few people have helped build us up as a city in recent years than Gary Lightbody. However, I was all over the grace part of our theme.
I asked Gary about what he meant in Don’t Give Up - This is your grace/And I Don’t know why?” and in the most played song on the radio of the 21st Century, Chasing Cars - I need your love/To remind me/ To find my own”.
His answer was interesting and revealing. Using Belle and Sebastian drummer Richard Colburn as an example he spoke of people who exude joy in a room full of people. He then spoke of the projects he has experienced through the Lightbody Foundation and people sacrificially giving to others. He spoke about those who have it within them to always make right choices. He was very clear that he didn’t see it in himself.
In private conversation I think Gary and I could talk for hours about those definitions of grace but publicly I would like to declare how much I disagree with his judgement on himself. In everything Gary Lightbody did from graciously agreeing to talking to me at a small Belfast festival, to his authenticity, honesty and care for the interviewer on the stage, to the two and a half hours afterwards that he gave everybody time who wanted to chat with him - GRACE.
Grace oozed out all over the stage and back stage too. Oh, friends will want to argue theological definitions until I am bored and literally demented with it but as for grace in real life actions and giving, this was a sermon in flesh.
Having already done stunning versions of I Think Of Home, Run and Lifening (it's a great room Gary if you ever need it - top job Jonny Fitch on sound!) Gary finished with a closing hymn... Chasing Cars... and a preacher's pause at the altar call words, "I need your grace to remind me, of my own".
I do Gary and you did! Thank you!