Back in 2002, very shortly after I joined the Coldplay travelling circus, we found ourselves in a tiny club in San Francisco. I remember the soundcheck having been somewhat eventful, almost ending in fisticuffs over nothing of any great import. Shortly before showtime, I dived into the dressing room to clarify something about the setlist. Chris was in mid-stream, giving an impassioned monologue – to whom exactly, I don’t remember – I was more concerned with getting the information I needed without interrupting.
As I left though, I caught a phrase that he was hammering emphatically. “…It’s still all about bringing passionate music into the mainstream, which is what we’ve always been about…”
The phrase came back (somewhat shortened) minutes later when the intro tape finished and they smashed into Politik. Chris yelped the phrase over the opening chords (he used to yell all manner of random stuff at the start of that tune back in the day I seem to remember).
I’d been with the band a mere month or two at this point, but I took it as a statement of intent. It’s stuck with me to this day.
Back then, of course, they still dressed like scruffy students and the majority of the public didn’t really have a clue who they were. They might have heard of Yellow, but for the most part, Coldplay “belonged” to a relatively small group of people “in the know”. This meant that they could be loved not just by real live human beings, but also by those who appoint “credibility”.
The band no longer dress as scruffy students (but then why should they, having graduated over a decade ago and covered thousands upon thousands of miles since?). They’ve also committed many crimes deemed heinous and unacceptable by the tastemakers. They’ve sold a very large number of records, they’ve fallen in love and got married – and most disgraceful of all, they’ve demonstrated a willingness to promote their music.
I don’t really see any change to their intent. The music they play now is no less passionate than when I met them. If anything, I’d say they’re more focused in their intensity and power. They’re a different band in many ways, but they’re still carrying the very same flag. They’re still making passionate music, and as for bringing it to the mainstream? Well, that brings me to the point of all of this.
Last night they played on the final of the X Factor. (For those outside the UK, I’m sure you have seen similar shows – think American Idol, or whatever your nation’s equivalent might be).
There has been a lot of discussion over whether this was a good idea – not least within the Coldplay camp itself. I remember first hearing that it was a possibility. “Man, you’re handing haters some pretty huge bullets there…” was my first thought.
The downsides are obvious. It now becomes effortless for the cool kids to lay out their case against the band. For some, the X Factor is the devil. It is regularly painted as the source of all evil in the current music industry. Indeed, as an angry young man back in my own student days, I’d have ranted at length against it, I expect.
I even struggle with all those feelings when I arrive on the day. It was partly the nerves of a tricky live show in front of 15 million or so. It had struck me that in many ways, fucking up tonight could be more of a big deal than if Glastonbury had gone wrong. The TV audience is much larger and indeed is not at all Coldplay’s crowd – many would be watching hoping to be able to hate them.
All of this was making me uneasy – it was a pressure gig, for sure. It put me in a frame of mind that really began to question whether this was a good idea at all.
Like many of the band’s crazier schemes though, it makes sense to me only when it finally takes place. The barrage of VT finishes and the floor manager cues the band. The room lights up as the song kicks in and it soon becomes clear that they’re absolutely nailing it up there.
Once they take flight, it’s impossible not to be carried along with it. I’m taken right back to that San Francisco dressing room in 2002. They’re doing what they’ve always done. They’re making the very best music they can and they’re putting it where as many people as possible can see it and make their own minds up.
My Twitter timeline has a good selection of snarky cynics, but when I leave the venue and have a quick read, even they have posted messages at having been sat wide-eyed at the performance. Doubtless, there’s plenty of people who didn’t watch who’ll carry on thinking that this marks the band’s ultimate sellout. There’s probably some who watched it and weren’t that impressed. I’ll bet you there’s a hell of a lot more that watched who were very surprised with what they saw.
Now, I’m as cynical and sarcastic as the next person (in fact on a good day, I’m as cynical and sarcastic as the next five or six people…) but I couldn’t help but be proud of the fellas last night. They haven’t just got away with it – merely turning in a decent performance at a controversial choice of show. They’ve taken a risk and then they’ve absolutely “smashed it” (to coin a phrase…)
These views of course, are my own. Your own may differ. For all I know, the band’s may, too. (I was out the back door within 15 minutes of the performance and won’t see anyone until tomorrow.) I’ve a feeling though, that it’ll go down as a bit of a watershed moment.
But that’s not all that’s been going on. We’ve had a couple of rather large hometown shows, too.
The first O2 show sees the return to the setlist of Don’t Panic. And a rare lead vocal from the Bucklander.
As befits a hometown show, there are friends and family aplenty. Every corner you turn sees another member of the touring party showing a small gathering of their clan around the sprawling roadie village beneath, beside and behind the stage.
String Maestro Davide Rossi is in attendance and, as ever, brings his own ray of sunshine to proceedings. Various band parents are here too and the whole home and family vibe means it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.
This is enhanced the following night when we have another show in the same venue, but of a completely different kind. It’s the Under 1 Roof show, in honour of a charity, Kids Company, that the fellas have been heavily involved with for some time now.
The phrase “Under One Roof” and the logo has been sprayed in graffiti all over the studio for the past couple of years. It’s also appeared in the bottom corner of many pages of Chris’s notebook and even on handwritten setlists we’ve been given. Finally seeing the event come into being then, is a huge deal.
That’s not to say it’s all smooth sailing. There’s a very strong Muppet Show feel to the whole day, as everyone races around trying to work out just exactly what the hell is going on. There’s a whole bunch of additional folks on the bill tonight, from Tinie Tempah to Rob Brydon, to Steve Coogan’s a(-haaa)lmighty Alan Partridge.
Partridge is an absolute comedy legend to so many of us. Chris appears to know the scripts to every single episode of his shows word for word, so to have him share a stage is a huge deal.
It’s good-natured chaos for the whole evening and ends with a duet that I’m certainly not likely to forget in a hurry…
It’s becoming difficult to keep up with just how many high points keep popping up through this campaign. It really is shaping up to be quite a ride.