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Snow wonder

Tom Simpson is an accidental rock star. He hadn't planned to join a band after finishing his degree in Fine Art at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee. It just happened.

"Absolutely," nods the 39-year-old Snow Patrol keyboardist, "I wasn't looking for it."

The story goes that Gary Lightbody (who was also a student in Dundee) would help carry Simpson's records whenever the latter had a DJ gig in town.

"Come check out my band," said Lightbody to the Scottish turntablist. And so he did, unaware that the lanky frontman-in-the-making would invite him on board.

"I was at a bit of a crossroads in my life," recalls Simpson. "I went, 'yeah, okay -- I'll give it a shot and see what happens'. I didn't even know what the notes on the keyboard were -- that's how bad I was. Instead of learning an instrument and then joining a band, I joined a band and learned how to play!"


It wasn't until 2005, however, that Simpson was promoted from touring member to full-time Snow Patroller. Which coincided with the Northern Irish/Scottish outfit's ascent to global stardom. Nice timing.

Some 11 million records later and a bulging best-of collection entitled Up to Now and we have Fallen Empires, the beginning of Snow Patrol's 'next phase'. Now they're arguably one of the biggest bands on the planet and performed recently on Graham Norton, where they appeared alongside fan Carey Mulligan.

The new album is not techno, despite some advances notices. Clocking in at just under an hour, it's also a bit too long. Still, it's one hell of a grower, featuring some of the band's most ambitious work to date.

"When we released Up to Now," says Simpson, "that was drawing the line under what we had done before. We had accomplished quite a lot on the previous records, and thought 'well, that's what we've done -- now we can go into this next phase bravely'."

Recorded in California with regular producer Garret 'Jacknife' Lee, Fallen Empires features guest appearances, ranging from Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen to the LA Inner City Mass Gospel Choir. Former REM ringleader Michael Stipe also dropped in as Lightbody suffered writer's block along the way.

"Gary needed to speak to somebody else that wrote lyrics and songs in that way," says Simpson. "He can't turn around to us and go 'I'm really struggling with this', because we were holding up our hands and going 'I don't know what to tell you, Gary' -- I'd probably just start rhyming cat with hat!"

Snow Patrol may have made a star out of lead singer Lightbody, but you'd be hard pressed to spot the other four members walking down the street.

"It's brilliant!" exclaims Simpson. "Especially in Scotland, people leave you alone. I guess it's like that in Ireland as well. As long as you're not swanning up and down with leather trousers and shades on, people just let you get on with it."

Fallen Empires is out now. Live at the O2, January 20 and 21