Artist Of The Year: Music Week speaks to Coldplay's Chris Martin and Will Champion

Artist Of The Year: Music Week speaks to Coldplay's Chris Martin and Will Champion

Even by Coldplay’s impossibly high standards, 2016 has been a little bit special. The band have rocked the Super Bowl, been crowned Godlike Geniuses, picked up another BRIT, sold out stadiums across the world and conquered Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage for an unprecedented fourth time - all within the confines of the last 12 months. 

Speaking exclusively to Music Week, Chris Martin struggles to pinpoint a specific high point from that embarrassment of riches. “We’re all trying to live at the moment in the knowledge that every day is a highlight,” reflects the singer. “We’re just happy to be alive and that’s the philosophy with which we’re trying to approach everything.

“Of course, Glastonbury is just like a homecoming to us, but really every concert everywhere has felt a bit like a homecoming because if you zoom out far enough then the earth is your home - and that’s another of our philosophies – that we’re all in it, and are one big family.”

Coldplay have indeed made the whole world their home in 2016, their A Head Full Of Dreams Tour visiting three continents, with more of the same planned for 2017. 

It all began in the States back in February, with their headline performance at Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The quartet – Martin, guitarist Jonny Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion – played a seven song setlist for the traditional halftime extravaganza, and were joined by Beyoncé, Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson at various points of their set. 

“It is amazing that so many of the big things that we’ve done so far have all happened in this one year,” says Champion. “The Super Bowl, for example, was almost 12 months ago now, but that feels like a lifetime ago.”

Champion describes their Super Bowl experience, which saw them play to the 71,088 fans in the stadium and a domestic TV audience of 115.5 million – the third highest-ever watched show in the US – as “crazy”. “It was an amazing opportunity to do something on such a huge scale,” he notes. “It required a huge amount of preparation and the rehearsal schedule was vigorous. 

“Obviously there are so many things to consider with a television show of that size, and so many people who need to feel listened to and who need to get their message across: the league, the broadcasters, the producers of the show and the advertisers; everyone seemed to have something to say about it all. 

“After six months of build-up and fretting about the song selection, the staging and the camera angles and so on, for the 12 minutes we were on stage it was fantastic. It was a really great atmosphere to be part of. We were very happy with the way it went down.” 

February saw the group snare their eighth BRIT Award as they won Best British Group for the fourth time. The previous week, they collected the Godlike Genius award from Kylie Minogue at the 2016 NME Awards, held at O2 Academy Brixton. 

“The NME was our bible when we started as a band as 18/19 year old kids and we were desperate for just a mention in there,” smiles Champion. “We started creeping up through the pages of the NME and that was how we registered how we were doing. 

“Going to the awards ceremony was actually terrifying, it was nerve-racking. Everything was all right once we started playing, but I feel like I regress to my younger self in those situations. I’ve never found them particularly easy because there are always much cooler bands than us on the next table, but it was fun. It was nice to say thank you to the NME, they were very kind in giving us that award and it’s always good to remember those that helped you when you were first coming up.”

Champion brushes off the night’s most controversial incident, when Bring Me The Horizon frontman Oli Sykes trashed Coldplay’s table during a performance. “I wasn’t there at the time, I was back in the dressing room getting ready for the show, so I missed all the hullabaloo,” he chuckles. “But it’s all fun and games.”

Coldplay’s A Head Full Of Dreams World Tour kicked off in South America in March and went on to visit Europe and North America, making a brief stop in India before landing in New Zealand and Australia earlier this month ahead of a New Year’s Eve gig in Abu Dhabi. The tour grossed $137.2 million (£108.4m) from 29 shows in the first half of 2016.

“I don’t know any numbers,” reveals Martin. “One thing we’ve tried to do in recent years is not look at any statistics so I don’t know what you’re talking about, except that I see lots of friendly faces when we play concerts and it feels amazing. 

“We’re so lucky in, some might say, this age where some people would maybe like to split everything up and build fences and walls. We’re so privileged that we get to go from country to country and see how connected so many people are, to see people singing the same songs in the same way, and responding the same way to fireworks displays and wristbands and things that light up. How does it feel? It makes me feel very optimistic and hopeful.”

The band touched down for the UK leg of the tour in June, taking in stadiums in Manchester and Glasgow, and four nights at Wembley Stadium, before closing Glastonbury on June 26. Headlining the Pyramid Stage for a record fourth time, Coldplay provided one of the defining moments of the entire festival with a perfectly judged tribute to Viola Beach. Coldplay covered Boys That Sing accompanied by footage of the Warrington band, who were killed in a car crash back in February.

“I remember seeing Viola Beach on BBC Introducing and when we heard about their terrible accident we couldn’t help but think about how lucky we all are,” says Champion. “We thought it would be a nice way to give them an opportunity, posthumously, that they may well have ended up getting had their accident not happened.

“We got in touch with their families and asked if it would be OK for us to do this tribute, and they were very pleased and happy to say yes. We really wanted [Viola Beach] to have a strong physical presence on the stage so we decided that, rather than just cover the song, we wanted to try and learn how to play along with them in the studio session they did for the BBC. We spent quite a while rehearsing and basically being able to keep up with them – because they were a great band. It was about them being centre stage and us being their backing band for a song.”

Coldplay created a further ‘Glastonbury Moment’ via their duet with Barry Gibb on To Love Somebody and Stayin’ Alive. “He was extremely professional and such a nice man to be around – and he sang beautifully,” beams Champion. “Again, we spent a long time rehearsing [Stayin’ Alive] because everyone knows it. It’s such an exciting piece of music and we wanted to make sure we did it justice. 

“[Gibb] is someone who’s had a massive impact on music, who has suffered terrible tragedies in his life and we just wanted to be a support for him, to make him feel like he was part of a band again.”

Back To The Future actor Michael J Fox also joined the band on stage at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey in July to play guitar on two songs from the classic film, The Penguins’ Earth Angel and Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode, following a request from Martin’s son, Moses. “That was a personal firework display for me,” smiles Martin. “That was one of my favourites.” 

With UK sales of A Head Full Of Dreams approaching one million, Coldplay are not in the business of trading off past glories. Although Champion admits: “I think there’s a fair share of people who want to just hear the old stuff, which is great. But maybe the difference is that there are a whole bunch of new fans who weren’t even alive when we started out and have just heard the last record.

“The way I see it is that, by keeping ourselves musically interested, we’ve managed to stay relevant to people who are now starting to listen to music and make their own musical choices. It is slightly terrifying that we’re now of an age where some of our fans weren’t even born when our first record came out.”

Next year promises more of the same, with the band releasing a new EP, Kaleidoscope, and more globe-trotting planned for the tour’s second leg. “We’re so fixated on making this tour brilliant and keeping ourselves fit, healthy and happy on the road, so that’s the target and, beyond that, we’ll see what happens,” adds Champion.

Martin, meanwhile, declares himself “extremely grateful and very honoured” for Coldplay’s Music Week Artist Of The Year award, adding: “The people I feel most happy for are Dave [Holmes] and Phil [Harvey], our managers, and Craig [Finley], the production manager, because they slave away and I feel something like this is a good thing for them to get, so that we can all remind them how special they are.

“Right now, our bucket list just involves trying to be of service to the people that would like us to come and play for them. It’s great to be named Artist Of The Year, but I like so many artists and I don’t think it’s a competition. There are no bucket list things in terms of trying to achieve anything. We’re aware of how lucky we are to be where we are and we love what we do so much at the moment. 

“My bucket list is just to keep singing when people want that to happen – and try not to piss off people who don’t want me to sing. So, just to know which rooms to sing in and which rooms to just stay quiet…” 

So there you have it: 2016 wasn’t so bad after all – at least not for biggest band in the world.

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