Chris Martin’s recollection of the events of 14th September 1998 are an alternative version of my truth. I don’t know if he actually remembers it like that or whether it just makes for a better story. He tells everyone “there were 50 bands on the bill & Muse were number one and Elbow were number two and Coldplay were number 50. I’m not joking, we were the last band added”. It is true that they were one of the last bands added to the bill.
Being from up North I normally only had to travel a few miles to Manchester’s In The City music convention but I had scored myself a job in London as an A&R scout for Universal Records.
54 bands played over 3 nights in several venues so if I wanted to see most of them, it took strategic planning and a lot of running around. I saw 52 that year.
I was already aware of Muse & Elbow – I’d known Guy Garvey for a couple of years from the Manchester circuit. Both those bands already had an industry buzz but as Coldplay didn’t and weren’t on my radar they were a must-see band for me.
It was a miserable rainy Monday evening. The Coldplay (that was their billed name at the time) were on at 8.15pm at a venue in the hipster Northern Quarter of the city. The Cuba Cafe no longer exists but was more of a Salsa place. It doubled up as a live music venue for the convention – as did Methodist Halls and pubs with no stages.
Although scouts have a reputation to hunt in packs, I was on my own because I was genuinely intent on seeing every band. Coldplay are the reason I didn’t. I walked in during what must have been the first song. My recollection is that the (albeit small) place was busy.
I went to the front. Chris’ vocals were reminiscent of Jeff Buckley who I loved and it grabbed me immediately. As was my job, I was also making mental notes of other things such as, what they all looked like – which for the record, wasn’t great. They all looked like the students they were.
Chris was wearing cords and a tank top over a t-shirt. He had a mop of curly hair and was wearing mouth braces. The front of the crowd were very respectful – which is unusual for an unknown band as people can have little gig etiquette.
One song had me reaching to switch my phone to silent in case it broke the hushed reverie that was occurring. In that moment, I remember having a wow feeling. It was special.
The nature of In The City means you can usually only see about 3 songs before you need to be off to see the next artist at the next venue. Timing is everything. Coldplay had me rooted to the spot though. I couldn’t drag myself away.
When their set had finished, I darted for the door. Luckily their manager had the foresight to leave business cards pinned to the notice board by the exit. I grabbed one: Phil Harvey, Überbitch Promotions. I didn’t use it until I was back in London but I’d wanted to call him right there and then.
“If you ask me the precise moment of which I knew that things were going to work out and we were going to get a record deal and this was going to be our life, it was two days after ITC,” recalled Phil. “I slept in the corridor in a sleeping bag of Jonny and Chris’ flat. It was about midday because we’d been up all night and Debs called me and woke me up. I just couldn’t believe it. That was the moment when we stepped through a portal in to another dimension,” Phil said. “That was the first domino to fall. It was very exciting… we owe Debs everything. Without her, no Coldplay”.
It feels surreal sometimes to think I had a part to play in their journey but it’s certainly the time I am most proud of.
This is based on an excerpt from my book LIFE IN TECHNICOLOR: A CELEBRATION OF COLDPLAY, out 4 October.
Signed copies available: https://www.musicglue.com/debs-wild