Music

Chris Martin: "We've done bad stuff as well - we're not angels!"

Coldplay's Chris Martin on their 'hidden' Crisis gigs, the new album – and which of Ant and Dec has the bigger dressing room

“It was around 12 years ago that I started getting to know more about what they do. I think they’re an amazing organization.” Chris Martin is describing his interest in Crisis, the national charity for single homeless people.

“I didn’t know much about homelessness beforehand. I thought it was to do with people sleeping in shop doorways. As you learn more you realise that it goes far beyond that…”

He’s not wrong. Crisis estimates that the vast majority of homeless people in Great Britain – tens of thousands at any one time – are ‘invisible’ to the public. They exist out of sight in refuges, hostels, B&Bs, and squats, or are sleeping on sofas or floors provided by family and friends.

I didn’t know much about homelessness beforehand. It goes far beyond people sleeping in shop doorways

These are the ‘hidden homeless’, people who do not figure in official government statistics, either because they have not applied to be classified as homeless, or because the local authority has deemed them ‘not in priority need’.

Which is why Crisis has teamed up with Coldplay, asking them to play ‘hidden gigs’ to draw attention to the issue, and to raise funds for the charity. The band’s only UK performances of 2010, the two gigs are in Liverpool and Newcastle next month – all sold out now, I’m afraid – and those attending will only learn the exact location of the intimate venues 24 hours prior to the band stepping on stage.

This is intended to give gig-goers a small taste of the uncertainty faced by the thousands of homeless people who do not know where they will rest their heads on any given night.

Of course, Coldplay have always had links to a variety of charities and humanitarian campaigns. This ranges from big-hitters such as Oxfam and Amnesty International, to less high-profile causes like London’s Whittington Hospital, or the victims of last year’s Australian bushfire tragedy.

Whilst obviously committed to whatever they put their name to, Martin is all-too-aware of how the band’s well-meaning intentions can be perceived.

“If we were working in a bank, we’d still feel the same way about the charities we support,” he says, sitting up on the sofa in Coldplay’s north London studio. “But quite often when a known entity gets involved in something charitable, even I look cynically upon it… But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do these things.

“We’ve done some bad stuff as well,” he laughs. “We’re not angels. We just don’t talk about any of that.”

Very wise! Does he feel that they can have an impact upon charitable donations?

“I don’t see it like that,” he replies. “It’s not like, ‘We’re doing this, so you should do it too’. I see it as not being ashamed to say that this is what we’re doing.

“It’s never supposed to be preachy,” he adds. “We’re doing the Crisis gigs because we think that what they do is cool. It’s not about the weight of our influence or anything like that – it’s just what we can give.”

It’s never supposed to be preachy. We’re doing the Crisis gigs because we think that what they do is cool

Have they worked with Crisis before?

“A little bit, on and off. Crisis At Christmas [the day centres set up over the seasonal period] was one of the first things I heard about when I came to London. It just seemed like such a…” He searches for the words, and then fixes me with a ‘no bullshit’ look: “… such a great gesture of love.”

Such sentiments may not be considered ‘cool’ within the rock ‘n’ roll fraternity – which tends to celebrate detachment, and hedonism, and looking good in skinny jeans – but they are not out of place within Coldplay’s world.

Indeed, it could be said that there is, ahem, ‘a lot of love’ around Martin and his band: during my visit to the studio, where they are recording their fifth album, I am struck by the warmth, friendliness, and big-hearted nature that infuses their whole operation, typified by Martin’s open and affable manner. With over 40 million albums sold worldwide, perhaps some other rock stars may do well to take note…

Coldplay

At this year’s Crisis ‘hidden gigs’ – Coldplay are following in the footsteps of Hot Chip, David Gilmour, and Bombay Bicycle Club among others – support will come from The Choir With No Name, a London-based choir made up of homeless people and those on the fringes of society. The group was set up with the intention of giving a boost to the confidence and self-esteem of its members.

“Oh yeah, I’m excited about seeing them,” says Martin. “What a great idea. There’s so many people who are good at music but don’t have the chance to show it. It’s a scary thought, really. The new Mozart might be hidden in Africa somewhere with no piano to play on…”

There’s so many people who are good at music but don’t have the chance to show it

Compèring the Newcastle gig will be two of its favourite sons, Ant and Dec, a prospect that has clearly gone down well in the Coldplay camp.

“Those two are phenomenal,” Martin enthuses. “Have you ever met them? Very sweet. And if we screw up, they can come on and do some juggling.”

Which of the diminutive Geordies does he think would have the bigger dressing room?

Martin pauses for thought. “Dec,” he deadpans. “Very difficult character…”

In the meantime, there’s the small matter of their album to work on, the much anticipated follow-up to 2008’s Viva La Vida. Are they feeling any pressure?

“Not outside pressure,” Martin says. “Because that will be how it will be. We would go mad trying to work out how to please everybody. It’s not possible. The only pressure I care about is making something that the people who like us will love.”

The album is due at some point next year – no one will be drawn on an exact date. So is the recording going well?

“Yeah, it’s full-on. We just feel very fired up,” he beams. “We have many different motivators, but one is that, y’know, the music industry is in trouble, there’s a recession, and we’ve still got our jobs.

“So we’re gonna work very hard. The days of taking your job as a pop star for granted are long gone…”

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