ABU DHABI // Coldplay's last album was inspired by the sights and sounds of South America, but the next will draw on the Middle East's rich cultural heritage. Speaking yesterday, ahead of this weekend's eagerly awaited concert at the Emirates Palace hotel, the British band's lead singer Chris Martin described the visit to Abu Dhabi as part of a musical odyssey that typified Coldplay's spirit.
Huge international acclaim has taken the band to countries as far apart as the US, New Zealand and Singapore. But Martin said he was looking beyond a single live appearance, the only date in the Gulf on an extensive world tour. Instead, he sees the Middle East as "uncharted territory", a region that promises the band an element of mystical excitement that will prove a creative force in their musical development.
"Musicians are hungry for freshness," he said. "Somewhere like Abu Dhabi sounds unknown, exotic and exciting. In the same way, we'd still like to go to places like China or Russia." In pursuit of his artistic dream, Martin plans to bring the band back at the end of the tour to record some demos of new material. The journey may well begin in Damascus. "Something in my brain tells me that some good music is going to happen there," he said. "We need to start recording somewhere hot to give the music a different feel. It's about time for us to make the change."
Among the highlights identified by Martin from the current Viva La Vida tour have been a free concert for the UK charity War Child and a performance in New York's Madison Square Garden. But he said that he "can't wait" to come to the region this week. Interviewed by The National before a show in Singapore, he said: "I've kept the Middle East as the last place in the world as I feel like it's going to be important. It's nice to save somewhere."
One source of this inspiration may be his admiration for the US-based band The Brothers of Baladi, whose repertoire includes songs in Arabic and Turkish, with accompaniment on such traditional Middle Eastern instruments as the oud. Coldplay, continued from 1 Back in the UK, Martin said, the band's friends and family were envious of their trip to the UAE as the latest addition to their world travels.
Coldplay's disparate search for influences took them to Liverpool during the preparation of their debut album, Parachutes, in 2000. As the home of the Beatles, one of the bands cited as contributing to the evolution of Coldplay's diverse style, the city was a logical choice. The band's exceptional success has since taken them to the US and more recently South America. But if Martin, 32, is beyond doubt a superstar, he displays a degree of modesty rarely encountered at his level of fame, and declares it a privilege to have the opportunity to travel so widely.
Viva la Vida is topping album charts around the world and helped Coldplay collect three Grammy Awards at the ceremony in January, including song of the year for the title track. The band's record sales are estimated at around 30 million albums. "At the end of the day, we're just trying to make people have as much fun as possible on an evening when they could choose 87 other things to do," said Martin. "This gig isn't about expansion, but about coming to say hi."
At Coldplay's own Camden recording studio in London, there is a list of 12 "rules"; on tour, however, there are none, the singer says. Although Martin is the indisputable voice of the band, he has recently decreed that there should be "less Chris Martin" in Coldplay's music and more collaborations - building on a recent partnership with the rap singer Kanye West - and vocal contributions from other band members. Martin described his aim as to offer "as many voices as possible".
Fans, in time, needed more diversity, Martin said. He discourages the view that it has been his unique sound that has been the root of Coldplay's phenomenal success. "We also agreed that anything the lead singer doesn't want to sing, he doesn't sing." Coldplay admirers are unlikely to be disappointed with Saturday night's 15,000-capacity show. The band are bringing hi-tech video spheres, multimillion dollar lighting and audio technology systems characterised by Martin as "more of a show than a concert".
Each concert on their world tour, he said, had offered something different, keeping each performance fresh and unique. "It's like being in a play. We're trying to make a story to it. There are certain tricks we've come up with for this tour which we've always wanted to do. We're trying things we haven't done before." Coldplay are being supported by the US alternative rock band Mercury Rev, another group Martin admires.
"We can always learn from each other when we tour with people you respect so much and these guys have so many pearls of wisdom. We're having a lot of fun." Saturday's concert will be carbon neutral to mark Earth Hour Day, an event funded by Enviromena Power Systems, based in Abu Dhabi, with support from the World Wildlife Fund. Organisers are helping to fund a wind farm in New Zealand to offset all energy consumed in putting on the event.
At 8.30pm that night lights will be turned off for an hour in buildings around the world, including the UAE, to promote energy conservation. The organisers estimate that the show will generate around 600 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Because of the practical difficulty of pulling the plug on a stadium full of people during a concert, the promoters will buy wind farm energy credits to show their support.
After Saturday's Abu Dhabi date the band will be moving on to the US, Canada and Europe. Diamond tickets are still available from www.ticketingboxoffice.com and virgin megastores while Pearl tickets can be bought from www.boxofficeme.com and selected virgin megastores outlets. @Email:email@example.com