Coldplay have released their first documentary film. A Head Full of Dreams charts the band’s rise from students in a Camden flat in 1996 to a mega-band, rivaling U2 in both sales and fan adulation. Alan Corr talks to the film’s director Mat Whitecross

For all their apparent differences, Oasis and Coldplay may have more in common than you might think. For a start, they both became very successful, very quickly and, some might say, they both got rather dull very quickly once they became very successful.

Filmmaker Mat Whitecross would know. He’s made films about both bands, first with knockabout and very funny (naturally) Oasis documentary Supersonic in 2016 and now with his latest project, Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams, an extraordinarily intimate look at the band’s meteoric rise from passionate college kids to globe-straddling touchy-feely rock princelings.

"There is a contrast between the posturing and the ambition and cool that most bands want versus the reality of coming in your Y fronts and you’re hungover and you need a cup of tea."

Whitecross’ doc is extraordinary because he was there with camera in hand right from the very start when four students at the London University made their first fumbling steps to stardom.

Almost incredibly given the global success the band gained in a matter of months, Whitecross first turned his camera on the fledgling Coldplay all the way back in 1996 when he was friends with Chris Martin, Guy Berryman, Will Champion, and Jonny Buckland in college in London. In total he has amassed over 1,000 hours of footage of the band.

Chris Martin at one of Coldplay's earliest shows

"I wanted to be a film maker from an early age so I used to film everything anyway. So I nicked my dad’s camera and filmed anything that was happening, people in the kitchen in college, student demos, and it just so happened that a lot of people I gravitated toward were musicians," the director says.

"There were three big bands in college, one of which was Coldplay. I just loved musicians, I loved music, I think in another life I would have loved to be in a band, so I just started hanging out with them and they put up with me."

Listen to Alan Corr's radio essay about the differing attitudes to Coldplay  

It was the beginning of a professional and personal relationship which saw him film the band’s every move, from early gigs in London’s Dublin Castle venue at a time when a curly-haired Chris Martin was the trendy vicar of Camden Town, to the world’s arenas. Whitecross has been there at every turn and he’s also filmed many of the band’s innovative pop videos.

A Head Full of Dreams is not Spinal Tap (although there are at least two deliciously Tap-like moments) and neither is it fly on the turd Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster.

If Supersonic was a film about a deeply fractious bunch of working class lads, A Head Full of Dreams is a more harmonious account of a bunch of goofy posh boys making tasteful angst rock.

"It’s funny that you mention Spinal Tap because there are moments in the film when the band discuss whether it’s alright to talk about mentioning Leonardo DiCaprio in a song and that is quite Spinal Tap," says Whitecross.

"There is a contrast between the posturing and the ambition and cool that most bands want versus the reality of coming in your Y fronts and you’re hungover and you need a cup of tea. The other thing is that Coldplay are very, very funny. The vibe between the four of them is hilarious, the in-jokes and the nonsense."

If Supersonic was a film about a deeply fractious bunch of working class lads, A Head Full of Dreams is a more harmonious account of a bunch of goofy posh boys making tasteful angst rock.

A Head Full of Dreams is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video

Oasis brought much needed attitude and swagger back into Brit rock; Coldplay, like U2 a generation earlier, swept away rock music’s right to be obnoxious and ushered in a new era of trembling sincerity and inclusivity. At one point in A Head Full of Dreams, we even see Chris kissing the stage like Pope JPII.

"I don’t think Coldplay ever came to blows, not as far as I know. I was never around when that happened, if it did."

"The Oasis film and this Coldplay film were quite different films in the way they came about," Whitecross says. "With Oasis, it was Noel’s idea to make the film and then we had to try to convince Liam but once we decided we were making the film, they completely left me alone and had no interest in the film in terms of the mechanics of it. They just turned up whenever we asked, we did twenty hours of interviews with both brothers.

"They had ideas and they had thoughts but nothing to do with ego and all of the things you might anticipate with Oasis. With Coldplay it was slightly different in that I’ve been friends with them for years but for a long time they weren’t keen on the idea of doing a film and we kept on talking about it and every year I’d ask them and they kept deferring it but they’d keep on asking me back.

Coldplay in 2008

"I think in the back of their minds they wanted to preserve their early years on film. I kept on chasing them but eventually I kind of gave up because Chris said to me at one point, honestly we really don’t want this film to happen, possibly at all, until we’re dead and buried and sitting out on rocking chairs on the porch.

"It was only when we were finishing Supersonic that I thought well, maybe it’s time. Coldplay enjoyed watching Supersonic and thought maybe it was worth exploring. It was never anything to do with ego. In fact, when Chris saw early footage of the film he asked for more clips of the band arguing because he didn’t want the film to be too overly happy. They do have their ups and downs but they do get on!"

We all know Coldplay as the massively successful band of the last ten years but what is really startling about A Head Full of Dreams is that early shaky handheld footage of the young Coldplay in college dorms and dive venues rehearsing and reaching out to the audience.

At one point during a gig at what looks like a garden fete in the leafy Home Counties in 1998, a Tiggerish Martin stares, eyes ablaze, into Whitecross’ lens and promises that his band will be the biggest act in the world within four years. Turns out he overestimated the timeframe.

"It can’t have not burst that bubble when you have the outside world saying the future of EMI, the future of the company that launched The Beatles, rests on your next album."

However, later on, we also see Martin visibly upset after reading a scathing New York Times’ article about his band.

"Chris has always that 50/50 thing with creative people - extreme confidence combined with extreme vulnerability. Me and my wife have lots of friends who are filmmakers or actors and she was saying that we are all fragile narcissists - we put our story out there into the world and the slightest little criticism and we fall apart. I think Chris has it to a more extreme degree than anyone else. His high is a super high and his low is a super low." 

There is also a scene in A Head Full of Dreams when this band of brothers pretend to have a row, in marked contrast to Oasis, a band of genuine brothers, or Blur who would regularly take swings at each other.

"I don’t think Coldplay ever came to blows, not as far as I know. I was never around when that happened, if it did," says Whitecross.

"There was a time around about the third album when Chris was having issues with them getting so big and Guy was having issues with too much drinking so there was a lot of friction between the two of them but it’s not unusual for people, especially at that age stuck in this hot box environment with a lot of pressure from outside, it can’t have not burst that bubble when you have the outside world saying the future of EMI, the future of the company that launched The Beatles, rests on your next album.

Coldplay: "They’re closer now than they ever have been."

"The Gallagher brothers now talk about each other warmly and with Coldplay they never split up, they don’t hate each now, they’re not sitting in separate cars on the way to their gigs. They’re closer now than they ever have been. They’ve gone through a lot of those bumps and come out the other side."  

There is another Oasis documentary to be made, one that examines lead-up to the band’s messy break-up in 2009 but right now after telling the quite different - but also quite similar stories - of two of the biggest acts of recent years, Whitecross’ next project could be about "another huge, huge, huge band" but he won’t say any more than that.

"I can’t! I don’t think so . . . they make music, that’s it! I’ve already said too much. Hahahaha," he laughs. "Anyway, they’ve gone away to think about it. I’ve just done a series with Vic and Bob and they’ve also written a road movie and they’re hoping to turn it into a film. There’s also the possibility of a drama about Brian Epstein and The Beatles so hopefully that will be next."

A Head Full of Dreams is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. The album Coldplay: Live In Buenos Aires is out now