The members of the band met at the University College London (UCL) in September 1996. Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland were the first members of the band, having met one another during their orientation week. They spent the rest of the college year planning a band, with their efforts culminating in a band called Pectoralz. Eventually Guy Berryman, a classmate of the two, joined the band without considering what musical direction it was taking. By 1997, Coldplay performed gigs for local Camden promoters at small clubs. By that time, the band had renamed themselves Starfish. Martin also had recruited his longtime school friend Phil Harvey, who was studying classics at Oxford, to be the band's manager. Harvey managed the band until 2002.
In January 1998, the band's lineup was finally complete when Will Champion joined the band to take up percussion duties. The multi-talented Champion had grown up playing piano, guitar, bass, and tin whistle; he quickly learned the drums, despite having no previous experience. Eventually Tim Rice-Oxley, a mutual friend, permitted the band to use the name "Coldplay", which he had used for his band but after a while he thought the name was "too depressing". Rice-Oxley was also offered the position as Coldplay's keyboard player, but he refused since he was already committed to the band Keane.
On 18 May 1998, the band released 500 copies of the Safety EP. Most of the discs were given to record companies and friends; only 50 copies remained for sale to the public. In December, Coldplay signed to the independent label Fierce Panda. Their first release was the three track Brothers and Sisters EP which they had quickly recorded over four days in February 1999. Released in April, the EP's initial run was limited to 2,500 copies. Interest in the band was slowly growing across the UK, helped by regular airplay from Radio 1's Steve Lamacq.
After completing their final examinations, Coldplay signed to Parlophone for a five-album contract in the spring of 1999. After making their first appearance at Glastonbury, the band went into studio to record a third EP titled The Blue Room. 5,000 copies were made available to the public in October, and the single "Bigger Stronger", which received airplay on Radio 1, was instrumental in establishing Coldplay. However, the recording sessions for The Blue Room were tumultuous. Martin kicked Champion out of the band but later pleaded with him to return, and because of his guilt, went on a drinking binge. Eventually, the band worked out their differences and put in place a new set of rules to keep the group intact. First, the band declared an all-for-one approach: Coldplay was a democracy, and profits were to be shared equally, taking a page from bands like U2 and R.E.M. Second, the band would fire anyone who used hard drugs.
In March 1999, Coldplay focused efforts on their debut album. They went into "Rockfield Studios" with producer Ken Nelson. They also played on the Carling Tour, which showcased up-and-coming acts. After releasing three EPs without a hit song, Coldplay scored their first Top 40 single, "Shiver". Released in March 2000, the single placed at a modest #35 and earned the band their first airplay on MTV. June 2000 was a pivotal moment in Coldplay's history. The band embarked on their first headlining tour, which included a triumphant return to Glastonbury. More notably, the band released the breakthrough single, "Yellow". The song shot to #4 on the UK Singles Chart and placed the band in public consciousness.
Coldplay released their first full-length album, Parachutes , in July 2000, which debuted at #1 on the UK Albums Chart. Along with critical acclaim, Parachutes was sometimes criticised for bearing a strong resemblance to the music of alt-rock band Radiohead in their The Bends–OK Computer era. "Yellow" and "Trouble" earned regular radio airplay on both sides of the Atlantic. Parlophone originally predicted sales of 40,000 units of Parachutes ; by Christmas, 1.6 million copies had been sold in the United Kingdom alone. Parachutes was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in September 2000.
Having found success in Europe, the band set their sights on North America. Parachutes was released in November 2000. The band embarked on a US club tour in early 2001, beginning with a show in Vancouver, Canada, which was coupled with appearances on Saturday Night Live, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and The Late Show with David Letterman. Whilst Parachutes was a slow-burning success in U.S., it eventually reached double-platinum status. The album was also critically well-received, earning Best Alternative Music Album honours at the 2002 Grammy Awards.
Coldplay returned to the studio in October 2001 to begin work on their second album, once again with Ken Nelson producing. With much anticipation, Coldplay released A Rush of Blood to the Head in August 2002. The album spawned several popular singles, notably "In My Place", "Clocks", and the ballad "The Scientist".
Coldplay toured for over a year, from June 2002 to September 2003, visiting five continents including co-headlining festival dates at Glastonbury Festival, V2003, and Rock Werchter. The Rush of Blood to the Head tour showed the band's progression into a bona fide stadium act. Many shows included elaborate lighting and individualised screens reminiscent of U2's recent Elevation tour. During the extended tour, Coldplay also recorded a live DVD and CD, Live 2003, at Sydney's Hordern Pavilion.
In December 2003, they were named by readers of Rolling Stone magazine as the best artist and the best band of the year. At that time Coldplay covered The Pretenders' 1983 hit "2000 Miles", which was made available for download on their official site. It was the top selling UK download that year, with proceeds from the sales donated to Future Forests and Stop Handgun Violence campaigns. A Rush of Blood to the Head won two trophies at the 2003 Grammy Awards. At the 2004 Grammy Awards, Coldplay earned Record of the Year for "Clocks".
2004 was a quiet year for Coldplay, as they spent most of the year out of spotlight resting from touring and recording their third album. In terms of musical influences for this particular album, bassist Guy Berryman has said, "We were listening to lots of different stuff during the early stages [of X&Y], from Bowie, Eno and Pink Floyd to Depeche Mode, Kate Bush and Kraftwerk. And U2 as we usually do."In May, Coldplay teased fans with a new song and music video on their official site to celebrate the birth of Apple, Chris Martin's daughter with his wife, actress Gwyneth Paltrow.
From June 2005 to July 2006, Coldplay went on their Twisted Logic tour, which included festival dates like Coachella, Glastonbury and the Austin City Limits Music Festival. In July 2005, the band appeared at Live 8 in Hyde Park, where they played a rendition of The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony" with Richard Ashcroft on vocals. In September, Coldplay recorded a new version of "How You See the World" with reworked lyrics to War Child's Help: A Day in the Life charity album. In February 2006, Coldplay earned Best Album and Best Single honours at the BRIT Awards.
Work on the band's fourth album started as early as December 2006. It has been quoted as "the album people will remember them by" as well as a concise record "with at least two top-division songs being released independently." Brian Eno is the producer. In addition, music producer Timbaland told GQ magazine that he would be collaborating. Coldplay took a break from recording and toured South America in early 2007 for the first time, including shows in Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. The band has also revealed that the album seemed to be shaping up with Hispanic influences, after having recorded in churches and other areas in Latin America and Spain during their tour; after which they spent the rest of the year recording the new album, mainly with producer Brian Eno.
In December 2007 a post appeared on the band's website suggesting that the group had nearly finished recording, stating that "the creative momentum keeps on gathering." Coldplay have been mixing the record in New York as announced on their site since late 2007. In a Rolling Stone online article, Chris Martin announced that the next Coldplay album is to be titled Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends and will be released on 16 June 2008.
Martin has described this album as a new direction for Coldplay: a change from their past three albums, which they have referred to as a 'trilogy'. Martin has also revealed that this album features much less of his falsetto, and he has allowed his voice's lower register to take precedence. Some songs on Viva la Vida, such as "Violet Hill", contain distorted guitar riffs and bluesy undertones. "Violet Hill" has been confirmed as the first single from Viva la Vida, with a release date of 5 May 2008.