“We started out with an aim to annoy!”: Biffy Clyro frontman Simon Neil on the band’s early days

Biffy Clyro in 2012
(Image credit: Adam Gasson/Total Guitar Magazine/Future via Getty Images))

Biffy Clyro will take a deep dive into their past in October with the recently-announced A Celebration Of Beginnings shows. The gigs will see the Scottish rock trio revisit their first three records – 2002’s Blackened Sky, 2003’s The Vertigo Of Bliss and 2004’s Infinity Land – over six shows taking place three apiece in Glasgow and London. Released on Beggars Banquet, the albums stylistically pinballed all over the shop, taking in experimental rock, post-hardcore, prog-punk and much more as Simon Neil and the Johnston twins worked out what sort of band they wanted to be. Of course, in time they would realise the answer was a hugely anthemic one that played the UK’s biggest venues with a fine collection in yearning singalongs that contained the odd diversion into their more tricksy earlier selves. But those early days left a big mark, which is probably why the band are keen to pay tribute to them in London and Glasgow. Speaking to this writer in 2017, frontman Neil said even though they only spanned a few years, those formative releases felt like the crucial chapter in their history.

“When I look back, I realise how lucky we were to be naïve and ignorant of the music industry and bands in general. Now when I look back, there’s probably a few points where if we’d known more, we might have gone, “we’ll just do it as a hobby, let’s just play in the garage together.” Because we didn’t know what was happening, ignorance was bliss,” Neil said. “I wouldn’t change a thing but I’m really proud of how we started, we were so cocksure and really didn’t consider the big picture. You’ve got to be aware of the big picture but when it comes to shit like music, it’s your little world.”

Before he set his sights on bigger targets, Neil just wanted Biffy to be like his favourite cult heroes such as Shudder To Think or Fugazi. “I just wanted to have a bunch of people in each town who cared about our band and I was not interested in the masses hearing our music,” he explained. “But after a few records, I’d see so many bands that I thought weren’t very good doing well and I think there was a point, it was when my mum died and I was trying to reassess my life and figure out what life was about, I just thought, ‘you know what, I think we’re the best band in the fucking world so I want to battle with these guys on that level.’ I thought, ‘I know we’ve got a stupid fucking name and we make weird music but we can do whatever we fucking want.’ I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I don’t believe there’s three better musicians in a band than me, Ben and James. It’s the only band we’ve been in. Ben and James are twins. We’re so tightly entwined in every way and it’s only time that makes that happen. There are a handful of bands that have been together as long, maybe Muse, they were teenage friends, I just feel we’re so close and come from such a similar mindset that no-one can touch us when we’re on it. If you put any band in a room with a guitar, bass and drums, I think we’ll blow them away and out the fucking water.”

The first song that Neil wrote after his change of mindset, he revealed, was epic Puzzle opener Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies. “That was the first time where I thought, ‘My songwriting has actually evolved’. I knew it was better. It still had the Biffy proggery going on, it still had the messing with people’s minds but I thought it was a great pop song. In my mind, I thought, 'This is what we can do'."

Neil said that when he looks back at the song now, it feels like a huge step forward. "I think it was not wanting to be insular, it was wanting to share, wanting to open our arms as a band and welcome people in," he said. "On the first three records, if we had something close to a chorus we would deliberately only do it once four and a half minutes into the song and we would make sure it came after a right journey that you’re probably not gonna like, it’s a pretty bumpy journey, you might need travel tablets. We started out with an aim to annoy, I think, and that kind of disappeared and when that disappeared, we flourished!”

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.