The A-Z guide to Biffy Clyro

Biffy Clyro

As Biffy Clyro return with their seventh album Ellipsis, we give them the Sesame Street treatment and travel through the alphabet with 26 unassailable facts…


Not a barbecue street food van in London’s trendy Shoreditch, but an emotionally raw rare gem from a band who love a head-scratching title. There are a couple of versions knocking about. The first appeared on the band’s website between the Infinity Land and Puzzle albums, and instantly became a live favourite. The second, the B-side to Folding Stars, features Matt Caughthran of LA punks The Bronx screaming his lungs into bloody shreds over it.


The band’s debut album, released in 2002, was a cracking introduction to a trio that were a fantastically awkward fit for the post-hardcore scene they, on the surface, seemed to come out of. The knack with an anthem with a dark twist was there from the start, so if you want to get a long-time fan misty-eyed, just whack on singalong classics like Justboy and 57 and watch them dissolve.


Want to hear Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way turned inside out and ripped apart by a pack of rabid dogs? Or Weezer’s Buddy Holly transformed into a barely-recognisable prog-punk odyssey? Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name as a tender ballad? You’ve come to the right place, this lot love ripping things apart just to see what new shapes they can squish the components bits into. That they almost made Cheryl Cole’s Fight For This Love and Starship’s We Built This City listenable is, frankly, mind-boggling.


The American author of the novel Only Revolutions, which tells a story from two different perspectives and, therefore, the man who inspired the album of the same title. Frontman Simon Neil explained to Spin: “After we completed all our songs for our first record, I was in Mexico with my wife and I read Only Revolutions for the second time. It’s a love story told from two people’s point of view, and I felt like the songs we were writing were about myself and my wife, and how when you’re in love with someone you can still hate them more than anyone else in the world, you can just have completely different points of view. I was reading that book and I just thought our album has to be called this. I guess Mark found out and a year or so later he came to our show in LA.”

E is for… ELLIPSIS

The band’s seventh album is released this month, and was recorded at the Eldorado Studios in Los Angeles with Muse producer Rick Costey. After throwing a full orchestra at the last three albums, it seems that this one could be a more vicious return. Simon Neil told NME: “It’s fight rock, pint-in-the-face rock.”


The most personal and vulnerable song they’ve ever released, when it was recorded for Puzzle Simon Neil vowed he’d never perform it live, as it was too painful for him. It was written about the death of his mother, and the emotion is so palpable it instantly connected with their fanbase, leading to a single release and Neil to reconsider his position on adding it to setlists. It’s still tough to get through without getting choked up though.


Canadian producer GGGarth (he has a stammer) has worked his magic on everyone from The Jesus Lizard to Rage Against The Machine, and he came on board for Puzzle, Only Revolutions and Opposites, armed with a massive string section and a howling ambition to unlock this one-time weird underground phenomenon into the chart-shagging behemoth we see before us today. Job done.


Simon Neil is obsessed with our equine friends, and has a number of tattoos featuring them. The one on his left shoulder is a Leonardo Da Vinci sketch of a particularly handsome beast from 1482. The nags have turned up in the songs too – check out Whorses and Born On A Horse – so we’re holding out for a cover of Father Ted’s Eurovision entry My Lovely Horse for the next volley of B-sides.

Biffy Clyro in 2007

Biffy Clyro in 2007 (Image credit: Steve Brown/Photoshot/Getty)


AKA Gambler, guitarist with Manchester-based alt-rockers Oceansize and now one half of electronic project British Theatre. When he’s not playing with synths and laptops, gig-goers will spot him tickling the ivories onstage with Biffy Clyro, beefing up the sound to fill the arenas they sell out these days.

J is for… JOSH HOMME

The ginger Elvis took time out from being unspeakably cool in Queens Of The Stone Age to guest as lead guitarist on Bubbles, the fifth single from Only Revolutions. Simon Neil said: “He came to the studio and listened to the song, and two minutes later, he was playing the best guitar solo you’ve ever heard.” Mic drop, Homme out.

Good Lord, it's Josh Homme

Good Lord, it's Josh Homme (Image credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)


The UK’s Friendliest Shopping Town 2006, drummer Ben Johnston and bassist James Johnston’s hometown is in East Ayrshire, Scotland, and it also gave the world Alexander Fleming (the man who discovered penicillin), William Wallace, Johnnie Walker whisky and the first collection of poems from Robert Burns. The band formed at school there, and rehearsed at the local YMCA. Ben remains devoted to Kilmarnock FC.


Biffy B-sides have always been obsessively pored over by fans, and are almost as important as the albums proper. Lonely Revolutions collects all of them from the Only Revolutions singles, and sees them carrying on the tradition of odd and sometimes adorably daft titles. Try Toottoottoot, Hiya, and Party On for size. It was limited edition, so you’re looking at shelling out 75 quid for a CD online if you’re coming to it late.


The man in the sharp suit playing guitar with Biffy on the road will look very familiar to fans of proggy alternative rock (and let’s face it, if you’re an old-school Biffy fan, there’ll more than likely be a streak of that in you). It’s Mike Vennart, the former frontman of Oceansize, who’s on hand to double the riff action.

N is for… NAME

Let’s face it, it’s daft. Brilliantly daft. The band have had a whale of a time lying about where it came from over the years, claiming it came from an Ayr United footballer, it was an acronym for Big Imagination For Feeling Young, Cos Life Yearns Real Optimism, and a combination of a Bond villain and a town in Wales. Whatever the truth (the smart money is on a mispronounced Cliff Richard pen, or Cliffy Biro), “Mon The Biffy!” has become the fan battle cry of choice.

Biffy in Bologna, Italy in 2014

Biffy in Bologna, Italy in 2014 (Image credit: Roberto Ricciuti/Redferns via Getty)

O is for… ON THE TURN

GGGarth Richardson got the Biffy production job at least partly thanks to his work on On The Turn, the second album from Irish alt-rock band Kerbdog. “From the time we first heard Kerbdog there was no bigger influence on our band,” Simon told RTÉ Ten. “Their balance of metal riffs and beautiful melodies was huge on us. Cormac Battle is a great songwriter too.”

P is for… PUZZLE

This was the point where everything changed. Pre-Puzzle, Biffy Clyro were the secret of a tribe of ultra-dedicated fans enamoured with their weird time signatures, Simon Neil’s moments of apoplectic shrieking and sweaty lives shows which frequently saw the band dive headfirst into the crowd. But then Puzzle opener Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies kicked in, complete with a strange time signature, but also with a sheen at richness that staked their claim on the big time. It was angry in places, sad in others, but more than anything, with its artwork from Storm Thorgerson, it was stuffed with singalong choruses that put a rocket under the good ship Biffy. They haven’t slowed down since.


One of the stand-out tracks on second album The Vertigo Of Bliss, the video for 2003’s Questions And Answers took an unexpected turn when, the night before the shoot, Simon Neil broke his leg jumping off the PA at the climax of a show. Which is why he spends the video in a wheelchair with his leg in a cast, as the band suit up in sharp white Saturday Night Fever threads and get pelted with tomatoes by a bunch of kids. Oops.


Wembley Arena is a vast, chilly hall that could freeze the balls of a brass monkey in the dead of winter. And yet, for one night on December 4, 2011, it was transformed into a magical celebration of a band who’d built things up the old fashioned way, by touring their arses off, and reached one of the most prestigious venues in the UK. It was all documented on this live CD/DVD, and the sense of pride from the band and their fans is as thick as fog.


Has there ever been a more mid-90s band name than Skrewfish? This was the teenage Simon and Ben’s first band, formed with a friend called Barry. Poor old Barry was soon out on his ear, replaced by Ben’s twin brother James on bass. They dumped the name not long after their first gig, supporting Pink Kross at a youth club in East Kilbride.

T is for… TWINS

Bassist James Johnston and drummer Ben Johnston first met in the womb, and they have been collaborating ever since. The non-identical ginger rhythm section are co-vocalists on much of the band’s output, and quite how Ben, in particular, manages that when he’s concentrating on some of their frankly mental song patterns is a source of constant amazement.


Things moved up a notch when the whole band moved to Glasgow, where Simon was studying at the University while Ben and James headed for Stow College to study Electronics With Music and Audio Engineering. Local gigs led to their first independent single, Iname, released on Aereogramme’s Babi Yaga label. We imagine that, like all students, they learned to get creative with Pot Noodle recipes.


Their second album, released on Beggars Banquet, features saucy artwork of a lady having some solo fun, created by comic book artist Milo Manara. With its fine balance of pop hooks, moments of pure fury, jagged nods to American alt-rock and riffs so infectious you can (and people always do) sing along to them during the bits without lyrics, it was the sound of the band finding their feet after testing the waters with their debut. Its title was also taken from Glen Duncan’s book I, Lucifer.


You’ve got David Attenborough to thank for this new one from Ellipsis, as a documentary on lupine behaviour struck a chord with a distinctly chippy Simon Neil – the song is a gigantic howl of a fuck-you to anyone who doubted the band over the years. We love them when they’re angry.

X is for… X FACTOR

The ITV talent show and gladiatorial bear pit is, obviously, bloody awful, but there was an interesting twist in 2010 when Matt Cardle won with a version of Biffy’s dramatic rock ballad Many Of Horror, retitled When We Collide to avoid enraging Simon Cowell. Fans went mental, but it gave Biffy another much-deserved boost and Matt Cardle went away again eventually, so all’s well that ends well.

Y is for… YELLING

For all the subtlety and beauty in a lot of their work, there are few people on earth with a more feral scream than Simon Neil, and when he choses to unleash it it sounds like the apocalypse. Witness them play There’s No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake live and kiss your eardrums goodbye.

Z is for… ZZC

You’d think after all the touring, recording, and accumulating lots of tattoos, Simon Neil would spend any downtime sitting on his arse playing videogames and eating Monster Munch, but no. As well as Marmaduke Duke – his band with Sucioperro’s JP Reid – he’s also working under his solo pseudonym ZZC, with his first track To The Bone revealing a more delicate but distinctly uneasy sound. Expect an album sometime next year.

Biffy Clyro’s album Ellipsis will be released on July 8 through 13th Floor. The band are on tour now and co-headline Reading and Leeds Festival in August.

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Emma has been writing about music for 25 years, and is a regular contributor to Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog and Louder. During that time her words have also appeared in publications including Kerrang!, Melody Maker, Select, The Blues Magazine and many more. She is also a professional pedant and grammar nerd and has worked as a copy editor on everything from film titles through to high-end property magazines. In her spare time, when not at gigs, you’ll find her at her local stables hanging out with a bunch of extremely characterful horses.