As New Year parties go, this is a big ’un. The Scots sure know how to ‘bring in the bells’, as each year in Edinburgh it’s a three-day blowout.
Last night, we sang Shang-A-Lang and ran with a gang – well, about 10,000 people, which is more of a regiment – during a torchlight parade from the Royal Mile to Calton Hill, where monuments Nelson and National lit up as bagpipe players, drummers and Helly Ya Vikings led us to the spot where a Valhalla bonfire burned and a New Year’s Eve-Eve firework display boomed to a playlist of Star Wars, Bay City Rollers and Peatbog Faeries. Tomorrow, a bevy of goose-fleshed maniacs will spend the afternoon plunging into the freezing-cold Forth as part of the January 1st Loony Dook. But tonight - alongside the multi-staged Hogmanay Street Party – belongs to Biffy Clyro, in the sunken, ampitheatred garden park of Edinburgh Castle.
Of course, there’s a supporting cast of two other acts and three lots of fireworks, one each hour from 9pm before the final fiery midnight fling. As the Old Town Ceilidh goes for the world record Strip The Willow barn dance on the hill above us, local drum-and-guitar duo Honeyblood start their own warm-up jig. Together for just three years but recorded, released and extremely well-toured (they played with Foo Fighters in the city three months ago), theirs is a sound distilling the lo-fi, grunge-pop influences of Breeders, Best Coast and My Bloody Valentine as full-throttle thrashing is balanced by guitarist Stina Tweeddale’s sweetly confident vocals. While the songcraft currently errs on the C86 side at times, it’s the raucous hooks of closer Killer Bangs that galvanise the crowd.
You want tunes? Idlewild have got ’em. And TeamRock were surprised to find ourselves singing along to most of the set when we don’t even own an Idlewild record. But even omitting 1999’s exuberant indie-punk hit When I Argue I See Shapes from the setlist, it’s a triumph of substance and evolving style tonight – a mark of how the Edinburgh alt. rockers have guilelessly snuck into popular consciousness over nearly two decades. Aside from the snarling A Film For The Future, the emo romance of You Held The World In Your Arms and their own Where The Streets Have No Name,American English, new songs from 2015 album Everything Ever Written – such as Come On Ghost and Collect Yourself – quickly impress, as does guitarist Rod Jones’ frantic whirling and stamping while producing tarmac-stripping lead lines. A trip or two to the Johnnie Walker bar might have influenced our new-found appreciation of Roddy Woomble and co’s erudite, folk-flecked catalogue ramped up to 11 in this setting, but their rediscovery for us is a booze-soaked cherry on this Hogmanay bannock.
And while everything’s louder than anything else, following the 11pm fireworks, a nod to Motörhead’s dearly departed Lemmy occurs with a full, blinding lighting rig flare from the stage, and a rousing blast of Ace Of Spades. Nice one. And here’s Ayrshire’s Biffy Clyro, defying the zero degree temperature shirtless (frontman Simon Neil opts for a black kilt-culotte hybrid, drummer Ben Johnston just looks plain nekkid) and sleeveless (bassist James Johnston sensibly meets fashion and the weather halfway). Touring guitarist Mike Vennart is a (relatively) southern softie at the back in his full clobber, but we’ll let him off. We’re nice like that – and currently in Long Johns, Lenny Kravitz scarf and a duffle coat ourselves.
Having taken 2015 off to complete a new album, Neil’s emphatic opening pronouncement of “We are Biffy. Fucking. Clyro” denotes a band champing at the bit with a conviction that only the enormous civic pride of headlining your native country’s biggest party can ignite. They launch the two-set show – divided by midnight’s Death Star-destroying firework detonation – throwing hairy shapes to a hearty one-two of The Captain and That Golden Rule before the first of many humungous singalongs of the evening, the emotional Folding Stars. 2000’s melodic post-hardcore debut 57 sits well among the bigger numbers with Bubbles, Who’s Got A Match? and Black Chandelier sending many here hoarse with hollering and ‘celebrating ourselves tonight’. Then a frantic new song is debuted, On A Bang. With its raging chorus of ’Now you know better/Why don’t you fucking do better?’, it’s unclear if this is, er, single material, but as a potential blueprint for the new LP then, to quote someone in Camp Biffy, it’ll be a glorious “shit-kicker”.
Is there a more ambitious or perplexing time signature worked into a modern rock song than the orchestral stab fandango of Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies? No, there isn’t. And we do cherish Biffy for bringing this heroic Morse Code gut-puncher into our lives, entertaining as it is to see the crowd contort comically to the weird bits – made even weirder by Neil playing a run of obtuse jazz chords for a couple of bars. As we embrace being ‘bathed in white light’ from the stage, we know the end is nigh after a soaring Different People crescendos and the band exit stage left.
We’re in luck, though; a two song encore of Many Of Horror and Stingin’ Belle takes us from heartbreaking beauty to unbridled noise, complete with bagpiped finale. Personally, a smidge more early stuff (or at least Glitter And Trauma or My Recovery Injection from Infinity Land) would have made this live show – our first of 2016 – near perfect. As it stands, tonight Biffy are kings of the castle, swords aloft as they charge headlong into the future.