Clyromania: Biffy Clyro, Glasgow Barrowlands, December 2014

Clyromania: Biffy Clyro, Glasgow Barrowlands, December 2014
Clyromania: Biffy Clyro, Glasgow Barrowlands, December 2014

By Rob Barbour

Jan 5, 2015 15:26

In 2004, I saw Biffy Clyro live for the first time. They went on stage past curfew at a club in Frome, Somerset; the victims of a poorly-organised all-dayer featuring too many bands and nowhere near enough planning, the plug was pulled on their set after a little over twenty minutes. Despite this the band absolutely floored me. The passion with which they played was captivating and infectious in ways their contemporaries could only dream of. Simon Neil and Ben & James Johnston weren't just three of the tightest musicians I had ever had the privilege of witnessing first hand, but they clearly MEANT it.

This is a band who seem to polarise opinion like no other mainstream ‘alternative’ act in recent memory. Depending on who you ask they’re either living proof that a heavy and innovative band can break free of the shackles imposed by that status to dominate the upper echelons of the charts and headline some of the UK’s most prestigious festivals, or they’re testament to the fact that no band can make a living on a major label without fundamentally compromising their ideals.

Ten years after that now notorious Frome date, and with two platinum albums as well as collaborations with rock legends like Josh Homme and Slash under his belt, frontman Simon Neil is one of the few people in music who can humbly thank a densely packed arena crowd and leave you in no doubt that he means every word. In a time when ‘inspirational’ platitudes like ‘we’d be nothing without you guys!’ seem to tumble from the tongues of every band playing any event better attended than the Nag’s Head Local Music & Pie Tuesdays, there’s a heartfelt honesty to the way the band conduct themselves which is impossible to deny.

It’s this sincerity, as well as their hook-saturated but angular, grungy brand of rock which meant that over the first fears of their existence the band quickly ascended to and then plateaued at a cultish level. They may not have been bothering the mainstream just yet, but the audiences were growing and those who did know them loved them. In fact I’d even heard an adapted version of a joke about vegans: how do you know if someone’s a Biffy Clyro fan? Oh don’t worry, they’ll f–king tell you.

Clyromania: Biffy Clyro, Glasgow Barrowlands, December 2014

True, for every ten fans they’ve garnered via massive radio hits such as ‘Mountains’, ‘Black Chandelier’ and that X-Factor Christmas No.1 they’ve lost one who misses the schizophrenic, hardcore-influenced pop-rock of tracks like ‘Wave Upon Wave Upon Wave’. Indeed, even the band themselves have described their career trajectory thusfar as being divided into two chapters – an acknowledgment of the differences between their first three albums for indie label Beggars Banquet and the chart-dominating, Gggarth-produced hit singles of their output for 14th Floor/Warners.

But where countless British rock bands who emerged at the same time – Hundred Reasons, Hell Is For Heroes et al – failed to maintain their initial momentum or fell victim to the fickle Radio 1/Major Label obsession with constant ‘hot new bands’, Biffy have gone from strength to strength with each release. 2006’s ‘Puzzle’ went Gold, established them as radio darlings and doubled the size of their live audiences. 2009’s ‘Only Revolutions’ sent them into arenas and put them on Simon Cowell’s radar, and 2013’s double-album ‘Opposites’ – reputedly costing £200,000 to make, a sign of Warner’s great expectations for it – gave the band their first number one and saw them cement their position as British Rock Royalty with a headline slot at the Reading & Leeds festivals.

Every band has their obsessive followers but Biffy fandom felt different; attending their shows was akin to gaining membership to some secret society and the memories and relationships I’ve forged through their art shape my life to this day. The first time I heard ‘Blackened Sky’ was when my university housemate used to play it on repeat; when ‘Only Revolutions’ was released I’d just entered a semi long-distance liaison and the lady in question used to use ‘listening to Biffy’ as shorthand for ‘missing you’; I originally met my now-girlfriend when my crappy pop punk band played at the aforementioned catastrophic Frome festival.

Throughout all of this, I’ve watched with a combination of shock, awe and pride as the awesomely awkward band I used to see in dingy little clubs and whose albums soundtracked seasons, celebrations and sadness have turned into legit rock stars. But where your Kings of Leons arrive at festivals in separate Range Rovers and demand to be treated like literal royalty, Biffy Clyro are still connected to the real world and the very real people who put them where they are today.

Further proof -if it were needed – that Biffy will never forget their roots, their fans or indeed any of the 160(!) songs they’ve written and recorded since their debut release in 1997 came in August 2014 when the band announced that to celebrate the end of the second chapter of the ‘Biff’, they would be performing for three consecutive nights at Glasgow’s 2,000-capacity Barrowlands Ballroom, essentially dividing their career into sub-chapters and playing albums 1, 2 and 3 in that order but with fans voting for the songs they wanted to hear.

Both Biffy Clyro and their tour management have an unwavering dedication to honouring their roots and doing everything they can to beat the parasitic plague of ticket touts ruining live music. These efforts included printing names on tickets (shout-out to the guy who tried to sell a Sunday ticket on eBay for £1,200, posted a picture of it with his name clearly visible and had his ticket cancelled) and, it transpired, keeping back some tickets for (or possibly reallocating cancelled tickets to) the longer-serving members of Team Biffy. And so it was that with just four days’ notice, I found myself with tickets for all three nights of the Barrowlands dates.

Over those three nights, Biffy Clyro played for 6 hours, belted out more than 80 songs and proved beyond the merest shadow of a doubt that they are quite simply the Best Rock Band In Britain today.

The strangest part of this triumphant triumvirate of shows was how natural it felt to see the band in these (relatively) intimate environs again. They may now be in a position where it’s viable to cover every step – and I mean every step – between the Barrowlands entrance and the main ballroom with stickers of their lyrics.


The chants of “‘Mon the Biff!” might have been replaced by “Biffy, Biffy, Biffy F–king Clyro!” but the sense of community was back. The fan-voted setlists, the gold-dust nature of the tickets and the promise of hearing songs which hadn’t been played live in a decade contributed to a sense of anticipation that meant the band could take to the stage at 8.30 each evening with no support and instantly electrify the room. Not to mention the distinct lack of Standard Gig Wankers loudly talking over ‘the quiet ones’; a Biffy show in 2012 remains the only occasion on which I’ve lost my cool enough to snap at someone, ‘I’m here to listen to him sing, not to hear about your f–king promotion’.

From the moment Friday’s show opens with ‘Joy. Discovery. Invention.’, Simon Neil’s voice – on prime form despite the gruelling rehearsals which must have been required for this weekend – is almost drowned out by euphoric singalongs. Long-discarded tracks like ‘All The Way Down: Chapter 2’ and ‘The Go-Slow’ are dusted off alongside the usual Puzzle favourites, plus the debut live outings of ‘2/15ths’ and ‘4/15ths’. As red and gold glitter matching the lyrically adorned steps settles on the crowd, we’re treated to an encore of ‘Hope For An Angel’, ‘Stress on the Sky’ and ‘Scary Mary’ – a trio of tracks I doubt anyone expected to hear live again, let alone together.

There are tight bands, there are incredibly tight bands, and then there’s Biffy Clyro. Chalk it up to the incessant gigging, the bond of childhood friendship or the innate chemistry of having fraternal twins making up your rhythm section but then they’re in full swing – veering like drunk drivers between keys and time signatures but never anything less than entirely in control – no-one can touch them. The inherently radio-friendly melodies and choruses Neil serves up acting as camouflage for what are in many cases ludicrously uncommercial tracks.

Of all three nights, nowhere was this more prevalent than Saturday, the night of ‘The Vertigo of Bliss’ and ‘Only Revolutions’. This was the night where the newer and older material could have clashed most aggressively – a chymera album of by turns artsy, metallic and melancholic rock contrasting so starkly with the radio-polished anthems of the latter – but when you strip away the fancy California studios and are back to three (well, technically five) guys on a stage in complete harmony with each other the differences melt away.

It’s an undeniable thrill to hear a Biffy gig start with ‘Bodies In Flight’ and one which brings memories flooding back as forcefully as the fists pointed in the air and the voices shouting in unison to the song’s juddering, shouted intro. Voices belonging in no small part to people adorned in bright green tees from the official merch stand, bearing a now-legendary slogan which received over 100,000 votes in a 2011 t-shirt design competition before being rejected for what can only be described as glaringly obvious reasons.


It’s safe to say this weekend is one for the fans. Such is the audience’s love for the band – and in turn the band’s genuine affection for and bond with their audience – that moments which might embarrass or impede lesser bands, such as Simon’s tech handing him an incorrectly tuned guitar and his characteristically charming smile as he tells the tech (and the audience) ‘This one’s in drop D’ simply add to the sense that rather Biffy Clyro are still, well, just people.

A stripped-back performance of ‘The Diary of Always’ is the highlight of the weekend for me, the trio bathed in psychedelic beams of purple light as the Johnston twins harmonise around one mic; the stunning second night draws to a close with an atomic performance of ‘Now The Action Is On Fire’, a finale which invokes a very specific memory of a show at Middlesex University in 2005 at which the band had been bumped to a graveyard slot by Lucozade-flogging blandmongers Kosheen. Forced to go on after the event had officially finished, the set ended with Simon Neil leaping into what was left of the crowd, about fifteen of us, eyes ablaze as he howled the song’s finale at those of us still there to sing back.

Tonight, as the song ends in a wall of feedback and ecstatic cheers, every member of the band stage dives into an audience who, nine years later, quite literally couldn’t support the band more.

The final night opens, as we’re all hoping it will and as most Biffy gigs circa 2005 did, with the glitchy electronic, grunge-disco masterpiece that is ‘Glitter & Trauma’. A tsunami of glee engulfs the audience once again, although this is possibly the strangest night of the three. While it’s a joy to hear stone-cold classics like ‘My Recovery Injection’ and ‘Wave Upon Wave Upon Wave’ once again, the setlist is heavy on tracks from recently-released B-sides album ‘Similarities’ and while the songs themselves are undeniably strong – and, as previously mentioned, voted for by the fans – there’s a sense that those in attendance haven’t yet had time to get familiar with the newer material.

As Simon Neil peels off the appropriately slippery riff to ‘There’s No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake’, though, all else – the songs we hoped to hear but didn’t, the juxtaposition of the ‘new stuff’ with the ‘old stuff’  – is forgotten and the room collectively loses its shit as over a decade of memories, melodies and mates reaches an explosive crescendo.

“Once again,” Neil shouts, visibly elated, “We are BIFFY. F–KING…’ and two thousand sweaty, emotional, exhausted voices finish the sentence as one: “CLYRO!”

Biffy Clyro: a great bunch of lads. All the best.


WORDS: Rob Barbour