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Biffy Clyro

+ {Marmaduke Duke}

Undoubtedly Scotland’s biggest live attractions of the last several years or so, BIFFY CLYRO’s rise to fame and fortune (though North America has yet to advance them a recording deal!) has witnessed sales soar into platinum status. Whether a help or a hindrance, only the uninitiated will be unaware that X-Factor winner 2010, Matt Cardle, topped the charts that Xmas with a song attributed to the band, `When We Collide’ (aka `Many Of Horror’).
Formed in the east Ayrshire town of Fenwick, by vocalist/guitarist Simon Neil, plus twins James (bass/backing vocals) and Ben Johnston (drums), they played their inaugural gig in East Kilbride (supporting PINK KROSS) late January 1995, under the name of Skrewfish. Glasgow became their new abode a few later, when Simon attended the city’s main university, while the twins looked to further their music aspirations at Stow College; BELLE AND SEBASTIAN had just proved that this could be a promising stamping ground for musicians; SNOW PATROL even further proof.
Fusing an aggro-pop/grunge cocktail of NIRVANA and SOUNDGARDEN, BIFFY CLYRO honed their youthful expertise with tours supporting the likes of The LLAMA FARMERS and SUNNA. Touring the unenviable toilet circuit in 1999, the trio impressed manager-to-be, Dee Bahl, who, in turn, found an independent imprint (AEREOGRAMME’s Babi-Yaga) to release their debut CD-single, `Iname’.
Incidentally, their group name has raised a few eyebrows, and indeed questions, to how all came about, but these were two conflicting answers the lads gave in subsequent interviews – take these with a pinch of salt, although they do seem the most logical. While Simon thinks it evolved when they were bored teenagers and dreamed up spoonerisms for CLIFF RICHARD merchandise; Cliffy Biros for pens took the obvious turn of phrase, the twins spread the word that “Biffy” stemmed from the nickname of a real-life spy who inspired Ian Fleming’s James Bond/007 books, and “Clyro” the name of a Welsh holiday village the twins frequented when they were mere youngsters.
Endorsed a year on by Stow College label, Electric Honey, the trio’s second EP-type release, `Thekidswhopoptodaywillrocktomorrow’, led to airplay for two of its best tunes (`57’ and `Justboy’) from BBC Radio Scotland DJ, Vic Galloway. With their own brand of punk/emo- rock, the lads took an immediate step up when they were signed by Beggars Banquet on the strength of their Unsigned Bands stage appearance at that year’s T in the Park.
April 2001 saw BIFFY CLYRO take a Kerrang! SOTW award for the impressive `27’ single, while re-recordings of `Justboy’ and `57’ (the latter a Top 75 breaker), followed hot on its heels.
The trio’s debut set, BLACKENED SKY (2002) {*6} – the title taken from its opening single track, `Joy. Discovery. Invention’ – set out their stall to an already devoted fanbase. More MINOR THREAT and WEEZER than GREEN DAY, the rambunctious trio still managed to keep the whole fare melodic yet enduring with their tales of broken relationships a million miles more meaningful than any of the day’s sports-clad punk. Wrapped up in a clean, tight production sheen, the aforementioned 45s – now worth a tidy sum – were pitted against fresh tunes, `Kill The Old, Torture Their Young’ and `Hero Management’.
Buoyed by the relative success of Top 50 entries, `The Ideal Height’ and the PAVEMENT-like `Questions And Answers’, the equally rewarding THE VERTIGO OF BLISS (2003) {*6} sparked a bit of interest for the band. From the mansion of Linford Manor studios in Milton Keynes to the confines Monnow Valley studios in Monmoth, Wales, BIFFY CLYRO trailed a couple of Top 30 hits, `Glitter And Trauma’ and `My Recovery Injection’, with album number three, INFINITY LAND (2004) {*6}. Described as sprawling and unpredictable, producer Chris Sheldon seemed to get the lads playing to the strengths; tracks such as the screeching `Strung To Your Ribcage’, the heavy-duty, `There’s No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake’ and the strum-tastic follow-on hit, `Only One Word Comes To Mind’, becoming fan faves almost overnight. Yes, they were never short of a witty song title.
If NIRVANA had been an early inspiration, then Scotland’s answer to the FOO FIGHTERS on prog-rock pills came of age with PUZZLE (2007) {*7}. BIFFY CLYRO’s first for 14th Floor Recordings (Roadrunner gave them a foothold in America and Japan), the set rocketed to No.2, while no less than five attendant singles, namely `Saturday Superhouse’, `Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies’, `Folding Stars’, `Machines’ and `Who’s Got A Match?’, cracked the Top 30.
Sidestepping from the now stratospheric stardom of the Biffys, and formed by Simon and cohort J.P. Reid of Ayrshire’s SUCIOPERRO, a couple of lo-fi/disco sets surfaced from the collaborative, MARMADUKE DUKE; the moniker lifted from a fictional 16th century gent. While 2005’s THE MAGNIFICENT DUKE {*5} was released without much ado, the Rich Costey-produced DUKE PANDEMONIUM (2009) {*6} surprised even Neil’s faithful when it bounced in and out of the Top 20. `Kid Gloves’, `Rubber Lover’ and `Silhouettes’, gave the grimy but groovy set an 80s-meets-GORILLAZ touch.
Again under the auspices of producer Garth Richardson, a second Top 3 set ONLY REVOLUTIONS (2009) {*8} – and a Mercury Music-nominated – upped the ante on BIFFY CLYRO’s riffs-versus-rhythm stakes. Showcasing the guitar licks of Josh Homme from QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE on hit, `Bubbles’, other singles were aggressively anthemic, not least their aforementioned, lighter-to-the-sky track `Many Of Horror’ – just don’t mention Matt Cardle to the Biffy faithfuls. `Mountains’, `The Captain’ and `That Golden Rule’ had all paved the way for the hook, line and sinker set, while it was nice for frontman Simon Neil retain his Scots brogue on the likes of its sixth hit, `God & Satan’. Fans with deep pockets in a country dipping into a second recession could fork out’s for the band’s follow-up release, the CD/DVD REVOLUTIONS // LIVE AT WEMBLEY (2011) {*7}.
The long wait for Simon and Co’s next studio offering was over in January 2013 when OPPOSITES {*7} scaled the UK charts. Noted for its various and confusing formats featuring single or double CDs and LPs, one might think that the ambitious concept of “Opposites” (in which two discs are separated by sub-titles, but not sounds) take away the album’s appeal. If one wanted to appreciate the record in all it’s glory, then all 77 minutes should be administered; and tracks such as `Black Chandelier’, the stop-start FUGAZI-meets-GANG OF FOUR-like `Sounds Like Balloons’ and the romantic `Biblical’, might fall into place.
Offering up their own “riff”-erendum after returning from the sunny climes of California where they’d cut ELLIPSIS (2016) {*8} with Rich Costey at the controls, Scotland’s own BIFFY CLYRO were top of the charts in the UK, Ireland and Germany. Blasting from both ends of the spectrum, from the infectious, expletive-riddled `Animal Style’ and the lightning-strike punk of `On A Bang’, to the soft pastel shades of `Re-Arrange’ and `Medicine’ (possibly their most yearning songs to date), the hard-rock trio had lost none of their metallic muscle. Okay, America probably thought they’d room only for one MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE or MUSE (their loss!), but in other tasty tracks such as `Wolves Of Winter’, the breezy country-rocker `Small Wishes’ and the anthemic `Howl’, Simon and Co proved versatile and victorious…
Time then for a stop-gap Top 5 concert package set? Why not. Retracing the steps of their rock forefathers back in the 90s, MTV UNPLUGGED: LIVE AT ROUNDHOUSE LONDON (2018) {*6} was 60 odd minutes with BIFFY CLYRO; a strum-rawk fest that showcased their career highlights and a sing-a-long cover of The BEACH BOYS’ `God Only Knows’.
BIFFY CLYRO’s dicey decision to dive head-first into the normally career-cutting world of original motion picture soundtracks, wasn’t as bad as it sounded on paper when they teamed up with director Jamie Adams for BALANCE, NOT SYMMETRY (2019) {*8}. In fact, the heart-beating/fist-pumping opening alt-rock salvos (the title piece and the engaging `All Singing And All Dancing’) made one think how the trio correlated the tracks into the context of the melodrama itself. The same could be said for metallic monster, `Sunrise’, the polar opposite to the calming interlude of `Pink’ (a PIANO MAGIC-like 2-minute instrumental), `Gates Of Heaven’ and the harmony-haunting `Colour Wheel’. Taking the score sequencing out of the equation, the record could stand tall in among any other Clyro set; Simon Neil – who co-wrote the screenplay – always guaranteeing emotion and empathy. After the ALAN PARSONS PROJECT-ish `Fever Dream’, the second half of the Scottish Top 10 set (Top 40 UK) was as equally enterprising as the first side; `Touch’, `Jasabiab’ and the culminative `Adored’, binding Biffy’s surgical songcraft to the mast.
© MCS Strong 2002/GSM // rev-up MCS Feb2013-Jul2019

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