It’s Biffy Clyro main main Simon Neil’s birthday today (August 31)! So let’s geek out over the trio with 50 obsessive facts. Here we go…
Fact one – their name was coined from a Cliff Richard pen, accidentally spoonerised on a drunken night out into “Cliffy Biro”. Which then became Biffy Clyro, as the band searched for a name. There you have it.
…or maybe it’s not quite so clean cut. Ben from the group has elsewhere claimed the name’s an acroynm for “Big Imagination For Feeling Young ‘Cos Life Yearns Real Optimism.” Which we reckon is PTBWPTOE (“Possibly True But We Prefer The Other Explanation”).
Of course, then there’s the explanation that Biffy Clyro was a Finnish footballer from the 17th century who played for their local Ayr United. Take your pick.
The band almost split during the making of their sixth album, double-album epic ‘Opposites’, as drummer Ben Johnstone struggled to control his alcoholism, telling NME in 2013: “I had no stop button. I would just keep going and black out. It was me that was going to fuck it all up.”
One band’s just not enough for Simon Neil. When the restless frontman isn’t rocking out in Biffy, he’s collaborating with Sucioperro musician JP Reid in Marmaduke Duke. They’ve already released two albums since their formation in 2003, with another (‘The Death of the Duke’) currently in the works. According to Reid, it’s going to be “a modern classical two guitar death march.” Naturally.
Robbie Williams once tried to enlist Simon to play on a solo record of his. Turning down the offer, the singer told NME: “I wish all the best for Robbie, but I don’t think he needs my help. Bizarrely, I think Slash is going to play the solo now, which makes the whole thing cooler.”
The band were concerned that their fans would be pissed off when they allowed X Factor contestant Matt Cardle to cover their hit ‘Many of Horror’ in 2011. Shortly after Cardle’s cover (retitled ‘When We Collide’) was unveiled, a Facebook campaign to get fans to buy Biffy’s rendition totalled more than 20,000 ‘likes’. The track eventually ended up at number 8 in the UK singles chart.
Biffy Clyro have frustrated aspirations to become a hip-hop crew, according to Simon Neil. “We’ll always be a rock band, but I want us to move in different directions,” he told NME. “If I could rap, I’d be rapping on the next record. The Kanye record [‘Yeezus’] blew me away! Hearing that made me think, Fuck we could be messing around with sounds like that!”
2007 saw the band go major label, signing to Warner Bros before their fourth album ‘Puzzle’ after splitting from indie imprint Beggars. Biffy say they still an “indie ethos” though, despite the step up to the record label big leagues.
Biffy recently launched ‘The Biff World’, an interactive map on their official website where members can share their location, mapping the group’s far-reaching fanbase.
Work on Biffy’s follow-up to ‘Opposites’ in their Ayrshire farmhouse was interrupted by a “severe plumbing problem” which saw raw sewage leak into their studio. Neil explained: “It’s all gone from being just gross to kinda dangerous… maybe the new album will be raw sewage influenced. It might end up sounding like Muncipal Waste!”
Neil was once approached by Leona Lewis to collaborate. Neil told the Daily Star he offered to write a song for her instead: “Writing for others is something I’d love to do once we slow down as a band. But if you write a song that you think is one of the best ever, and it’s not for our band, I don’t think I’d be happy giving it away.”
Biffy Clyro haven’t always looked this way – when they first began in 1995, the group was called Skrewfish with Simon and Ben Johnstone its founding members, along with some guy called Barry. Barry was soon repleaced by Ben’s twin, James.
The band are against the Mercury Prize, which Ben says seems to “bypass heavy music at every stage.” “I think doing a double album is quite brave and and I thought the Mercury Prize was all about bravery and taking risks. But obviously it wasn’t quite brave enough,” the drummer said in 2013 after their ‘Opposites’ album missed out on the gong.
The band have pledged to continue to perform shirtless, even into old age. Simon Neil thinks that its “highly likely that you will see us at 55 years old with big pot bellies and our shirts bouncing around the stage, going fucking crazy.”
Simon Neil and Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor clashed at Reading Festival 2013 after Reznor lashed out at the band, saying Biffy “fucked us” with their performance, which was directly before the Scottish headliners. Simon Neil afterwards hailed it as their greatest ever gig.
You won’t find many bigger Rolling Stones fans than Simon Neil, who described their 2013 Glastonbury headline slot as “iconic” and claims they “invented rock mythology.”
Simon Neil’s biggest fear is a bit of a strange one: labels sticking out of people’s clothes. He says that if he sees one, it really “ruins his day.”
Drummer Ben wishes that he had written ‘Across The Sea’ by Weezer, which he describes as his favourite song of all time. It is a bit of a banger, we’ll grant you that, Ben.
The band once did a topless radio interview with Radio 1’s Greg James, insisting they would only do the interview if Greg took his shirt off too. Luckily James joined in, and even drew some make-shift tattoos onto his torso to match the Clyro gang’s tatts.
Simon Neil’s first record purchase was a compilation album – ‘Now That’s What I Call Music 11’ featuring Billy Idol, Bon Jovi and Belinda Carlisle ‘Circle In The Sand’. The first actual album he bought was Metallica’s ‘Black’, which he got when he when he was just 9 years old.
Ben’s first album was an unnamed record by his “first love,” Kylie Minogue.
The band’s favourite album sleeve from their discography to date? 2005’s ‘Infinity Land’ cover, for its “bizarre and surreal” images.
Ben’s favourite song to play live is ‘Spanish Radio’ due to its “strange time signature, mariachi feel and the fact the song generally shouldn’t make sense, but just does.”
While touring the American east coast in 2013, the band took a fan up on her offer to host a Biffy gig in her basement to just 25 people. James later described it as one of their best ever shows.
Want to track down Biffy for an autograph. Try the golf course. When they’re not on tour, it’s one of James and Ben’s favourite hobbies.
The band say that the best advice that they have ever been given is to never follow anyone else’s advice, ever, courtesy of their former US tour manager.
After Biffy finish recording an album, they refuse to listen back to it straight away.
The track ‘Born on a Horse’, Neil says, was inspired by his obsession with horses. The frontman has a number of horse tattoos and claims that he loves the “freedom horses possess.”
In 2012, Ben almost had an unfortunate accident mid-show at Hovefestivalen festival in Norway when he spotted Dave Grohl watching their set from the side of the stage – apparently it was “a real challenge not to shit myself” when he saw the former Nirvana drummer.
Good news, Josh Homme – at Leeds Festival in 2010, Neil proclaimed that Queens of The Stone Age are “the greatest rock band in the fucking world.”
Simon Neil was once hit in the face with a Red Bull can during a gig. He reckons if you’re ever going to throw something on stage, you should make sure that you “don’t miss and fucking hit them.”
Simon Neil started out playing the violin before taking up the guitar at age 14.
While making ‘Opposites’ in the US, the band worked out that by the time they had finished recording they had eaten over 100 chickens at California’s Chicken Café. Blimey.
In case you were wondering, Simon’s favorite swear word is: “fuck-nugget.”
In order to have the energy to continuously rock out all the way through a 60 minute set, the band will religiously eat a large bowl of pasta each before every gig.
Metallica’s ‘Nothing Else Matters’ was the first riff that Simon Neil learnt on guitar.
Simon’s upper torso tattoo of ‘God Only Knows’ is a nod not only to his favourite song of all time by the Beach Boys but also a dedication to his wife. The track soundtracked their first dance at their wedding.
Simon, Ben and James say that they are still as much a gang as they were at the start. Ben says they “couldn’t live life without each other in it and we couldn’t live life without this band.”
During their 2011 tour, Simon revealed that he was often mistaken for Dave Grohl. When asked by NME what his most embarrassing moment of 2011, he explained: “The amount of times I’d be walking into a gig and it’s like, ‘Dave! Dave!’ So I’m gonna cut my hair and beard pretty soon, so that doesn’t happen again.”
LA’s Village studio, where Biffy recorded ‘Opposites’, has previously hosted the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac and Slipknot.
Recording ‘Opposites’ in LA was integral to its extravagence, says Neil. “Hiring a mariachi band to record a song can feel a bit extraneous if you’re thinking about when to pay your council tax,” Simon laughs. “But in La-La Land you can do things that at home would feel completely ridiculous. You can take risks without someone saying ‘What do you think you’re doing? You’re mental.'”
According to Simon, if Biffy could collaborate with anyone it would be either Queens of The Stone Age or Rage Against The Machine.
Simon Neil is behind the campaign for Scottish independence, arguing: “we may as well give it a shot. The time is now. The fucking world is falling apart. Scotland has really good oil money, we’ve got renewable energy, we have ways of moving forward and we’re in a strong position to make it happen.”
Biffy scored their first UK number 1 album with ‘Opposites’, beating off stiff competition from, err, the Les Mis soundtrack. “It’s certainly not the chart battle we imagined. Beatles v Stones! Blur vs Oasis! Biffy v Les Mis!” laughed Neil, calling it “the most depressing chart battle ever! No-one’s a winner in this one!”
Lyrically, Simon’s quite the poet. In terms of onstage banter, he’s not so eloquent. “Fuck the rain with a big fat cock,” he told fans at Glastonbury a few years ago when the skies opened during their set.
Expect a gobbier Simon in years to come – apparently he’s trying to take a leaf out of Oasis’s book of sardonic press soundbites. “I wish we were more outspoken like Liam Gallagher. I love his patter. He is actually a really nice guy. We bumped into Liam and Noel when we were in Los Angeles a few years back.”
Biffy Clyro wouldn’t exist without Kurt Cobain, claims Neil. “Kurt Cobain taught me as a 12-year-old that you didn’t have to be a great guitarist to write a song or to say something, so as a songwriter he’s my biggest influence.”
Lyrically, cult US musician Mark Kozelek is Neil’s biggest influence. “There’s a band called the Red House Painters. Mark Kozelek was the singer and I love his lyrics. You feel like you are really getting an insight into his soul,” he told South Africa Times earlier this year.