How Biffy Clyro got me kicked out of school

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How Biffy Clyro got me kicked out of school

“Oh, so just like Almost Famous?” No.
Sure, the similarities are there. I blagged myself a media pass to a gig when I was 13, convinced a national magazine via email to give me a small review piece and it all took off from there. That’s where the similarities end.
You see, this was the Highlands of Scotland and I wasn’t following my crush on Penny Lane a-la the Crowe-classic film. The other dissimilarity being William wasn’t kicked out of school for non-attendance. To be fair, neither was I, they merely suggested I not return. Instead I stood in a cow shed watching Biffy Clyro unleash a ripsaw of a gig like I’d never experienced before.
“We turned up in the morning to Forres and the gig was full of fucking cows; we couldn’t set up until they got all the fucking cows out,” reminisces James Johnston, bassist and twin of drummer Ben. “Nowadays it’s like they can’t set up until they get all the chairs out or they’re trying to get out all the shit from the band out the night before.”
Over the following three years, I spent my last two periods of school catching buses and trains all over the UK to review shows and conduct interviews, my recordings full of teen ball-dropping and voice-breaking moments. The irony of achieving an A in maths and getting dropped from English was not lost on me two years into being a published writer. Nonetheless, the excitement of sleeping on a bus stop bench next to a homeless guy far outweighed the alternative of being in a physics class the next morning.
From Biffy’s debut album Blackened Sky to their 2016 release Ellipsis, their sound has unquestionably evolved. Sixteen years on from their initial release, Biffy Clyro still thrive in the freedom of their artistry and know those who have been on the ride for almost 20 years expect something different each time.
“To be sort of blunt but not to be unkind, as an audience if they know anything about us they should expect that there will be a bit of a change; a change in a way that is possible,” Johnston says. “That’s something that people can be quite sure of. You know, we’re never going to completely ditch our guitars that’s for sure. We’re never gonna move too far away. Surely the reason people like the band is we try to do things a little bit differently or mess with people a little bit. As soon as people can completely tie us down they’ll be bored.”
So from cow sheds to Wembley, Australia now gets a fleeting tour from a band Johnston says can be labelled as rock as long as weird is included in the genre.
A few years on and we’d reached the era of ‘pop-punk’, a juxtaposition marketing ploy at best, and this is where most of my assignments landed me as the magazines lapped up the pretty boy plus guitar effect. Or Paramore. But I had found my drug of choice in the Ayrshire trio, for the last 16 years I’ve watched Biffy in thronging crowds howling ‘mon the biff’.
Over the years the gigs grew as did the crowds under the dripping perspiration of venue ceilings. Arguably some of this can be credited to their ‘break-through’ album Puzzle. Suddenly the masses were drawn by the mix of more palatable guitars and relatable tragedy in the lyrics, an unintentional stepping stone for the boys.
So, after sold-out Wembley shows, four 2017 US tours and countless festival headliners, how does touring smaller venues in Australia this April stack up?
“We still feel like we’re earning it everywhere. We don’t take anything for granted. It’s not that long ago that we were playing small venues, it’s not like we walk about with gold shoes on. Simon probably does have a couple of pairs of gold shoes actually,” he smiles.
“It’s still about going along with a bunch of amps and a bunch of lights and trying to have a good time. In some ways not much has changed. The things we learnt then, we can apply them to any of the shows. I think there’s an intensity to the shows of the early days, that will never leave you.”
Stay in school kids.
When & Where: Forum Theatre, Melbourne – April 27. Tickets via

Written by James Mac