The 10 best Biffy Clyro songs picked by their tour manager Neil
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My name is Neil Anderson, and I have worked with Biffy Clyro for 14 years.
I started by running their website, designing some merchandise, and selling some T-shirts. I eventually found myself in the role of the band’s tour manager, where I have somehow remained for the last 11 years.
If you’ve attended a few Biffy shows, there’s a reasonable chance you may have seen a slight, attractive, well spoken, worried looking Scottish man trailing around after the band. It may also be possible the younger version of that guy sold you a T-shirt, or talked about obscure b-sides with you.
For the first time in a long time, we have had a bit of a break this year, during which I’ve finally managed to start working through the huge amount of photographs I’ve taken during my time working with the band. Hopefully the results of this will be available to see with your eyes and to hold in your hands, at some point early next year.
In the meantime, I have been asked to write a list of my favourite Biffy songs. I won’t pretend this was easy. Shifting 20 people, and three tonnes of equipment from London to Tokyo? Sure. Filtering over 200 songs down to 10? Not so much.
Hopefully, there's something for everyone here.
THE RAIN (Similarities, 2014)
I think this was the first new song that I heard from the 30-40 or so that were written for Opposites (2013). Simon would often play it at soundcheck. Despite it being an acoustic song, I like how present the drums are. The cymbals make me think of tiny mechanical music box ballet dancers. Its such a lovely, lovely song, and it breaks my heart every time. I think this was our sound engineer’s favourite song, for the duration of the Opposites tour.
A TRAGIC WORLD RECORD (Similarities, 2014)
This is another track that didn’t make it on to the Opposites record. This really clicked with me, early on. It’s a really charged song, I think. The little keyboard bleep-bleep-bleep arpeggio buried in the background gives it a weird twinkle all the way through, and to me, it’s a hypnotic head-circler, as opposed to a rocking head-nodder. It's not lost on me, this album, made up of tracks that didn’t make it on to either side of Opposites, is beyond what most other bands would be capable of. It’s an amazing record, made more incredible by the fact it was all recorded by the band, on their own, without assistance, in the middle of the Ayrshire countryside, in barns, basements and something else beginning with b.
KILL THE OLD, TORTURE THEIR YOUNG (Blackened Sky, 2002)
We’re going back to the start here. This song remains my personal highlight of the first album. It immediately conjures images of walking around a wintery Toronto, where I spent a bit of time living during this period. The instrumental parts at the beginning, the parts that connect the verses, they both spark unshakeable associations in me. They’re incredibly visual bits of music, for me, the instrumental part coming out of each verse sounds like a bizarre Victorian clockwork machine, slowly coming into life, into motion. The last section is still euphoria, to these ears. I love it when the three of them are singing harmonies, I love it when it ramps up to a fucking maelstrom, and I love it when they add weird musical ticks that nobody else would ever think to add. This one ticks all the boxes, and it’s no understatement to say it blew my fucking mind, when I finally heard it recorded properly, in all its glory.
BREAK A BUTTERFLY ON A WHEEL (Similarities, 2014)
I have to be a little cheeky here. I adore the recorded version of this song, however its inclusion here is very much due to its one and only live performance, at the Glasgow Barrowland in December 2014. Midway through, Simon performed an acoustic version of the song, and it pretty much ruined my night, albeit in the best way possible. The show in question was our last night at the venue, the final show of the year. It was the last stop on the Opposites tour cycle, and we knew that we would be taking a break for a considerable while, at least a year off. It was to be, and is, the longest break from performing live, the band have had since they began touring. None of that hit me, until around halfway through this song. Whilst I make no interpretation as to what Si is singing about, there are words and lyrics in this song that hit me then, and continue to hit me now, like an emotional sledgehammer. Parties are over. Last goodbyes are said. Stories are ending. I love you still.
NOW THE ACTION IS ON FIRE (The Vertigo Of Bliss, 2003)
This is another one of those songs that couldn’t be any other band. I think at this point, they’ve paddled in the shallow end of pretty much every available music swimming pool, and have dived off the high deck into whichever pools they found to be the right temperature. This song, the final track on their second, is the calm, and the storm. It’s one of the most beautiful things they’ve ever recorded, as well as one of the most intense and furious. I can no longer listen to it without flinching the cautious flinch of a tour manager, around the 5:30’ mark. To me, from that point, its sound of guitars being removed, subsequently thrown, microphones being removed from mic-stands, and band members launching themselves from the stage into the audience. On the Puzzle tour we took a string quartet out on tour with us. For me, the highlight of the section involving the quartet, was the show-closing Now The Action... The strings just flew above everything else, and turned an intense, weird song, into something utterly transcendent, every night. The final show of that tour, with the string section, at Glasgow’s SECC was incredibly special. It ended up being the last time this song was performed, for a good few years.
TOOTTOOTTOOT (Lonely Revolutions, 2010)
This one really reminds me of soundchecks in empty clubs in mainland Europe during the Puzzle tour. The band have always flirted with new music, and new jams during soundchecks in the latter stages of a touring cycle. The riff in this song makes me thing of waltzing with our drum tech across empty venue floors, over and over to that wonderful, fucking weird, baroque 3⁄4. This song also does a fine line in the interesting, taking twists and turn through instrumental sections, big riffs, and a chorus which reminds me that I’m not really a fan of cats – sorry, internets.
WHORSES (Revolutions: Live At Wembley, 2011)
It’s a close call, but for me the live version of this (remarkable) song tips it slightly, over the album version. Ben has a reputation as a great drummer. Sorry, a great drummah. A drummers drummah. But having been privileged enough to watch him record this in the studio, and then watch as he destroyed himself and his kit every night playing it on tour, I can’t listen to this song without being floored by his drumming. But even beyond that, I love this song so much. It was always my favourite track on Only Revolutions, and liked the ‘voice and electrical noises’ line so much, it became the title of the little film we made around the recording of that album. This recording also includes a member of the band saying, “thank you, Wembley” which would be reason enough to include it, already.
DIFFERENT PEOPLE (Opposites, 2013)
This is a difficult one to talk about, inasmuch as I don’t really have a vocabulary that can convey with accuracy how much I adore this song. I would find myself doing it the injustice of inadvertent meiosis, were I to even attempt. Simply, it is fucking brilliant, and it will lift you up and out of whatever, wherever, whenever. This is my favourite song on Opposites.
BONANZOID DEATHGRIP (Glitter And Trauma, 2004)
This track, for a brief moment, appeared early in the tracklist on Infinity Land (2004), before it became a b-side on the Glitter And Trauma EP in 2004. I heard it for the first time, in the back of the van, as an early mix. It was ridiculous, and incredible, and it seemed at the time, to perfectly sum the band up in one song. For this list, I struggled between this song, and There’s No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake, but for me this one wins out, if nothing else, for Simon’s feral vocal performance in the second half of the song (Which I realise as I type this, is a nice vocal antithesis to ...Jaggy Snake.) I don’t think there’s anything else in the band’s recorded catalogue that comes close to being as willfully and insanely enraged as this. It is, by far, the closest thing I think they’ve recorded, to some of the apocalyptic screaming he touches vocally when performing live. It meant the world to me at the time, at how utterly fearless and brave they were on this record, and on this song in particular. Infinity Land is a huge, colourful landscape, and I do understand that the album as a whole, is probably better without this song, and to be honest, maybe the song is better served on its own merits, than being part of a record. It's a remarkable song.
It is far too difficult to choose one final song, so instead, I’ve picked out a few odds-and-ends to complete the list including Marmaduke Duke (a side project featuring Biffy frontman Simon Neil and JP Reid of Sucioperro and Medals). There is so much still to be said.
BODIES IN FLIGHT (cover by Cairns String Quartet)
The Cairns String Quartet did an impressive version of this song, which is well worth a listen. At points its beautiful, at others, deranged. But it’s a unique version, of an incredibly unique song.
AN IMPOSTER AND A MAGICIAN (The Magnificent Duke, 2005)
KID GLOVES (Duke Pandemonium, 2009)
By sheer coincidence, I spent a lot of time with Connie, who sang the female vocal part of Kid Gloves, in the year it was released. She had loved singing on the song, and the words had meant a lot to her. She would talk about how it had really touched her, the lyrics in the chorus. I think she had decided to do it, on the strength of those words.
Typically, I never really paid a huge amount of attention to lyrics, in any of the bands I loved... I was usually aware of them, but they were rarely the reason I would initially fall in love with a song. But I really liked hearing how much they seemed to have sparked something in Connie, and it compelled me to really try and pull something from each song that I love. Even if what I take is ultimately a misinterpretation of the original intent, I will always find new moments, deep with meaning to me in their music, on the first listen, and on the thousandth. No other voices, and no other electrical noises have meant more to me than those made by this band. They are the soundtrack to my happiest moments, and provide me comfort and company in the darkness. I hope this brief, and entirely unrepresentative list helps at least one other person, to find something special for themselves, in this incredible catalogue of music.