Arts

'Taps aff' for Biffy Clyro at Belsonic

Scots rockers Biffy Clyro return to Belsonic tomorrow night. Frontman Simon Neil spoke to Michael Jackson about their highly anticipated headline show, which is set to feature a degree of nakedness on and off the stage.

'Frequently topless' frontman Simon Neil (centre) will lead Biffy Clyro into battle at Belsonic tomorrow night
Michael Jackson

ROCK heavyweights Biffy Clyro have come a long way since their first headline gig in Belfast.

The first show took place in 2003 at Dublin Road venue Auntie Annie's (now The Bar With No Name), where they played to a crowd of less than 100 people.

Fast-forward 13 years: Auntie Annie's is no more, but Biffy Clyro are still with us, and are set to play a massive headline show at Belsonic festival tomorrow night.

The hugely successful Scottish trio have released six studio albums and are set to release their seventh, Ellipsis, early next month.

Their tours have taken the band all over the world, but according to singer/guitarist frontman Simon Neil, Belfast will always be a special place for 'the Biff'.

"It’s as close to playing a hometown gig as we can have really," he says.

"There's just been such a vibe and a feeling between us and the crowd. It’s our third time doing Belsonic and every gig has been amazing.

"The singing is always really loud and people go f***ing crazy. It has got a really special place in our hearts, because it's the first place outside of Scotland where people really got our band and cared about our band.

"Obviously, you’re all off your heads as-well which fits just right."

Although Biffy Clyro – who also feature brothers Ben and James Johnston on drums and bass respectively – can now comfortably occupy some of the world’s biggest stages, Neil says this isn’t something he had envisaged in the band's early years.

Indeed, he fondly recalls the vibe of their smaller shows:

"I used to miss the small gigs, and I used to think we wouldn’t settle into big shows," he reminisces.

"I do enjoy the small shows, but the intensity of a huge show in a small room could almost break a man.

"Small shows are magic – there’s no room for the energy or the spirit to disappear, but I finally enjoy the big shows now.

"Maybe it's my own ego, but I think that as a band we suit a big stage now."

While dominating the world stage, the Biff are keen to share the limelight with other talented musicians,

inviting up and coming acts Lonely the Brave, and The Vants to support them at Belsonic.

"We want to show the stuff that we like, and we want to give help to the bands who are out there doing it," Neil says.

"Lonely the Brave are a great band; they write great songs, and I love the fact that there are no frills. It’s all about the music – that’s our mentality.

"The Vants are a great kind-of grunge band. It’s exciting to give a new band like them a chance to play a big show.

"We’re really looking forward to seeing them both."

Those attending Belsonic tomorrow night will get to hear some of Biffy Clyro’s newest material from their upcoming album Ellipsis.

Looking forward to the record's release, Neil describes his turbulent expectations.

"I’m f***ing fit to burst!" he exclaims.

"We’ve had to be so patient, and I’m really excited. Some days I’m so nervous and I think no-one is going to like it, and it’s the worst album we’ve ever made.

"The next day I think it’s the greatest piece of music that has ever been recorded. I can’t wait for people to hear it."

Neil, chief songwriter for Biffy Clyro, had written over 160 tracks for the band prior to the new album – a fact the Scotsman says contributed to the writers' block he recently experienced.

"If anything, it put more pressure on me," he explains.

"Rather than thinking ‘cool, this is second nature,’ I felt like maybe I had written all of my songs.

"Seeing how much I had done made me feel like I was empty.

"I went to California for a few months because I struggled to find my inspiration. I couldn’t finish a song, so I went away to write as much music as possible, and tried not to worry about what the songs were for.

"I just wanted to fall in love with the process of writing music again."

Despite these initial struggles, Neil believes that the album contains some of Biffy’s finest work to date.

"The reason we took some time off was to make sure that the next statement was worthwhile, and was an evolution.

"It has the best songs I’ve ever written, and it’s probably our most eclectic album."

The evolution of Biffy Clyro is always at the forefront of the singer’s mind, and the band are known for being unafraid to explore new sounds.

Their frontman explains how they entered unfamiliar territory this time around by fully embracing studio technology:

"We really wanted to unlearn some of things that we’ve learned over the years and break the habits that we had," he says.

"For the first time we weren’t afraid to use the studio. I think because rock bands are so in awe of classic rock music, we almost enter the fight with one arm tied behind our back, thinking that we need to do things exactly the same way.

"I think there’s room for evolution in rock music. I don’t think technology takes any of the soul away.”

“We want to keep growing and learning. Even when we’re on our ninth or 10th album, I want to be able to take people by surprise.

"I’d rather make music people think is terrible, by trying something new, than going through the motions. We’re too restless to stick in one place."

Their show at Belsonic tomorrow night will be Biffy Clyro’s third time playing at the festival.

The band are known for their hugely energetic performances, and Neil says that they expect a similar effort from the Belfast crowd.

"It better be rowdy, there better be singing, and there better be crowd surfing," he enthuses.

"Belfast crowds are the loudest crowds in the world and I’m not just saying that. We’re expecting extreme volume, everyone sweating, and joy.

"We’ve started to embrace the joy of so many people being together and being a part of something. We feel really special to be a part of it, and to share it with so many people.

"Belfast, you better f***ing deliver. We’ll bring ours, if you bring yours."

The often bare chested frontman is also strongly in favour of the 'taps aff' crowd antics his semi-naked performances seem to encourage at their gigs.

"I want to see thousands of nipples," he enthuses.

"It’s part of our ritual. I don’t feel that I could play a gig now with my shirt on.

"In Belfast, it doesn’t matter what the weather is, five minutes into the gig the first 1,000 people have their shirts off and I love it – it's solidarity."

:: Biffy Clyro, with Lonely The Brave and The Vants, Saturday June 25, Belsonic. For ticket and full line-up details, see Belsonic.com

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