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Drinking pushed band to brink, says Biffy Clyro star

James kisses Johnston as Biffy Clyro carry off a Kerrang! music award in 2011. Picture: Getty

James kisses Johnston as Biffy Clyro carry off a Kerrang! music award in 2011. Picture: Getty

  • by GORDON CURRIE
 

Biffy Clyro star Ben Johnston has told how his problem with alcohol nearly led to the break up of the platinum-selling Scottish rock band.

The drummer said he was forced to ­tackle his problem and attend Alcoholics Anonymous after he began downing pints of wine and suffering regular blackouts while he was on tour.

Johnston’s drinking became so out of control that it threatened to derail the band’s rise to be multi-million selling chart stars and one of the biggest live acts in the world.

He said his relationship with the band’s singer and writer Simon Neil broke down, while his brother, bass player James Johnston, was permanently on a knife edge because of the drunken behaviour.

“I had no stop button,” he said. “I would just keep going and black out. Me and Simon massively drifted apart. It was me that was going to f**k it all up.”

Johnston said his tolerance to alcohol began to plummet and he would black out after five pints of beer. He changed to drinking white wine ­spritzers, but quickly escalated to pints of wine.

He began missing flights, turning up late for rehearsals and by last summer, when the band were recording forthcoming record Opposites, he began to believe the band was imploding. “I was half-thinking, ‘We might go home with no record here. And no band.’”

The chaotic recording sessions in Santa Monica finally saw him collapse and injure himself. He fell over during a blackout and slashed his ear and was woken up by Neil ­battering his door.

“I have no idea what happened,” he said. “For some folk in Scotland that’s an average ­Saturday night.”

The incident proved a wake-up call and the musician attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Los Angeles and has been sober since – including on his wedding day.

Johnston said: “It was a Scottish wedding and I didn’t have a sip of champagne. It’s not that much of a challenge because my life is so much better.”

His brother James said: “Ben could have potentially ended up a lonely old person who one day stopped drinking and suddenly realised he’d got no one. I’m so proud of him. We’re back to three pals in a room.”

He revealed that as a tribute to his brother’s sobriety he has had the Robert Burns poem John Anderson, My Jo tattooed down his side. The siblings ­recited it together at school in Ayrshire.

“It’s about two old codgers looking back at their life together – a reminder to Ben of what he means to me. And a reminder that when somebody loves you, there’s a responsibility: ‘Look, I care about you, so you’ve got to look after yourself for me.’”

Lead singer Neil said the tension was increased by tragedy in his own life, as his wife suffered three miscarriages in quick succession.

“That happened at exactly the same time as Ben was ­going off the rails,” he said.

Biffy Clyro’s 2009 album Only Revolutions had helped build the group a massive following worldwide.

“Life had been going great,” Neil said. “Suddenly the band was falling apart and my wife had the roughest time. Devastating. I didn’t know how to make her feel better. I see so much sadness in life.

“Perhaps that’s what comes through in my music. People have so much hurt and loss ­inside them, below the surface. I just feel for people. That’s such a ridiculous thing to say... but people have such a tough time in life. It’s hardcore. I felt so bad for James. Half of himself is Ben and vice versa. He felt responsible.”

The trio are about to embark on another European arena tour to promote the Opposites double album, but until then Ben has said he is focused on fishing and improving his golf handicap.

 

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