CMU Opinion

Are Biffy Clyro responsible for Nick Knowles’s music career?

By | Published on Friday 23 November 2018

Nick Knowles

Biffy Clyro have finally spoken publicly about their connection with Nick Knowles. Specifically the story that the TV personality’s music career was launched after he jammed with the band on a rooftop in Soho. “He’s been a bit fast and loose with the truth there”, says the band’s drummer James Johnston.

You may remember that this story first emerged while Knowles was promoting his debut album, ‘Every Kind Of People’, last year. And now it’s popped up again because he’s been repeating it on ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here’, which currently has him camped out in the jungle.

Discussing how he came to land his record deal, he told his fellow contestants: “I was playing on a rooftop bar in Soho with some other bands. Somebody from a record company saw me doing it and I got a phone call saying, ‘I’m from Universal, want to do an album?’ It’s probably best not to say who [the ‘other bands’] are because it would be embarrassing for them more than anything else. Actually, they won’t mind, they’re nice lads: it was Biffy Clyro”.

Biffy Clyro then seemingly confirmed both that Knowles’s story was true and that they don’t mind who knows about it, by tweeting the rather long hashtag #BiffyClyroNotEmbarrassedTheyJammedWithNickKnowles.

But Twitter is no place for nuance. As we know, the best place for nuance is Greg James’s show on Radio 1, which is where the Biffy Clyro drummer found himself this week. Deftly interrogated by James, Johnston gave the band’s side of the story.

“He’s been a bit fast and loose with the truth there”, Johnston said. “It was after an awards ceremony. We came back to this hotel in Soho and we’d been informed that Nick Knowles had bought us a bottle of champagne to celebrate on the roof. He was lovely, we had a drink and we left and there might have been a guitar there”.

So, he’s not definitely saying that they didn’t play a few songs together, but perhaps it wasn’t quite the full scale impromptu gig that Knowles has described. “He was a nice guy! I’m not gonna say anything bad about him, Mr Nick Knowles, he was lovely”, Johnston went on.

“But I don’t think [it was] quite the ‘Kum Ba Yah’ situation that everyone might have in their heads. I’m really sorry to shatter the illusion that we had a proper heavy jam with Nick Knowles, because that did not happen I’m afraid. It’s a half truth. We were in the same rooftop bar at the same time and he was very nice”.

“We were in the same rooftop bar at the same time” isn’t quite as exciting a story though, is it? Where’s the exhilaration? Where’s the intrigue? And what’s the actual truth? Was the whole “I jammed with some bands” claim basically made up by Knowles for the purposes of entertainment and self-aggrandising? Surely not.

If this column were a court of law – and one day I hope all my lobbying will pay off and it will be – then one of the things the lawyers might do to identify the truth here is compare the different versions of this story that the defendant – that’s Knowles in this fictional courtroom – has told over time. Because inconsistencies in those different tellings might suggest guilt.

Luckily for fans of courtroom drama, you may remember that I already said that this wasn’t the first time we’d heard this story from the man himself. We actually heard it on two different occasions a year ago and then there’s this new telling. Which means we can analyse three version in detail and look for any guilt-suggesting inconsistencies. So let’s do that right now.

Here’s what Knowles said in a video posted on his YouTube channel on 11 Oct 2017: “Well, the album came about because an A&R man had seen me on a rooftop singing and playing a session with Biffy Clyro one night, until the early hours of the morning”.

Now let’s replay the new testimony from this week: “I was playing on a rooftop bar in Soho with some other bands. Somebody from a record company saw me doing it and I got a phone call saying, ‘I’m from Universal, want to do an album?’ It’s probably best not to say who [the ‘other bands’] are because it would be embarrassing for them more than anything else. Actually, they won’t mind, they’re nice lads: it was Biffy Clyro”.

Right, so, these “other bands” are new, although when you dig deeper, it seems that in the newer telling Knowles is just referring to Biffy Clyro in the plural for some reason. Meanwhile the “A&R man” has become “someone from a record company” – although it’s possible that he was just dumbing the story down and removing all the super technical jargon for his non-music industry savvy audience in the jungle.

In an interview with Heart in September 2017, discussing his long love of playing music, Knowles also said: “When I’m away filming with the BBC, lots of the crew play guitars and we sing when we are in hotel rooms. I even found myself on the rooftop of a Soho hotel with Biffy Clyro after the NME Awards and ended up playing songs until five o’clock in the morning”.

So there’s the rooftop bar and the awards ceremony that Johnston mentioned. And, OK, he starts out “playing songs” in the Heart interview, before describing it as a “session” in the promo video, and then implying it was a full-scale gig on ‘I’m A Celebrity’. But he never fully defines what happened in any of the different versions, leaving us to fill in the gaps. Therefore, I don’t think we can take these slight inconsistencies as proof he’s lying.

Conversely, Johnston admits that he had been drinking when he met Knowles and can’t even remember if there was a guitar present or not. So maybe that explains why he remembers the moment a little differently. All in all, it’s starting to feel like it’s about time Biffy Clyro took full credit for Knowles’s entry into the music business. Just as they should with Matt Cardle.

So I think it’s “case closed”? Except, what’s that? You’ve found another hole in Knowles’s story? You’re wondering who the hell this “someone from a record company” might be. Who saw the DIY TV bloke jamming with some rock stars and decided to sign him to a big fat record deal with the biggest record company of them all, Universal Music?

That’s a good spot. Because we might have been meant to assume that this record company employee was someone hanging out with Biffy Clyro. Their A&R contact at their label maybe.

Except, if you happen to know a little bit about the music industry, which I’m kind of thinking you probably should, you might be thinking, “Wait a minute! Biffy Clyro are signed to Warner Music imprint 14th Floor. Why would they be hanging out with a Universal A&R man?”

Good question, my astute friend. Very good question. And actually, it’s one that I can answer. They weren’t. Because I can tell you a bit more about this record company employee. Remember that YouTube video from October 2017? Well, in it, Knowles told us a little more about the A&R man who spotted his musical talents during the impromptu Biffy jam.

“The A&R man”, he explains, “who was a friend of mine, had seen [me play] on many occasions and at family parties and said to me, ‘Why don’t you do an album’?”

Hey, hang on there for a moment. The record company employee already knew Knowles! He was a friend. A close friend. Someone so close to the TV presenter as to be invited to family parties. Someone – I put it to you – much more likely to be attending that rooftop bar in the company of Knowles than Biffy Clyro.

This was no simple case of Knowles’s hidden talent being discovered by luck, prompting the offer of a major label record deal. The person who offered him this deal was already aware that Knowles likes to grab a guitar and knock out a few tunes from time to time.

And if you think that’s opened up a hole in Knowles’s story, brace yourself for an even bigger revelation. Because whilst under interrogation from Greg James, Johnston also let slip that the band’s encounter with Knowles was “more like eight years ago”. Eight years! That’s 2010!

Records show that that was the year the band won the NME Award for Best Music Video for their song ‘The Captain’, corroborating that they would have been in attendance at the awards ceremony in February that year, after which they might have jammed on a rooftop.

Actually, now I think about it, I was at the NME Awards that year. And I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet Nick Knowles on a rooftop. Though, if I’m being honest, I also don’t remember seeing Biffy Clyro pick up any award. In fact, I remember very little of that night at all. Except, weirdly, that I did meet Jay from ‘The Inbetweeners’ at a cashpoint after the show. But I’ll admit, my witness testimony isn’t very reliable here.

Hang on for a minute though. This detective work throws a few spanners into the works. For one thing, can we really believe that Nick Knowles sat playing guitar in rooftop bar until 5am in the middle of February? His hands would surely be too cold to play guitar, or rendered useless by thick gloves. At the very least, this calls his perception of time strongly into question. And that’s not the half of it.

Are we really expected to believe that Nick Knowles met Biffy Clyro and joined them for a jam in February 2010, and based on that drunken strumming he was immediately offered a record deal, and then he spent seven years working on his debut album before its release last November?

Is it not much more likely – I ask the good members of the jury – that this friend of Nick Knowles who works in A&R at Universal saw the unexpected success of Bradley Walsh – whose Sony album ‘Chasing Dreams’ was the UK’s biggest selling debut of 2016 – and thought, ‘How can we replicate that?’

Could it not be that, when Knowles then turned in the sub-David Brent nonsense that is ‘Every Kind Of People’, everyone at the label realised that drastic measures were needed? And at that point the chance, and possibly relatively brief, meeting with Biffy Clyro in a random bar seven years earlier was remembered, and a story was concocted to use this dimly remembered event to cover up Universal’s blatant attempt at a telly-turned-pop-star cash in?

I ask you, which is the more likely truth?

Of course, the public did not buy it. By which, I mean, they literally didn’t buy it. ‘Every Kind Of People’ peaked at number 92 in the UK album chart three weeks after its release, and then crashed out again. Nick Knowles is a failed musician, whose music career could not even be saved by a mis-told Biffy Clyro story.

But fear not, things could be about to change for Nick Knowles the wannabe pop star. The reason we’re talking about this, as I said, is because he is currently holed up in the jungle on ‘I’m A Celebrity’. A lot of people apparently watch that show. Even at least one member of Biffy Clyro, it seems. And this could be the promo push he needs.

Giving this idea some focus, Chris Moyles has now launched a campaign to get Knowles to Christmas number one. He’s urging his listeners, and the British public at large, to send Knowles’s cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Make You Feel My Love’ up the charts.

“This is not a ‘Chris Moyles Show’ campaign”, Moyles told his listeners. “This is just a campaign to get Nick Knowles into the Top 40. So it’s not just us, everyone can take part. Let’s see if we can get Nick Knowles into the chart”.

According to the Official Charts Company, sales and streams of the song are already up 500%. Which could frankly mean anything – for example, zero sales and 500 streams instead of one the previous week. We’ll find out later today whether that uplift translates into any sort of chart position.

Though, if Knowles does make it to the top of the charts for the Christmas week, I think Biffy Clyro should offer to appear with him as his backing band on the annual festive edition of ‘Top Of The Pops’. It’s surely the right thing to do. We can then worry about the possible perjury committed in the pop beef courts in the new year.

Meanwhile, if you can stand it, you can watch the video for ‘Make You Feel My Love’ – the Nick Knowles version – here: