Pete Shelley – circa 1978
“I believe in the shape of things to come / And I believe I’m not the only one” – ‘I Believe’ (Pete Shelley)
“I never knew there was a law against sounding vulnerable,” says Pete Shelley, mainstay of the U.K. punk rock band The Buzzcocks. Shelley puts his finger on what distinguishes The Buzzcocks from their punk rock peers. Almost by definition, punk is loud, rude, abrasive and politically-charged. The Buzzcocks’ music is loud, rude, abrasive…and romantic. While punk in general sneers at love songs, The Buzzcocks embrace them – albeit in their own idiosyncratic manner. How did The Buzzcocks comes to exist and triumph in the punk rock era?
Pete Shelley is born Peter Campbell McNeish on 17 April 1955 at 48 Milton Street in Leigh, Lancashire, England. He is the son of John and Margaret McNeish. John McNeish is a fitter at the nearby Astley Green Colliery (i.e. coal mine). Margaret McNeish is an ex-mill worker in town. Peter has a younger brother named Gary.
As a teenager, Peter McNeish (later Pete Shelley) plays guitar in various heavy metal bands. Yet, Peter has broader musical tastes. In 1974 he puts together a home-made reel of experiments with electronic music. (This will be released as Pete Shelley’s firs solo album six years later.)
In 1975 Peter McNeish enrols at the Bolton Institute of Technology. “I was doing philosophy and comparative European literature,” he recalls. “I was involved in student politics at college,” Peter says. By this time, Peter McNeish has discovered that he is bisexual. Although he supports causes such as women’s rights, bisexuality remains in the shadows. Musically, “I was into electronics at college,” Pete Shelley says. He starts an electronic music society at Bolton Institute. One of Peter McNeish’s fellow students will come to be known as Howard Devoto.
Howard Devoto is born Howard Andrew Trafford on 15 March 1952 in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. He grows up in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, and Moortown in Leeds. At Leeds Grammar School, Howard Trafford meets Richard Boon, who will later become the manager of The Buzzcocks. Trafford starts at Bolton Institute of Technology in 1972.
“Both me and Howard Devoto did humanities at Bolton Institute of Technology,” points out Pete Shelley. “Before [I met Howard] I felt like an alien. I first spoke to Devoto when I happened to be visiting some friends in some local flats [and I heard him playing a King Crimson record].” Music brings the two youths together. “[Howard] first got in touch with me after I started an electronic music society at college. He was doing a film and thought I had a synthesiser. I didn’t,” admits Shelley. “Soon after that, [Howard] left an advert on our college noticeboard.” Howard wanted musicians who liked the Velvet Underground’s ‘Sister Ray’. This confronting epic of experimental drone rock would probably separate like-minded souls from the average aspiring guitarists. Peter McNeish (Pete Shelley) responds to the ad. Peter and Howard both like electronic music and The Velvet Underground. Peter has more history in playing with rock bands, but Howard also admires The Stooges, Iggy Pop’s proto-punk band who were peers of The Velvet Underground. The two boys rehearse with a drummer, but this attempt at a band falls apart without ever giving a performance.
The Velvet Underground and The Stooges played music that, in some ways, anticipated the advent of punk rock. These two bands flowered in the late 1960s. By the mid-1970s, punk rock was brought into being through The Ramones (in the U.S.) and The Sex Pistols (in the U.K.). Peter McNeish and Howard Trafford read a review about The Sex Pistols. The boys travel to London and see two of the Sex Pistols gigs in February 1976. Two things come out of this fateful journey. McNeish and Trafford resolve to form their own punk rock band and the enthusiastic duo convince The Sex Pistols that they can arrange a venue near the students’ home where The Pistols can do a local show.
The Buzzcocks is formed in February 1976. The initial line-up is: Howard Devoto (vocals), Pete Shelley (guitar, backing vocals), Garth Smith (born Garth Davies on 10 December 1955) (bass) and Mick Singleton (drums). The band’s name is inspired by a review in ‘Time Out’ magazine of the British television series ‘Rock Follies’. Screened from 24 February 1976 to 30 March 1976 on the ITV network, ‘Rock Follies’ chronicles the story of a fictitious all-female rock act called The Little Ladies. The last line of the review reads, ‘Get a buzz, cock.’ In this context, ‘buzz’ means excitement and ‘cock’ is a British slang term for a friend or fellow. So the reviewer is saying, ‘It’s exciting, friends’ and The Buzzcocks – the band – could be interpreted as ‘The Exciting Friends.’ A common trait for punk rock acts is for its practitioners to abandon their birth names in favour of patently false jokey stage-names. For instance, The Sex Pistols’ vocalist is Johnny Rotten. In this tradition, Howard Trafford becomes Howard Devoto, naming himself after a bus driver in Cambridge. Peter McNeish adopts the new identity of Pete Shelley. The most obvious source for the new appellation is the famous poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. However, given Shelley’s bisexuality, there is another intriguing possibility. It is theorised that Shelley was the name his parents were going to give their newborn had it been a girl. When speaking about the source of his stage-name, Pete Shelley says, “I always used to deny it was the poet [Percy Bysshe Shelley] and say it was [actress] Shelley Winters. But I saw her on a chat show and she said her name was originally Shirley, and she changed it in honour of the poet.”
The Buzzcocks play their first gig at the Bolton Institute of Technology on 1 April 1976. They attempt to convince the college to host the promised Sex Pistols gig, but the school declines. Instead, the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester is booked for a show in June 1976 and another in July 1976.
The Sex Pistols play at the June 1976 gig as expected. However, contrary to expectations, The Buzzcocks do not play on the same bill. The bassist and drummer drop out of the nascent band before the gig. Left without a band, Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley can only attend the performance as part of the audience. The Buzzcocks have to find a new rhythm section in time to play at The Sex Pistols’ July gig. The new recruits to the group are Steve Diggle and John Maher.
Stephen E. Diggle is born on 7 May 1955 in Manchester, Lancashire, England. Steve grows up in the Bradford and Rusholme areas of Manchester and attends Oldham College. “I was a conscientious objector to work,” Diggle says with trademark humour. “I had finished college, got a job and saved up enough to buy a guitar, then got myself sacked for organising a strike.” Diggle claims, “I was there at the beginning…[The Buzzcocks] just did a gig at a college…They weren’t playing [original songs like] ‘Boredom’ or anything like that, it was more like covers like [The Velvet Underground’s 1968 song] ‘White Light, White Heat’. I was going to form another band, then met them – by mistake really [at The Sex Pistols first show in Manchester]. I joined and we had just a few weeks to open for The Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall.” Steve Diggle says, “For me, The Buzzcocks stared when me and John Maher, who turned up a couple of days later, joined those two [i.e. Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley].”
John Maher is born on 21 April 1960 in Manchester, England. His father was from Ireland. John Maher is recruited to The Buzzcocks via an advertisement placed in the rock music newspaper ‘Melody Maker.’ When he joins the group, Maher is only 16 years old, a school boy from St Bede’s College, Whalley Range, Manchester.
The second version of The Buzzcocks consists of: Howard Devoto (vocals), Pete Shelley (guitar, backing vocals), Steve Diggle (bass) and John Maher (drums). Although Steve Diggle is better known as a guitar player, he starts out in The Buzzcocks as a bassist.
The Buzzcocks open for The Sex Pistols second Manchester show at the Lesser Free Trade Hall on 20 July 1976. This is six weeks after The Pistols’ first Manchester gig. By the end of 1976, The Buzzcocks have played a handful of gigs of their own. They record a demo tape in October 1976. At the end of 1976, The Buzzcocks are a support act on The Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy Tour’ of the U.K.
The next step for The Buzzcocks is to begin their recording career. Rather than sign to any major record label, The Buzzcocks decide to put out a disc themselves. Actually, this involves Pete Shelley borrowing money from his father. “[My father] took out a loan in order to give me the money [to make our first EP]. He didn’t have the two hundred and fifty pounds, which in some ways he donated. I convinced him that it was a good idea and he was wise enough to trust me,” explains Shelley.
The Buzzcocks’ first recording is the EP ‘Spiral Scratch’. One of the earliest British punk records, it is issued on 29 January 1977 on the group’s own do-it-yourself label, New Hormones. The EP is produced by Martin Rushent, who will produce all the band’s recordings for the next few years. The four songs on the EP are ‘Breakdown’, ‘Time’s Up’, ‘Boredom’ and ‘Friends Of Mine’. All four songs are co-written by Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley. The best known of the tracks is probably ‘Boredom’. It is heavily influenced by The Sex Pistols. Howard Devoto’s standard ‘sing-speak’ lapses into the kind of distorted pronunciation favoured by The Pistols’ Johnny Rotten. Similarly, Pete Shelley’s buzzsaw guitarwork owes a debt to Steve Jones of The Pistols. The song is notorious for its ‘monotonous two-note guitar solo.’ The Buzzcocks may not be transcending their influences at this point, but ‘Boredom’ is just as good as anything by The Sex Pistols. One thousand copies of ‘Spiral Scratch’ are pressed.
In February 1977 Howard Devoto leaves The Buzzcocks. The erstwhile vocalist declares, “What was once unhealthily fresh is now a clean old hat.” At first, Howard Devoto returns to college. However, later in the year he launches the highly regarded band called Magazine (1977-1981, 2009-2011).
Howard Devoto’s departure necessitates a reshuffle of The Buzzcocks’ membership. Pete Shelley takes over as lead vocalist, bassist Steve Diggle switches to guitar and, in March 1977, former Buzzcocks bassist Garth Smith returns to the fold. So the new version of The Buzzcocks is: Pete Shelley (vocals, guitar), Steve Diggle (guitar, vocals), Garth Smith (bass) and John Maher (drums).
If The Sex Pistols is the pre-eminent band of the British punk scene, then The Clash would rank second. On 1 May 1977 The Clash begins their forty date ‘White Riot’ tour of the U.K. The Buzzcocks is one of the bands supporting The Clash on this tour.
On 24 June 1977 Harvest/EMI Records issues ‘Live At The Roxy’ (1977). This is a collection of live performances from shows at The Roxy, London’s leading punk venue. The Buzzcocks are amongst those featured on the disc. The other contributors are Eater, Johnny Moped, X-Ray Spex, The Adverts, Slaughter And The Dogs, The Unwanted and Wire.
On 16 August 1977 (the day that Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, died) The Buzzcocks sign a record deal with United Artists. One of the conditions of the contract is that The Buzzcocks retain ‘complete artistic control.’ They soon put this provision to the test…
In October 1977 bassist Garth Smith is found ‘unreliable’ and is expelled from The Buzzcocks ‘due to his alcoholism.’ However he played on the recording session for the group’s first single for United Artists before his exit.
On 4 November 1977, United Artists releases The Buzzcocks’ single ‘Orgasm Addict’ backed with ‘Whatever Happened To…?’ ‘Orgasm Addict’ is written by Pete Shelley and (the now departed) Howard Devoto. ‘Whatever Happened To…?’ is written by Pete Shelley and Alan Dial (a pseudonym for The Buzzcocks’ manager, Richard Boon). The picture sleeve for ‘Orgasm Addict’ shows an artwork by Linder Sterling depicting an upside-down naked female torso with a clothes iron in place of a head. ‘Orgasm Addict’ has a thrusting punk tempo punctuated by fake moans. It tells of a lad with “Stains on your jeans” who finds that “It’s a labour of love f***ing yourself to death.” The lyrics note, “You’re makin’ out with school kids” and “He’s always at it.” ‘Orgasm Addict’ brilliantly captures what it is like for a teenager with a head full of hormones, but it is banned by the BBC due to its sexual content. Pete Shelley, the song’s co-author, vocalist and guitarist, says that ‘Orgasm Addict’ “is embarrassing. It’s the only I listen to and…shudder.” It is a song that helps ‘define a world of permanently frustrated punk desire.’ ‘Orgasm Addict’ is described as ‘a playful examination of compulsive sexuality that is uncommonly bold.’ The B side, ‘Whatever Happened To…?’ is a molten rush of guitars over which Shelley’s voice quickly steps.
Barry Adamson (born 11 June 1958 in Moss Side, Manchester) temporarily fills in on bass for The Buzzcocks after the release of ‘Orgasm Addict’. Adamson is better known for being part of Howard Devoto’s band, Magazine. Steve Garvey joins The Buzzcocks in late 1977 as their new bass player.
Stephen ‘Paddy’ Garvey is born on 8 January 1958 in Manchester, England. Before joining The Buzzcocks, Steve Garvey worked at a petrol station.
The definitive Buzzcocks line-up is now assembled late in 1977: Pete Shelley (vocals, guitar), Steve Diggle (guitar, vocals), Steve Garvey (bass) and John Maher (drums).
The Buzzcocks is a punk rock band. Punk is a loud, rude and aggressive music that strips away much of the pretensions rock music has accumulated since its inception. It is self-consciously primitive. “When we started out we were trying to be as dumb as everybody else. But there was a lot of humour in it,” says Pete Shelley. “We didn’t expect anybody to take us seriously.” Instrumental prowess is scoffed at by the punks: “I’m not interested in being able to play,” avers Shelley.
And yet…though The Buzzcocks is a punk band, it is a different sort of punk band. “We wanted to be intelligent, but not intellectuals,” is how Pete Shelley puts it. To quote guitarist Steve Diggle, “We were punks with a library card.” Musically, The Buzzcocks is fairly standard for a punk act. “The Buzzcocks were direct, furious and frantic,” says Diggle. “It’s lyrics which take a toll on me,” says Pete Shelley. “We were writing about everyday, mundane life, which wasn’t being written about,” notes Shelley. The songs “talk about things that actually happen to people.” In Shelley’s formulation, ‘everyday, mundane life’ seems often to be about love. Steve Diggle jibes, “I say his [songs] are like Mills and Boon.” (Mills and Boon is a company that publishes inexpensive paperback romance novels.) What gives this theme a bit of a twist is Shelley’s bisexuality. “Sometimes on a personal level [my songs] are about guys. But really, the universality of the songs is the reason people take them to heart…There’s a lot of grey area in everybody’s sexuality,” according to Shelley. He also warns, “It isn’t an attempt to be autobiographical.” Pete Shelley’s singing voice is high and piping, his enunciation rather more educated and careful than his peers. The Buzzcocks are the ‘only valid romantic-pop practitioners’ in punk. “It was such a distinctive sound we invented,” concludes Steve Diggle.
Pete Shelley is the main singer and songwriter in The Buzzcocks. Steve Diggle is the secondary singer and songwriter. Speaking of the sharing of the band’s creative reins with Shelley, Diggle says, “We agree on some things and disagree on others.”
The Buzzcocks’ next single is their first to make the pop charts. ‘What Do I Get?’ (UK no. 37) b/w ‘Oh S**t’ is released on 3 February 1978. Both songs are written and sung by Pete Shelley. Over a noisy backing, ‘What Do I Get?’ is all about dissatisfaction: “I just want a love like any other / What do I get?” The track also sports a twangy guitar solo. The title of the flipside of the single (‘Oh S**t’) caused some problems. On 26 January 1978, workers at EMI’s pressing plant refused to manufacture the single – since ‘Oh S**t’ is spelled out in all its four-letter glory, unlike here where your possibly tender sensibilities are being spared. The row was resolved and, unaltered, the single was issued.
The Buzzcocks’ debut album, ‘Another Music In A Different Kitchen’ (1978) (UK no. 15), is released by United Artists on 10 March. The album’s title is partially inspired by ‘Housewives Choosing their own Juices in a Different Kitchen’, an artwork by Linder Sterling (the artist whose work adorned the picture sleeve for The Buzzcocks’ single ‘Orgasm Addict’). This is the first of three consecutive Buzzcocks albums produced by Martin Rushent. None of the tracks from the ‘Spiral Scratch’ EP or the singles ‘Orgasm Addict’ and ‘What Do I Get?’ are on this album. The single lifted from this album is Pete Shelley’s ‘I Don’t Mind’ (UK no. 55) b/w Steve Diggle’s ‘Autonomy’. ‘I Don’t Mind’ is a sort of indifferent shrug to a harsh would-be love interest…and life in general: “I even think you hate me, when you call me on the phone / Sometimes when we go out, I wish I’d stayed at home / Well, I’m dreaming just lying in my bed / I think you’ve got it in for me, or is it all in my head?” As well as ‘Autonomy’, Steve Diggle contributes ‘Fast Cars’ to this disc. Shelley’s ‘Moving Away From The Pulsebeat’ closes the album and is ‘a drum showcase for John Maher on stage.’ “I think the first album took about three weeks to do [i.e. record],” according to Steve Diggle.
The Buzzcocks’ next single, ‘Love You More’ (UK no. 34) b/w ‘Noise Annoys’, follows later in 1978. Both songs are Pete Shelley compositions. “It’s in my blood to always love you more,” sings Shelley in his well enunciated manner. The song comes to an abrupt end after the line, “Until the razor cuts.”
‘Love Bites’ (1978) (UK no. 13) is the title of The Buzzcocks’ second album. It is released on 22 September, just over six months after their first full-length disc. It is group policy to only take one single from each album so this disc does not include ‘Love You More’ or ‘Noise Annoys’. The single from ‘Love Bites’ is ‘Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)’ (UK no. 12) b/w ‘Just Lust’. This is The Buzzcocks’ ‘most successful single.’ The title of the A side is inspired by a line from the musical ‘Guys and Dolls’ (1955). “It’s an adrenalin rush song,” the track’s author, Pete Shelley, says of ‘Ever Fallen In Love’. While Shelley frets over his “Natural emotions”, the guitars play a bugle-like charge, surging to the rescue. The Fine Young Cannibals record a hit cover version of ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ (UK no. 9) in 1986. ‘Just Lust’ is a fast-paced glance at human attraction. ‘Just Lust’ is co-written by Pete Shelley and Alan Dial (a.k.a. Buzzcocks’ manager Richard Boon). Shelley’s ‘Sixteen Again’ looks at adolescence in a frenzied fashion while his ‘Real World’ is a more cinematic collision with reality. Steve Diggle contributes ‘Love Is Lies’, the group’s first song with a bit of acoustic guitar for a change. Diggle explains his reduced role on the second album, saying, “But then I met my girlfriend and wasn’t writing as much.” ‘Love Bites’ contains two instrumentals, ‘Walking Distance’ (written by bassist Steve Garvey) and ‘Late For The Train’ (a group composition). “It all became a bit difficult after the second album, a bit tabloidy,” observes Pete Shelley.
The Buzzcocks’ next one-off single for 1978 is ‘Promises’ (UK no. 20) b/w ‘Lipstick’. ‘Promises’ is co-written by Steve Diggle and Pete Shelley. Musically, ‘Promises’ has more harmony backing vocals than previous Buzzcocks’ tunes, but they are slathered over the familiar punk rumble. Lyrically, it’s a tale of love lost and things not happening as pledged – even if the song didn’t start out that way. Steve Diggle explains: “It was going to be a socio-political song about promises made by the government. I said [to Pete Shelley], ‘You’ve turned it into a f***ing love song!’ Having said that, it worked out well all round…We complement each other.” The flipside, ‘Lipstick’, ‘shares an ascending progression of notes in the chorus’ with ‘Shot By Both Sides’, perhaps the best known song by Magazine, the band formed by Howard Devoto after leaving The Buzzcocks. Officially, ‘Lipstick’ is credited to co-authors Steve Diggle and Pete Shelley, but its confused origins have also suggested it should be co-credited to Devoto and Shelley or simply Pete Shelley.
Also released in 1978 is the EP/twelve-inch maxi-single ‘I Am The Amazing Buzzcocks.’
Two of the members of The Buzzcocks, leader Pete Shelley and bassist Steve Garvey, work with other bands in parallel to The Buzzcocks. Pete Shelley is involved in The Tiller Boys (1978-1979), a ‘more experimental’ outfit in which he is joined by Eric Random and Francis Cookson. They release an EP called ‘Big Noise From The Jungle’ in 1980 (after their cessation) on the New Hormones label. Steve Garvey’s side-project is Teardrops. His colleagues in this act are Tony Friel and Karl Burns. Teardrops release an EP, ‘In And Out Of Fashion’, in 1978 and an album, ‘Final Vinyl’ (1980).
The stand-alone single ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’ (UK no. 29) b/w ‘Why Can’t I Touch It’ is released by The Buzzcocks on 13 July 1979. Pete Shelley is the author of ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’. Shelley sings the title in falsetto over chiming guitars. Elsewhere in the song he chants, “Life’s an illusion, love is a dream,” over John Maher’s pounding drums. The B side of the single, ‘Why Can’t I Touch It’, is a group composition.
The one-off July 1979 single ‘Harmony In My Head’ (UK no. 32) b/w ‘Something’s Gone Wrong Again’ is divided between the main creative forces in The Buzzcocks. ‘Harmony In My Head’ is written and sung by Steve Diggle and represents the high-point of his work with The Buzzcocks. Pete Shelley writes ‘Something’s Gone Wrong Again’ where he expresses disbelief at his own hard luck in a way that resonates with many listeners.
The Buzzcocks’ hectic workload begins to take a toll. ‘The members are consuming alcohol and drugs in high numbers’ before the release of their third album.
‘A Different Kind Of Tension’ (1979) (UK no. 26, US no. 163) is released in September. It is the last all new Buzzcocks album to make the popular sales chart. The album’s title is – kind of – derived from the writings of surrealist U.S. author William S. Burroughs. The song taken from this disc to become a single is ‘You Say You Don’t Love Me’ – though the single fails to chart. It is a typically wounded romance from Pete Shelley: “You say you don’t love me / Well that’s alright with me / ‘Cos I’m in love with you.” Shelley pens nine of the album’s twelve tracks; the balance of the tracks are attributed to Steve Diggle. The highlights are all Pete Shelley’s work. There is the yammering cry of ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With My Life’ (“I can’t wake up in the morning / And I can’t get to sleep at night”). Best of all The Buzzcocks’ songs is ‘I Believe’. Pete Shelley scrabbles about, trying to define just what matters to him, regardless of how contradictory it may seem: “I believe in the worker’s revolution / And I believe in the final solution…I believe in the immaculate conception / And I believe in the resurrection.” Finally surmounting the ticking time-bomb guitars, he nihilistically concludes, “There is…no…love…in…this…world…an-y…more.” It’s The Buzzcocks’ finest moment. They have become ‘a state-of-the art post punk pop act, Manchester’s finest.’ The album closes with Pete Shelley’s ‘Radio Nine’, a song about ‘a fantasy radio station on which their songs could be heard.’ “I think there’s a lingering misconception that we were just a singles outfit,” says Pete Shelley, “but if you listen to the albums, they contain a lot of things beyond three minute love songs.” ‘A Different Kind Of Tension’ is the strongest of The Buzzcocks’ albums.
In the wake of ‘A Different Kind Of Tension’, The Buzzcocks undertake their first tour of the United States of America. It is not successful.
The compilation album ‘Singles Going Steady’ (1979) is created for the U.S. market and released on 25 September. Side one consists of the A sides of the first eight Buzzcocks singles: ‘Orgasm Addict’, ‘What Do I Get?’, ‘I Don’t Mind’, ‘Love You More’, ‘Ever Fallen In Love’, ‘Promises’, ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’ and ‘Harmony In My Head’. Side two is made up of the B sides of the same singles: ‘Whatever Happened To…?’, ‘Oh S**t’, ‘Autonomy’, ‘Noise Annoys’, ‘Just Lust’, ‘Lipstick’, ‘Why Can’t I Touch It’ and ‘Something’s Gone Wrong Again’. This is ‘a perfect punk album.’
In 1980 The Buzzcocks cut back their performance schedule.
Pete Shelley releases two solo albums in 1980: ‘Sky Yen’ (1980) and ‘Hangahar’ (1980). ‘Sky Yen’ is a home-made reel of electronic experiments from 1974 turned into an album.
Over the course of 1980 The Buzzcocks release three singles. These are designated as ‘Part 1’, ‘Part 2’ and ‘Part 3’. ‘Part 1’ is ‘Are Everything’ (UK no. 61) b/w ‘Why She’s A Girl From The Chainstore’, ‘Part 2’ is ‘Airwaves Dream’ and ‘Part 3’ is ‘What Do You Know?’ The singles (including B sides) are collected into the six track EP ‘Parts 1-3’ released in 1981. ‘Are Everything’, ‘Strange Thing’ and ‘What Do You Know?’ are written by Pete Shelley, while ‘Running Free’, ‘Why She’s A Girl From The Chainstore’ and ‘Airwaves Dream’ are written by Steve Diggle. All six tracks are produced by Martin Rushent. “When we did ‘Are Everything’…every time we recorded a track I was taking acid,” says Pete Shelley.
During 1980, The Buzzcocks’ record label, United Artists, is bought out by EMI. Support for the group is cut back by EMI. Early in 1981, The Buzzcocks begin work on what is intended to be their fourth album. EMI tells them they want to release in the U.K. ‘Singles Going Steady’ (the 1979 compilation disc created for the U.S. market). The band refuses to go along with this plan. Consequently, EMI refuses to advance the group any money to pay for recording costs. Rather than continue to squabble with their record label, The Buzzcocks break-up in 1981. Pete Shelley says, “The reason I left Buzzcocks and went solo was just because it was easier. Artistically and financially.” Steve Diggle declares, “The wheels fell off the wagon. For around five years it was quite intense. We had singles out every two months and were a hard touring band…but you reach a point where you realise you have to take a step back.”
The Buzzcocks’ former leader Pete Shelley reinvents himself as a synth pop recording artist. This ties in to his long-time fascination with electronics. Pete Shelley releases the album ‘Homosapien’ (1981) to start his new career. “The song ‘Homosapien’ (AUS no. 6) I wrote in 1974, pre-Buzzcocks…[It] did really well in Australia,” notes Shelley. In the U.K., the song ‘Homosapien’ is banned by the BBC for ‘explicit references to gay sex’: “Homo superior / In my interior.” Although ‘Homosapien’ is released as a single in the U.K. in September 1981, it does not chart in Australia until January 1982. When the single is issued, Shelley talks about his bisexuality ‘which had been implicit in many of The Buzzcocks’ songs.’ ‘XL1’ (1983) (UK no. 42) is the only one of Shelley’s solo albums to chart in the U.K. It also produces two songs that achieve minor placings on the U.K. singles chart: ‘Telephone Operator’ (UK no. 66) and ‘Millions Of People (No One Like You)’ (UK no. 94). Pete Shelley releases one more solo album, ‘Heaven And The Sea’ (1986).
The Buzzcocks’ former guitarist (and alternative creative spark) Steve Diggle starts out with a solo EP, ’50 Years Of Comparative Wealth’, released in 1981. He then forms a new band, Flag Of Convenience (1982-1989). The original line-up of this band is: Steve Diggle (vocals, guitar), D.P. (keyboards), Dave Farrow (bass) and former Buzzcocks drummer John Maher (drums). Maher leaves the band in 1986. Latter members of the group include Dean Sumner (keyboards), Gary Hamer (bass) and John Caine (drums). Flag Of Convenience abbreviate their name to F.O.C. (1987-1988) and issue the albums ‘Northwest Skyline’ (1987) and ‘War On The Wireless Set’ (1988). Briefly in 1989, the group tours as Buzzcocks F.O.C.
The Buzzcocks’ former bassist Steve Garvey plays on Pete Shelley’s album ‘Homosapien’ (1981) and Steve Diggle’s 1981 EP ’50 Years Of Comparative Wealth’. Garvey then joins a band called Motivation in 1981. The line-up is: Dave Price (vocals), Dave Rowbotham (guitar), Steve Garvey (bass) and Snuff (drums). The group changes their name to Shy Talk – but Steve Garvey leaves soon after that title is adopted. Garvey gives up music and moves to New York. Steve Garvey marries. He and his wife Debra have two sons: Ian (born 1987) and Kyle (born 1990).
The Buzzcocks’ former drummer John Maher is part of Steve Diggle’s Flag Of Convenience from 1982 to 1986. Following that, John Maher has a Volkswagen repair shop and takes an interest in drag-racing.
During these years, a series of compilation albums and live recordings maintain interest in the legacy of The Buzzcocks. These discs are: ‘The Peel Sessions’ EP, put out by Strange Fruit in 1987; ‘Total Pop 1977-1980: Rare, Live And Great’ (1987) issued by Weird System; ‘Lest We Forget’ (1988), a live album released by ROIR (Reachout International Records); ‘Live At The Roxy Club – April ‘77’ (1989) on Absolutely Free Records; ‘The Fab Four’ (1989) (UK no. 83) on EMI is the only one of these projects to reach the charts; the EMI compilation ‘Product’ (1989); and the full-length album version of ‘The Peel Sessions’ (1989) on Strange Fruit.
Part of the reason for the flurry of releases in 1989 is that The Buzzcocks reunite in 1989. This is the classic line-up of: Pete Shelley (vocals, guitar), Steve Diggle (guitar, vocals), Steve Garvey (bass) and John Maher (drums). John Maher leaves The Buzzcocks again before the end of 1989.
‘The Early Years Live’ is a 1990 Buzzcocks EP issued by Receiver Records Limited.
Mike Joyce (born Michael Adrian Paul Joyce on 1 June 1963 in Fallowfield, Manchester, England) plays drums with The Buzzcocks in 1990-1991. Joyce was a member of famed Manchester band, The Smiths (1982-1987).
‘Operator’s Manual: Buzzcocks’ Best’ (1991) is a compilation album released on 12 November by U.S. label I.R.S. This set contains a generous twenty-five songs.
In 1991-1993 Steve Diggle reactivates Flag Of Convenience. The September 1991 EP ‘Heated And Rising’ is credited to Steve Diggle & Flag Of Convenience. Working with Diggle in this final incarnation of the band are Andy Couzens (guitar?) and Chris Goodwin (drums).
The Buzzcocks go through three drummers in 1992. John Maher returns to replace Mike Joyce, but Maher then departs once again. In 2009 Maher moves into the field of photography. Steve Gibson replaces John Maher but before year’s end, Gibson also exits. By this time, bassist Steve Garvey also wraps up his stint with The Buzzcocks in 1992. So The Buzzcocks get a whole new rhythm section in 1992: Tony Barber (born Anthony Barber on 20 April 1963 in Edmonton, London, England) (bass) and Phil Barker (drums).
Guitarist Steve Diggle becomes a father in 1992. The name of his son is unknown to the general public as is the name of the child’s mother. All that is known is that, as a young man, Diggle’s son does not live with his father and “He’s doing art” rather than following his father’s example in music.
EMI issues the live Buzzcocks album ‘Entertaining Friends – Live At The Hammersmith Odeon March 1979’ (1992).
‘Trade Test Transmissions’ (1993) is the first new studio recorded album by The Buzzcocks since ‘A Different Kind Of Tension’ (1979). ‘Trade Test Transmissions’ is produced by Ralph Ruppert and issued on Castle (U.K.)/Caroline (U.S.). The line-up of the band on this set is: Pete Shelley (vocals, guitar), Steve Diggle (guitar, vocals), Tony Barber (bass) and Phil Barker (drums). The best known songs from this album are probably Pete Shelley’s ‘Do It’ and Steve Diggle’s ‘Isolation’.
The Buzzcocks’ EP ‘Libertine Angel’ is released on the Essential label in 1994.
The Buzzcocks concert recording ‘Encore du Pain’ (Live In Paris)’ (1995) is released by Dojo Limited. Also released that year is a compilation album by Steve Diggle & The Flag Of Convenience, ‘Here’s One I Made Earlier’ (1995).
‘All Set’ (1996) is a new Buzzcocks studio recorded album issued by I.R.S. on 14 May. This disc is produced by Neill King. Pete Shelley’s ‘Totally From The Heart’ is chosen from this album to be a single.
Two Buzzcocks compilation albums are released in 1997: ‘Chronology’ (1997) and ‘I Don’t Mind The Buzzcocks’ (1997) – the latter on EMI/Gold.
‘Modern’ (1999) is a new Buzzcocks album issued on the Go-Kart label on 7 September. Bassist Tony Barber produces this album as well as the next two studio albums by the group.
‘The Best Of Steve Diggle And The Flag Of Convenience – The Secret Public Years 1981-1989’ (2000) is released the same year as Steve Diggle’s first solo album, ‘Some Reality’ (2000).
Pete Shelley briefly reunites with his old colleague Howard Devoto in 2001. The album ‘Buzzkunst’ (2001) is credited to ShelleyDevoto. (Note: ‘Kunst’ is the German word for ‘art’.)
The compilation album ‘Ever Fallen In Love? – Buzzcocks Finest’ (2002) is issued by EMI.
The self-titled ‘Buzzcocks’ (2003) is a new album released on the Merge label on 18 March. This disc is home to Pete Shelley’s ‘Jerk’ and Steve Diggle’s ‘Sick City Sometimes’. The same year, EMI releases the massive ‘Inventory’ (2003), a fourteen CD box set which includes singles and compilations. EMI follows this with ‘The Complete Singles Anthology’ (2004), a four CD set.
‘Serious Contender’ (2005) is guitarist Steve Diggle’s second solo album.
‘Flat-Pack Philosophy’ (2006) is a new Buzzcocks album issued on the Cooking Vinyl label on 7 March. This album includes Pete Shelley’s ‘Wish I Had Never Loved You’ (UK no. 146) (the last charting single by the band), Steve Diggle’s ‘Sell You Everything’ and Shelley’s ‘Reconciliation’. After this album, drummer Phil Barker leaves The Buzzcocks. In April 2006 Danny Farrant becomes the group’s new drummer.
The live album ‘30’ (2007) celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of The Buzzcocks. This disc is released by Cooking Vinyl.
In April 2008 bassist (and producer) Tony Barber leaves The Buzzcocks. He is replaced by Chris Remington (bass) who had worked with Steve Diggle earlier on some of the guitarist’s solo material.
Around 2011 Pete Shelley marries a woman named Greta. Her family come from Estonia, a European country that was formerly a Soviet republic. According to Shelley, Greta was actually raised in Canada. Around 2013, Pete and Greta decide to live in Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia. Steve Diggle observes that, “I just think that [bisexuality] was a little phase [Pete] was dabbling in back in the early days. Anything that was controversial in 1976 was welcome at the table. He’s been married twice with kids.” No information is available about Pete Shelley’s earlier marriage, his children’s names, birthdates or genders.
The Buzzcocks’ 2012 ‘Back to Front’ tour is notable for bringing together three different versions of the band. This takes place in shows at the 02 Apollo in Manchester on 25 May 2012 and the 02 Academy in Brixton on 26 May 2012. Each concert is broken into three parts. First, a set is played by the current Buzzcocks line-up: Pete Shelley (vocals, guitar), Steve Diggle (guitar, vocals), Chris Remington (bass) and Danny Farrant (drums). Then a set is played by the classic Buzzcocks line-up: Pete Shelley (vocals, guitar), Steve Diggle (guitar, vocals), Steve Garvey (bass) and John Maher (drums). Finally, the show closes with a set by the original Buzzcocks: Howard Devoto (vocals), Pete Shelley (guitar, backing vocals), Steve Diggle (bass) and John Maher (drums).
The Buzzcocks release a new album, ‘The Way’ (2014), on 1 May. Produced by David M. Allen and The Buzzcocks, this effort is released by PledgeMusic, with some monies from sales being directed to the teenage cancer trust. The album features the four current members of the group: Pete Shelley, Steve Diggle, Chris Remington and Danny Farrant. Pete Shelley acknowledges that, “Mainly we function as a live band, not a recording band.”
Although The Buzzcocks was undeniably a punk rock band, they were unusual due to Pete Shelley’s ‘high-pitched melodic singing’ and the romantic nature of many of their songs. “In retrospect, ‘not being all that punk’ was a saving grace,” Pete Shelley sagely remarked. The Buzzcocks’ best works were recorded in the period 1977 to 1980. They were ‘one of the most influential bands to emerge in the initial wave of punk rock.’ The Buzzcocks’ music was ‘a marriage of catchy pop melodies with punk guitar energy.’
- thequietus.com – ‘Pete Shelley Interview: The Fate & the Fury of The Buzzcocks’ by Dave Galvan (21 October 2009)
- wikipedia.org as at 8 June 2016
- allmusic.com – ‘The Buzzcocks’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as at 9 June 2016
- thequietus.com – ‘I Hate Finishing Things When I Don’t Have To: Pete Shelley Interviewed’ by Taylor Parkes (30 March 2015)
- gaynewsnetwork.com.au – ‘Ever Fallen in Love with a Buzzcock?’ – Pete Shelley interview conducted by Andrew Shaw (12 April 2013)
- pitchfork.com – ‘Buzzcocks’ – Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle interview conducted by Patrick Sisson (29 January 2009)
- dangerousminds.net – ‘Mind Parasites: The William S. Burroughs/Buzzcocks Connection’ by Oliver Hall (2 May 2016)
- ‘The Guardian’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Punk: How Was It For You?’ – Steve Diggle interview conducted by Dave Simpson, Will Hodgkinson (10 August 2001) (reproduced on theguardian.com)
- writewyattuk.com – ‘Buzzcocks Going Steady – The Steve Diggle Interview’ by Malcolm Wyatt (24 July 2015)
- ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p. 157
- ‘The Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 265, 270, 271, 280, 281
- metrolyrics.com as at 10 June 2016
- ‘1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die’ by Robert Dimery (Castell Illustrated, 2010) p. 384 – via 2 (above)
- ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 66
- ‘Ever Fallen In Love? – Buzzcocks Finest’ – Sleeve notes by Tim Chacksfield (EMI Records Limited, 2002) p. 2, 4, 5
- ‘The Guardian’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Punk: How Was It For You?’ – Steve Diggle interview conducted by Dave Simpson, Will Hodgkinson (10 August 2001) (reproduced on theguardian.com)
- avclub.com – ‘Interview: Pete Shelley’ by Sam Adams (13 July 2010)
- discogs.com as at 9 June 2016
- Jon Savage, quoted via 15 (above), p.4
- rateyourmusic.com by Badgerdarkness (2000-2016 Sonemic, Inc.)
- chartbeat.blogspot.com/2014/02/one-hit-wonders-on-australian charts
- allmusic.com – ‘Steve Diggle’ by Craig Harris as at 8 June 2016
- stuff.co.nz – ‘Still A-Buzz About Punk’ – Pete Shelley interview conducted by Tom Cardy (25 April 2013)
- noisey.vice.com – ‘Why the Hell Aren’t The Buzzcocks in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?’ – Steve Diggle interview conducted by Kenneth Partridge (2010?)
- setlist.fm – Buzzcocks Setlist 25 May 2012, 02 Apollo Manchester, Manchester, England
Song lyrics copyright Complete Music Ltd./Universal Music Publishing Group
Last revised 20 June 2016