In a year of misfiring comebacks, Buzzcocks’ recent, eponymous album
managed to recapture the vibrant energy of their late ‘70s peak. On
the eve of another lengthy tour, frontman Pete Shelley was ready to come out
fighting. “You can take your PopStars and f**k it up the ass,” he instructed David Davies
“I know lots of people have no time for Buzzcocks, but I’ve got
nothing left to prove at all”
If you were close to a radio anytime during the
late ‘70s, it’s hard to believe you weren’t at some point blindsided by the brusque
punk-pop energy of Buzzcocks. The band’s first release, the independently-financed
‘Spiral Scratch EP’, provided a vital gust of fresh air as the Sex Pistols burned out
spectacularly and the Clash veered off towards triple-album grandiosity.
What’s more, it wasn’t a one-off – albums like Another Music In A Different Kitchen
and Love Bites were packed to bursting point with wiry pop classics. The early loss
of Howard Devoto to the more arty Magazine didn’t deter frontmen Pete Shelley and
Steve Diggle becoming skilled songwriters with a penchant for off-kilter experimentation.
Since the band – worn out by constant touring and the kind of frantic release schedule
that is unthinkable these days – dissipated in 1981, their singular dynamic has brought
them back together for occasional new albums and tours. The reunion became more settled
after 1993’s successful Trade Test Transmissions, however, although follow-ups All Set
(1996) and Modern (1999) were somehow lost in the hazy fallout of Britpop – a movement
whose values owed a hell of a lot to the template established by Buzzcocks nearly 20 years earlier.
This year’s self-titled new album, released on Cherry Red, finally seems to have done
the trick. Sick City Sometimes, Friends and Useless are the pick of a set that
shows the band’s gift for primed, fat-free pop remains gloriously intact. A glut of
positive reviews and some fine live shows might suggest that all is well at present in
the world of Pete Shelley. However, speaking the night before leaving for a European
tour – and possibly having recently partaken of a few light ales – it’s clear that
the 48-year-old singer/guitarist nurses more than a few resentments about the treatment
of his band over the years.
“Has there been a good reaction to the album?” he enquires when TM reels off a list of positive
reviews. “I suppose so, but it’s been hard for me to gauge because I’ve been elsewhere.”
The narrow, Strokescentric agenda pursued by the NME remains a particular bugbear.
“The NME does not want to talk to us because we are not their market share. Look, the band is
good and we’ve not stopped what we’re doing. A lot of people think that because we’re an old
band we’ve not done anything. But the fact is we’re out there, doing the shows that we do...and
it’s a testament to the belief we have had – and still have – in the music. This explains why I
was so pissed off about the IPC takeover of the music papers.”
TM suggests that this kind of ‘sidelining’ is my no means limited to messrs Shelley and Diggle.
“Well, that’s true – of course, there are lots of people that have been ignored. But I’ve no particular reason to flaunt the talents of other people – I’m interested in what Buzzcocks are about. The simple fact is, if you go to a Buzzcocks gig, you will come out proud. You will have seen a fantastic show. In fact,” he continues, warming to his theme,“I’m about to go off on another tour, and you can ‘phone me anytime if those shows are not going to be fantastic.
I’ve got nothing to prove at all. I know loads of people have no time for Buzzcocks, and that’s why they don’t appear on your screens.”
What does appear on our screens rather too much for Shelley’s liking is the prechewed pop served up every Saturday evening by a certain sartorially-challenged panel of ‘experts’:
“You can take your PopStars and fuck it up the ass. This is everything that Buzzcocks is not. We don’t do a poll every year to find out what’s happening – we’re not monitoring market trends all the time. Of course, that goes on, and it’s testament to the whole business, which is shit.”
One can’t help but detect a certain tone of pessimism there.
“Well, how optimistic can I be?”
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