Submitted by Robin Blackburn
Buzzcocks were not only the first Manchester punk band, but the first UK punk group anywhere outside of London. Their reputation is based on a string of classic pop-punk singles released in the late 70s, and they remain many people’s favourite punk group. Their compassionate and romantic songs tackled issues that really affected people’s lives, providing an alternative to the nihilism of the Sex Pistols, and the political sermonising of the Clash.
Pete Shelley (guitar) and Howard Devoto (vocals) formed the band after travelling down to London to see a Sex Pistols gig in early 1976. They invited the Pistols to play in Manchester at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in June, an event that has gone down in Manchester musical history, being attended by many of the future key figures of the local music scene (including Tony Wilson, Martin Hannett, The Fall’s Mark E Smith, most of Joy Division/New Order, Morrissey and Mick Hucknall). When the Pistols returned to Manchester in July, Buzzcocks played their first ever gig as the support act. With Steve Diggle on bass and John Maher on drums, the band recorded the ‘Spiral Scratch’ EP with producer Martin Hannett, and released it on their own label, New Hormones. This was a significant moment in the creation of the UK independent scene, showing that bands didn’t need to sign to the major labels - unlike the Pistols and Clash who had already done so - and was the starting point for the explosion of indie labels in the 80s. The EP included ‘Boredom’, one of the definitive punk songs with its notorious (and deliberately boring) two-note guitar solo. But, just when things were going so well, Devoto decided to leave, later going on to form Magazine.
The rest of the band carried on, with Shelley taking over the vocals and the majority of the songwriting, developing his ability to match his heartfelt lyrics to instantly memorable melodies. Diggle switched to guitar, and also emerged as a capable songwriter in his own right, providing an anthemic counterpoint to Shelley’s vulnerability. After Steve Garvey was brought in on bass, the new line-up signed to United Artists and released ‘Orgasm Addict’. This was followed by a series of further singles exploring romance, lust and heartbreak, peaking with one of the best ever punk songs, ‘Ever Fallen in Love?’ The band also made three albums - ‘Another Music in a Different Kitchen’, ‘Love Bites’ (both 1978) and ‘A Different Kind of Tension’ (1979) - which introduced longer, more experimental material. By 1980, however, the band was running out of steam, and decided to call it a day. Both Shelley and Diggle continued to make music, and have reformed the band several times since the late 80s. These days they even make a new album every few years, keen to be seen as more than a mere nostalgia act. Indeed, they are still capable of writing a three minute pop song that can make you look at the world in a fresh way, and make you sing along at the same time. It’s a rare skill, and one that the Buzzcocks’ career exemplifies.