Terrible news today. The passing of Pete Shelley, who was not only the spirit and guiding light of seminal Punk band The Buzzcocks, but who went on to a stellar career as a solo artist. Gone today, at 63 – heart attack.
I was thinking back to the first time I heard Buzzocks; how they seemed to be several notches ahead of most Punk bands at the time. But how this enormous wave of new music was such an overwhelming change in what had gone on before, that it was hard at first to digest it all. But Buzzcocks were standouts, and I remember being as glued to listening to them as much as The Damned, another band who I felt were seminal in this new direction for Pop Music.
Although they gained their initial popularity in the UK with Orgasm Addict (despite getting banned by the BBC), they scored huge with “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)”. In the U.S. it was a different story. Punk was slow to catch on here – tracks issued by United Artists in the UK weren’t issued in the states and only available as imports, or showed up later on IRS Records. I remember Something’s Gone Wrong Again getting played a lot here on the West Coast, but it was the flipside of Harmony In My Head which was a hit in the UK, but not in the U.S.. Thanks largely to FM stations like KROQ, The Buzzcocks became household names to a big chunk of American youth. And Something’s Gone Wrong Again became an anthem for the 70s – at least with some of us.
Whatever the machinations were at the time (and admittedly, the U.S. Record industry had no idea what to do – hence the DIY movement with American Punk), The Buzzcocks established their popularity here by touring – and that was the best thing for them to do. It got us to know what a songwriting gift Pete Shelley had – how The Buzzcocks were embracing a certain Punk ethic, they had gone out of the realm of three-chord wonders and their songs were actually about something substantial – that the human condition was fertile ground for this new genre and how The Buzzcocks were mining a rich vein of material, but how Pete Shelley had the keen gift of observation, while cramming it all into a three minute song. Proof of that was the compilation album Singles Going Steady which critic ned Ragget described as “a collection of punk masterpieces” – a spot-on assessment.
So as a reminder, and tribute to the passing of a uniquely gifted and supremely talented artist, here is a concert they performed at the legendary Amsterdam Paradiso on March 2, 1979 and broadcast (at least a substantial chunk of it) via Dutch radio network VPRO.
Pete Shelley left us way too soon. But he left a legacy that will be with us for a very long time – and for that, there is endless gratitude.