Buzzcocks: Choose what is relevant for you
By Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
It's 30 years since the punk revolution blew apart
the music scene in Britain and one of the seminal bands of the era, the
Buzzcocks , will be in Japan next week for the first time in 10 years.
This year's Flat-Pack Philosophy showed that the
veteran Manchester group can still knock out listenable punk-tinged pop, even
if it's hard to believe they debuted as long ago as 1976.
In an interview with The Daily Yomiuri on the
telephone from Brisbane during the band's tour of Australia, founder member and
vocalist Pete Shelley says he still very much enjoys playing after all these
years, even if he draws the line at claiming the band is still relevant to the
public at large.
"For me, it's a day-to-day thing. It's very
relevant to me. But it's a bit difficult now to actually work out what is
relevant [for everyone else] because everything's more of an a la carte
experience nowadays," Shelley says.
"It's like the end of a sort of mass culture
where everybody did the same thing at the same time and now there's lots of
people going around with their little headphones on, all experiencing different
But many of the iPod generation are plugged into
music that is influenced not only by punk but also by the music of England's
northern city of Manchester.
While most of the British punk scene in the late
1970s was focused on London, the Buzzcocks, along with bands like the Fall and
Slaughter and the Dogs, remained in Manchester. In fact, Shelley and
songwriting partner Howard Devoto were responsible for organizing the Sex
Pistols' first gig in the city in June 1976.
"We weren't part of the London scene so I
think people thought we were a bit exotic," Shelley recalls.
Manchester's role as punk's provincial outpost
would alter the city's image, giving it a musical identity that would spawn a
number of bands that were to have a lasting impact on the music industry over
the following decades, such as Joy Division, the Stone Roses and Oasis.
But how many Manchester bands does Shelley himself
feel the Buzzcocks influenced?
"Well, I suppose in a modest way, most, if
you know what I mean. Every time we bump into [Oasis'] Noel Gallagher he's
always saying how much he liked the Buzzcocks. Inspiral Carpets, they were big
Buzzcocks fans. It gave people a sense of pride in being in Manchester."
One teenager who later echoed Shelley's
non-gender-specific lyrics took a particular interest in the group.
"Morrissey used to hang around our office all
the time, taking notes," he says of the former Smiths' frontman.
Yet some people argue that the Buzzcocks were
merely a lighter version of the Sex Pistols. The lyrics of "Orgasm
Addict," the band's first major label single, may have been banned from
radio play, but the Pistols had already been there and done that with God Save
the Queen, almost topping the chart into the bargain, four months earlier.
Even the name seems to be borrowed from the
outrageous imagery of the Pistols.
When it comes to the name, at least, Shelley has a
much more straightforward explanation of the band's moniker, and one which has
nothing to do with Sex Pistols or marital aids.
"When me and Howard Devoto went to London to
try and track down the Sex Pistols...we bought a copy of Time Out [the city's
main listings magazine at the time]."
"It was the week that a new TV series called
Rock Follies [was starting] and the headline for the little preview of the show
said, 'It's the buzz, cock.'" (If that doesn't make much sense to you, it
might help to know that "cock" is a colloquial form of address
occasionally used in British English.)
"It was a line from one of the characters
saying it was the buzz of the music, that's the feeling you get when you play
music live and Howard saw 'Buzz, cock' and took away the comma and there you
have a word," he explains.
The group's annus mirabilis was undoubtedly 1978,
when they scored no fewer than five British top 40 hits, the most notable being
Ever Fallen in Love With Someone You Shouldn't've--a classic pop song that,
like many of Shelley's lyrics, addresses romance from the premise that love is
neither comfortable nor eternal, but painful and transient, a theme that struck
a chord with disaffected youths of both sexes at the time.
A listen to the new album reveals that his lyrics,
particularly on Wish I Never Loved You, a favorite of Shelley's and the first
single taken from the album, still draw from the same well of inspiration, with
the results still fresh after all these years.
But doesn't every punk reach an age when he or she
considers calling it a day and leaving behind a career of angst?
Not this one. The 51-year-old Shelley insists he
has no plans to get out the pipe and slippers or take up gardening any time
"There'd be nothing to retire to. If you
retire, you end up doing what you enjoy doing, don't you?" he says.
"I've got a job, if you can call it that, and my occupation is what I
And that job is the same now as it was 30 years ago.
It's all about giving you a buzz...cock.
The Buzzcocks will play Sept. 21 at Duo Music
Exchange, Shibuya, Tokyo at 7 p.m (03) 5466 0777 and Sept 22 at Shangri-La,
Osaka, (06) 6233 8888.