It Was A Buzz, Cock.

“You can only be young once but you can always be immature.” (Shelley)
You’re only 16 once and tonight you are again!” (Richard Jobby Jobson)

 

I never did like that dreary ditty, Punk Rock Nostalgia, by Oxy & the Morons. I first heard it a decade later, in 1987, when The Face ran a retrospective. If we were already turning into boring old farts way back then, advancing decrepitude long ago surrendered any plausible pretence at deniablity. Buzzcocks’ Summer Solstice gig at The Royal Albert Hall was originally booked as an anniversary bonanza, but following the sudden death of their lyricist and lead singer in an Estonian hospital before Christmas, it turned into a tribute to Pete Shelley, with a series of special guests singing their choice of his songs.

The original rhythm section reconvened: John Maher on drums and Steve Garvey on bass, his rock’n’roll barnet still pert after all. Diggle also has good hair, in contrast to many geezers in Buzzcocks’ audience. They are joined by the bald Mancunian utility guitarist, Noko. A few years ago when Magazine reformed, Noko took on the role of John McGeough, who is no longer with us. Tonight, Matthew, he takes the role of Steve Diggle, who is very much with us, only he’s mostly fulfilling the lead vocal role vacated by his absent brother in Buzzcocks, Shelley. They first met at the seminal Sex Pistols gig at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall in 1976, which Shelley had organised with Howard Devoto, who soon left Buzzcocks to do Magazine. Tonight, Devoto sends a video message saying he’s sorry he can’t be there, which plays before the main event.

Pete Shelley’s high pitched Mancunian whine is the voice of Buzzcocks greatest hits; Steve Diggle’s occasional vocals, from Why She’s a Girl From the Chainstore to Harmony in My Head, are more strident, not to say somewhat shouty. Diggle leads from front and centre tonight, opening the show with the first track from their first album, Another Music In A Different Kitchen, Fast Cars. I am transported back to a scene in which I am singing the words to this song pointedly from the back seat of a car being driven recklessly through London after a Bowie concert at Earls Court in the Autumn of 1978. “I don’t want to make a fuss,” I sang before he inevitably shunted, “but fast cars are dangerous.” It turned out the boy racer was after my girl, who eventually went off with him. Anyway, we all lived. Promises may have been broken, but nobody died.

There’s a docudrama film script floating around that proposes the release on January 29, 1977, of Buzzcocks’ debut EP,  Spiral Scratch, as being the seminal moment in DIY punk culture. The Damned already had New Rose on Stiff and the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy In The U.K. had been cancelled on EMI and withdrawn, but the Buzzcocks record, on New Hormones, was Independent. They borrowed around £500 from friends and family to record four songs and press 1,000 copies, initially. My own copy is the 1979 re-issue, worth about a tenner on Discogs. Spiral Scratch eventually sold 16,000 and became the Indy template.

Spiral Scratch includes the instant classic punk rock style guide: Boredom, tonight delivered in appropriately sneery style by Captain Sensible wearing red beret and pink fur coat: “Boredom, boredom, boredom. De-dum de-dum.” He is followed onstage by Pauline Murray of Penetration, who played a support set earlier. The queen of Don’t Dictate did Love You More, Buzzcocks fourth single, a perfectly sweet pop song with a nasty little barb in its hook: “Its in my blood to always love you more… Until the razor cuts.”

Razor Cuts was the name given to Buzzcocks definitive early bootleg, recorded live at various places are Manchester in 1978-79, plus the UA demos of Orgasm Addict and No Reply and the Radio 1 session versions of Promises & Lipstick: the A and B sides of their sixth single, which came out in November 1978. By then, they already had, Love You More, and, Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldnt’ve Fallen In Love With)? under their belts. My copy of Razor Cuts, on clear vinyl, was stolen by a former friend who repeatedly raided my record collection and sold its most precious treasures to the Record & Tape Exchange in Nothing Hill for money to buy heroin. It would be worth about £35 on Discogs these days, although I see one chancer is advertising £450. There is always one.

Speaking of junkies, here’s Peter Perrett, stumbling through, Why Can’t I Touch It? with Diggle bellowing the chorus. The miraculously still living definition of, ‘elegantly wasted’, Perrett was lead singer of The Only Ones, whose greatest hit was Another Girl, Another Planet, one of those select British pop songs – along with, Golden Brown, by The Stranglers and, There She Goes, by The Las – that is not so secretly about taking smack. Perrett quit music for a couple of decades, withdrawing to his South London liar to chase the dragon and raise his children, who eventually lured him back out of retirement. Perrett came back last year, fronting a band composed of his two sons and their girlfriends, with a typically sardonic song called, How The West Was Won.

Notoriously, the worst song The Skids ever committed to vinyl was the throwaway live B-side of their greatest hit, Into The Valley, technically called, TV Stars, but known universally as, ‘Albert Tatlock.’ It is an inane recitation of the cast list of Coronation Street in the late 1970s. Tonight, Jobby adds a new face to the soap opera: “Boris Johnson – what a wanker!” In a parallel world, BoJo was shacked up with his girlfriend, a quarter century his junior, at her jolly super flat that over looks Brunswick Park in Camberwell. The neighbourhood’s Facebook pages were abuzz. That same Friday night, as Jobby called Bozo out, he oafishly spilled red wine over her cream sofa, which triggered a screaming match. Crockery may have been thrown. Apples emphatically told Boris to get out. The anti-Brexit neighbours called the cops and recorded the fracas on their smart phones to be shared with the world’s media. What might Pete Shelley have made of that scenario?

Jobby’s favourite Buzzcocks track, apparently, is Fiction Romance. He belts it out, sending my mind back to an early publicity shot in which the four members of the band posed in front of the romantic fiction sub-section of book shelves in Manchester Public Library. Shelley claimed to have noticed the juxtaposition and wrote one of his definitive bright and brittle pop songs around it: “as a fiction romantic, I never expected it to happen in real life.”

In so-called, ‘real life’, when Shelley and Diggle got Buzzcocks going again – 89/90 – I served them at Freds, a bar adjacent to Private Eyes offices in Carlisle Street where I worked odd shifts. I bought them beers as thanks for having produced, What Do I Get?, which could be one of my Desert Island Discs. Backed with, Oh Shit!, a thwarted love song, it was Buzzcocks second single on United Artists, starting a run of eight or nine consecutive tunes over a couple of years that constitutes one of the greatest track records of any pop group. The 45s were made more collectable for their sleeve art by Malcolm Garrett. What Do I Get?, with its two shades of green separated by a diagonal line, was the prototype.

Dave Vanian of The Damned may not be the man to do it full justice, his spectral presence being practically the opposite of Shelley’s insouciance, but he delivers a workmanlike rendition of, What Do I Get? “No love. No sleep at night. Nothing that’s nice.” Vanian follows with a more confident version of, Something’s Gone Wrong Again.

Thurston Moore, ex-Sonic Youth, adds his guitar to the swelling J.Arthur Ranks onstage and hammers out Time’s Up. It’s another song from the initial Spiral Scratch EP, with witty lyrics about buying stamps: “Stick-up!” When he does Noise Annoys, it might be read as a manifesto for Thurston Moore’s kind of music.

I sold my collection of Buzzcocks singles, mid 80s, to finance a trip to New York, unsentimentally replacing them with a copy of their greatest hits. The Singles, Going Steady has eight hit singles in the order of their release on its A side with their B sides on the flip. When my oldest niece was 16, mid-noughties, and showing an interest in pop music, I gave her a CD copy for Christmas, advising her that it was some of the best pop music ever. To my relief, she concurred, telling me in her thank you card it was, ‘fantastic’. Tim Burgess from The Charlatans sings Sixteen Again exuberantly tonight and You Say You Don’t Love Me.

In their first flush, Buzzcocks made three albums that were later collected into a box set called Product along with the greatest hits and a live recording from The Lyceum that almost compensated for my loss of Razor Cuts when I won it in a radio competition in 1989. One had to answer an easy question, by postcard only. My ears pricked up when I heard that stipulation, because who has pre-stamped post cards to hand, just in case there’s a competition on the radio? Who else is going to follow through with a walk to the post box? Hardly anyone other than yours truly, I’d wager. This is how I came by the copy of Product that I am now offering for sale on Discogs. The box is a bit battered but the records it contains are near mint. £78 with the postage in UK is a fair price for five albums in immaculate condition, plus the booklet insert with essay by Jon Savage.

To close the show, Diggle takes the lead again on a final trio of top tunes, starting with his very own, Harmony in My Head. Orgasm Addict was Buzzcocks second recorded statement and their first official single on UA. Famously illustrated by Linder Sterling’s collage of a female torso, smiling teeth on her tits and a domestic iron replacing her head, it has proven to have been prophetic in the era of internet porn.

Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve Fallen In Love With?) is a suitably shambolic ensemble finale with everyone on stage for a bit of a cavort as the song that represents the apex of Buzzcocks’ artistic achievement and chart success was reduced to a stomp along terrace anthem. No doubt we have all fallen for someone we shouldn’t have at some point, so Shelley found a universal theme for Buzzcocks fifth single, which was released to celebrate my 17th birthday on September 8, 1978 and seared the charts, rising to no. 12 following an appearance on ToTP

It was a fitting climax to another unique night in the Albert Hall. I might have liked to have been there in person, but was happy to piece it together via the modern miracle of YouTube. Appalled as I am by those peeps one sees at gigs who monitor the proceedings through their smart phones, I am grateful to them for their footage, shared with boring old farts, like me, who cannot abide nostalgia and don’t get out much.

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