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Buzzcocks

Formed in Manchester, England, in 1975, the Buzzcocks were one of the most influential bands to emerge in the initial wave of punk rock. With their crisp melodies, driving guitars, and guitarist Pete Shelley's biting lyrics, the Buzzcocks were one of the best, most influential punk bands. The Buzzcocks were inspired by the Sex Pistols' energy, yet they didn't copy the Pistols' angry political stance. Instead, they brought that intense, brilliant energy to the three-minute pop song. Shelley's alternately funny and anguished lyrics about adolescence and love were some of the best and smartest of his era; similarly, the Buzzcocks' melodies and hooks were concise and memorable. Over the years, their powerful punk-pop has proven enormously influential, with echoes of their music being apparent in everyone from Hüsker Dü to Nirvana.

Before the Buzzcocks, the teenaged Pete Shelley had played guitar in various heavy metal bands. In 1975, he enrolled in the Bolton Institute of Technology. While he was at school, Shelley joined an electronic music society, which is where he met Howard Devoto, who had enrolled at BIT in 1972. Both Shelley and Devoto shared an affection for the Velvet Underground, while Devoto was also fascinated by the Stooges. While they were still in school, Shelley and Devoto began rehearsing with a drummer, covering everything from the Stooges to Brian Eno. The trio never performed live and soon fell apart. Shelley and Devoto remained friends and several months after their initial musical venture dissolved, the pair read the first live review of the Sex Pistols in NME and decided to see the band in London. After witnessing the band twice in February 1976, the pair decided to form their own band, with the intent of replicating the Pistols' London impact in Manchester.

Both musicians decided to change their last names -- Peter McNeish became Pete Shelley and Howard Traford became Howard Devoto -- and took their group's name from a review of Rock Follies, which ended with the quotation "get a buzz, c**k." The Buzzcocks began rehearsing, picking up a local drummer and bassist Garth Smith. Shortly after their formation, Shelley and Devoto booked a local club, the Lesser Free Trade Hall, with the intent of persuading the Sex Pistols to play in Manchester. They succeeded in bringing the Pistols to Manchester, but the Buzzcocks had to pull out of their own gig when both the bassist and drummer left the group before the concert. At the Pistols show, Shelley and Devoto met Steve Diggle, who joined the Buzzcocks as their bassist, and the group found their drummer John Maher through an advertisement in Melody Maker. Within a few months, the band played its first concert, opening for the second Sex Pistols show at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in July of 1976. By the end of the year, the Buzzcocks had played a handful of gigs and helped establish Manchester as the second biggest punk rock city in England, ranking just behind London.

In October of 1976, the Buzzcocks recorded their first demo tape, which remained unreleased. At the end of 1976, the group joined the Sex Pistols on their Anarchy Tour. After the tour was completed, Shelley borrowed a couple hundred pounds from his father and the band used the money to record their debut EP, Spiral Scratch. The record was the first D.I.Y., independently released record of the punk era. Spiral Scratch appeared on the band's New Hormones record label in January 1977; there were initially only 1,000 copies pressed. Shortly after the release of the EP, Devoto quit the group and returned to college; later in the year, he formed Magazine. Following Devoto's departure, Pete Shelley assumed the role as lead vocalist, Steve Diggle moved to guitar, and Garth Smith became the band's bassist. By June of 1977, the Buzzcocks were attracting the attention of major record labels. By September, they had signed with United Artists Records, who gave the band complete artistic control.

The Buzzcocks certainly tested the limits of that artistic control with their debut single, "Orgasm Addict." Released in October of 1977, the single didn't become a hit because its subject matter was too explicit for BBC radio, but it generated good word of mouth. Following its release, Garth Smith was kicked out of the group and was replaced by Steve Garvey. The Buzzcocks' second single, "What Do I Get?," became their first charting single, scraping the bottom of the Top 40. In March, the band released its first album, Another Music in a Different Kitchen. In September of 1978 the Buzzcocks released their second full-length record, Love Bites.

The rapid pace of the band's recording and performing schedules quickly had its effects on the group. Not only were the concerts and recordings wearing the band down, the members were consuming alcohol and drugs in high numbers. Early in 1979 they recorded their third album, A Different Kind of Tension, which displayed some signs of wear and tear. Following the album's release in August, they embarked on their first American tour, which wasn't successful. Nevertheless, the band was enjoying the peak of its popularity at home in Britain. Later in 1979, the singles collection Singles Going Steady was released in America.

All of the inner and outer tensions on the band culminated in 1980, when they drastically cut back their performance schedule, but they persevered with recording, cutting the EP Parts 1, 2, 3, which was released as three separate singles over the course of the year. During 1980, United Artists was bought out by EMI, who cut back support of the Buzzcocks. The group began working on its fourth album in early 1981, but was prevented from recording by EMI. The label wanted to release Singles Going Steady in the U.K. before the band delivered its fourth album. The Buzzcocks refused. Consequently, EMI didn't give the band an advance to cover the recording costs of the fourth album. Shelley decided to break up the band instead of fight the label. The Buzzcocks broke up in 1981.

Immediately after the split, Shelley pursued a solo career that initially produced the hit single "Homosapien" but soon went dry. Steve Diggle formed Flag of Convenience with John Maher, who quit the band shortly after its formation. Steve Garvey moved to New York, where he played with Motivation for a few years. In 1989, the group re-formed and toured the United States. The following year, Maher left the band and former Smiths drummer Mike Joyce joined the band on tour. By 1990, the reunion had become permanent; after Joyce's brief tenure with the band, the final lineup of the reunited Buzzcocks featured Shelley, Diggle, bassist Tony Barber, and drummer Phil Barker. The new version of the band released its first album, Trade Test Transmissions, in 1993. After its release, the band toured frequently. In spring of 1996, the Buzzcocks released their fifth studio album, All Set. Modern followed three years later, and a self-titled record for Merge appeared in 2003. Flat-Pack Philosophy arrived in 2006 on the Cooking Vinyl label. An anniversary set simply called 30 was released in 2008 on Cooking Vinyl. In 2014, yet another new lineup of the Buzzcocks -- Shelley, Diggle, bassist Chris Remington, and drummer Danny Farrant -- emerged with a new studio album, The Way, which was supported by an extensive North American tour in addition to their usual roadwork in the U.K. and Europe. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: British Live Performance Series

1. Nothing Left (Live)

2. Autonomy (Live)

3. Moving Away From The Pulsebeat (Live)

4. Noise Annoys (Live)

5. You Say You Don't Love Me (Live)

6. E.S.P. (Live)

7. Walking Distance (Live)

8. Why Can't I Touch It (Live)

9. Everybody's Happy Nowadays (Live)

10. Harmony In My Head (Live)

11. Fast Cars (Live)

12. Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't Have) [Live]

13. I Believe (Live)

x

Track List: The Way

1. Keep On Believing

2. People Are Strange Machines

3. The Way

4. In The Back

5. Virtually Real

6. Third Dimension

7. Out Of The Blue

8. Chasing Rainbows / Modern Times

9. It's Not You

10. Saving Yourself

x

Track List: John Peel Session (21st May 1979)

1. E.S.P (John Peel Show 21st May 1979)

2. I Don't Know What To Do With My Life (John Peel Show 21st May 1979)

3. Mad Mad Judy (John Peel Show 21st May 1979)

4. Hollow Inside (John Peel Show 21st May 1979)

x

Track List: Orgasm Addict (Live)

1. I Don't Know What To Do With My Life (Live)

2. Love You More (Live)

3. Autonomy (Live)

4. Orgasm Addict (Live)

5. Promises (Live)

6. When Love Turns Around (Live)

7. Ever Fallen In Love (Live)

8. What Do I Get? (Live)

9. Oh S**t (Live)

10. Fast Cars (Live)

x

Track List: 30 (Live)

1. You Tear Me Up (Live)

8. I Don't Mind (Live)

9. I Don't Mind (Live)

10. You Say You Don't Love Me (Live)

12. Love You More (Live)

14. What Do I Get? (Live)

15. Esp (Live)

16. Hollow Inside (Live)

22. Times Up (Live)

23. Autonomy (Live)

24. Promises (Live)

25. Boredom (Live)

26. Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn'tve) (Live)

27. Harmony In My Head (Live)

28. Orgasm Addict (Live)

x

Track List: Flat-Pack Philosophy

1. Flat-Pack Philosophy

2. Wish I Never Loved You

3. Sell You Everything

4. Reconciliation

5. I Don't Exist

6. Soul Survivor

7. God, What Have I Done

8. Credit

9. Big Brother Wheels

10. Dreamin'

11. Sound Of A Gun

12. Look At You Know

13. I've Had Enough

14. Between Heaven And Hell

x

Track List: Buzzocks

1. Jerk

2. Keep On

3. Wake Up Call

4. Friends

5. Driving You Insane

6. Morning After

7. Sick City Sometimes

8. Stars

9. Certain Move

10. Lester Sands

11. Up For The Crack

12. Useless

x

Track List: Live In Paris

1. I Don't Know What To Do With My Life (Live)

2. Love You More (Live)

3. Autonomy (Live)

4. Orgasm Addict (Live)

5. Promises (Live)

6. When Love Turns Around You (Live)

7. Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't 've?) (Live)

8. What Do I Get? (Live)

9. Oh S**t! (Live)

10. Fast Cars (Live)

x

Track List: Chronology (Demos) (Explicit)

1. Boredom (Demo)

2. Sixteen (Demo)

3. Fast Cars (Demo)

4. No Reply (Demo)

5. Whatever Happened To...? (Demo)

6. Oh S**t (Demo)

7. I Need (Demo)

8. Fiction Romance (Demo)

9. Autonomy (Demo)

10. Just Lust (Demo)

11. E.S.P. (Demo)

12. Lipstick (Demo)

13. Children (Promises) (Demo)

14. Mother Of Turds (Demo)

15. You Say You Don't Love Me (Demo)

16. I Don't Know What To Do With My Life (Demo)

17. I Don't Know (Demo)

18. Run Away From Home (Demo)

19. The Drive System (Demo)

20. Jesus Made Me Feel Guilty (Demo)

21. You Know You Can't Help It (Demo)

22. I Believe (Demo)

23. No Friend Of Mine (Demo)

x

Track List: All Set

1. Totally From The Heart

2. Without You

3. Give It To Me

4. Your Love

5. Point Of No Return

6. Hold Me Close

7. Kiss 'N' Tell

8. What Am I Supposed To Do

9. Some Kinda Wonderful

10. What You Mean To Me

11. Playing For Time

12. Pariah

13. Back With You

x

Track List: Trade Test Transmissions

1. Do It

2. Innocent

3. T T T

4. Isolation

5. Smile

6. Last To Know

7. When Love Turns Around

8. Never Gonna Give It Up

9. Energy

10. Palm Of Your Hand

11. Alive Tonight

12. Who'll Help Me To Forget?

13. Unthinkable

14. Crystal Night

15. 369

16. Inside

17. Do It (Single Version)

18. Trash Away (Live)

19. All Over You (Live)

20. Libertine Angel

21. Roll It Over

x

Track List: Singles Going Steady

1. Orgasm Addict

2. What Do I Get?

3. I Don't Mind

4. Love You More

5. Ever Fallen In Love?

6. Promises

7. Everybody's Happy Nowadays

8. Harmony In My Head

9. What Ever Happened To?

10. Oh S**t!

11. Autonomy

12. Noise Annoys

13. Just Lust

14. Lipstick

15. Why Can't I Touch It?

16. Something's Gone Wrong Again

x

Track List: Love Bites (Special Edition)

Disc 1

1. Real World

2. Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't Have)

3. Operators Manual

4. Nostalgia

5. Just Lust

6. Sixteen Again

7. Walking Distance

8. Love Is Lies

9. Nothing Left

10. E.S.P.

11. Late For The Train

12. Love You More

13. Noise Annoys

14. Promises

15. Lipstick

16. Noise Annoys (John Peel Show 10th Apr 1978)

17. Walking Distance (John Peel Show 10th Apr 1978)

18. Late For The Train (John Peel Show 10th Apr 1978)

19. Promises (John Peel Show 18th Oct 1978)

20. Lipstick (John Peel Show 18th Oct 1978)

21. Sixteen Again (John Peel Show 18th Oct 1978)

22. E.S.P (John Peel Show 21st May 1979)

Disc 2

1. Love Is Life (Lies) (Demo)

2. Just Lust (Demo)

3. Operators Manual (Demo)

4. Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've) (Demo)

5. Nothing Left (Demo)

6. Sixteen Again (Demo)

7. Raison D'etre (Demo)

8. Real World

9. Nostalgia (Demo)

10. E.S.P. (Demo)

11. Lipstick (Demo)

12. Children (Promises) (Demo)

13. Mother Of Turds (Demo)

14. Breakdown (Live At The Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester)

15. What Do I Get (Live At The Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester)

16. I Don't Mind (Live At The Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester)

17. Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't 've) (Live At The Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester)

18. Noise Annoys (Live At The Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester)

19. Nothing Left (Live At The Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester)

20. Get On Our Own (Live At The Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester)

21. Love You More (Live At The Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester)

22. Fiction Romance (Live At The Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester)

23. Autonomy (Live At The Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester)

x

Track List: Another Music In A Different Kitchen (Special Edition)

2. Boredom (Demo)

4. Fast Cars (Demo)

6. No Reply (Demo)

8. You Tear Me Up (Demo)

10. Get On Our Own (Demo)

12. Sixteen (Demo)

14. I Don't Mind (Demo)

16. Fiction Romance (Demo)

18. Autonomy (Demo)

20. I Need (Demo)

22. Orgasm Addict (Demo)

24. What Do I Get (Demo)

26. Whatever Happened To...? (Demo)

28. Oh S**t (Demo)

30. Fast Cars (Live)

32. Fiction Romance (Live)

34. Boredom (Live)

36. Sixteen (Live)

37. You Tear Me Up (Live)

38. Orgasm Addict (Live)

39. Moving Away From The Pulsebeat (Live)

40. Love Battery (Live)

x

Track List: A Different Compliation

1. Boredom

2. Fast Cars

3. I Don't Mind

4. Autonomy

5. Get On Our Own

6. Whatever Happened To?

7. When Love Turns Around You

8. Why She's A Girl From The Chainstore

9. Why Can't I Touch It?

10. Alive Tonight

11. I Don't Know What To Do With My Life

12. You Say You Don't Love Me

13. Turn Of The Screw

14. Noise Annoys

15. Breakdown

16. Promises

17. Love You More

18. What Do I Get

19. Harmony In My Head

20. Oh S**t!

21. Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)?

22. Orgasm Addict

23. I Believe

24. Love Is Lies

x

Track List: In The Back (Single)

4. In The Back

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