On the 8th of December 1989, a Saturday night, the pubs of Brixton were buzzing. We were in the Trinity Arms, tucked away in a quiet square, with friends before rocking down to Electric Avenue to meet the rest of the posse. On the street, in the bars, I met so many people I knew & the talk was of just one thing. The Buzzcocks, a much-loved band had reformed & were playing their first London gig for a very long time. Small groups of people became a crowd as we approached the Brixton Academy. Inside the funky converted cinema there was not a spare seat to be had. A roar greeted the band’s appearance but it was the first chorus of the first song…”these Promises…Whoa-oh-oh…are made for us…Whoa-oh-oh, oh-oh”…when both the audience & the band knew that this was going to be a very special night.
And indeed it was. As we left the show a voice behind me said “I never thought that I would hear….played live”. Here is the song he named.
The Buzzcocks were significant fomenters of a vibrant Manchester punk scene. Fellow students Pete Shelley & Howard Devoto had booked a venue so that the Sex Pistols could play in the city. Unfortunately their own band had no rhythm section & could not play. This & a following gig amalgamated like minds & talents. In January 1977 the band released their EP “Spiral Scratch”, produced by Martin Hannett, on the New Hormones label. The D.I.Y. punk credentials were impeccable, the music was absolutely seminal. The band were on their way despite Devoto deciding to leave the group.
I don’t want to make a list but great songs poured out of the band. “Orgasm Addict” was the best of the Devoto/Shelley songs. In 1978 “What do I Get” was the forerunner to 2 LPs & 2 more 45s. Pete Shelley’s world-weary take on romanticism allied to a youthful confidence that a loud & fast take on motorik German rock just might work made for a heady pop-punk mix. I saw the band play before an adoring home town audience in 1978 & it was all killer no filler…a fine Summer’s day in the park. A week later Devoto joined the Buzzcocks onstage for a ramshackle take on the Troggs.
It was a frantic year for the band. As punk spread from the big cities the ‘cocks were getting more popular. I remember graffiti in London & Birmingham, “I Hate Fast Cars”, “Noise Annoys”…cool. Roger’s lapel badge said “I get no sleep”, mine was a double header “Love” & “Bites”. Then, I guess, there were similar pressures on the band to those felt by the Undertones. What seemed fun 2 years before, a constant touring schedule, being judged by the snappy singles, started to lose its gloss. Both Pete Shelley & guitarist Steve Diggle became more ambitious about their music and more cynical about a lot more.
The 3rd LP, “A Different Kind of Tension”, is possibly the best of the Buzzcocks’ records but Pete’s disillusionment is plain on an extraordinary Side 2. “I Don’t Know What To Do With My Life”, “Hollow Inside” & “I Believe” are all relentless & disturbing. The boy who’s biggest problem had been falling in love with someone he shouldn’t have fallen in love with was now a man who shouted “there is no love in this world anymore”. Great music but it did not bode well for the future.
“Tension” was the final Buzzcocks record. The record company were more eager to promote the collection “Singles Going Steady” than finance another LP. They could still make those classic singles but the band called it a day, a pity but no surprise.
“You Say You Don’t Love Me” was Micky & Christine’s song. I had been the best man at their wedding. By 1990 they had separated but were still friends, in fact for the reunion concert they were sat together in the two seats next to me. When this final romance with an ambiguous twist came around I glanced across at them…awkward ? Not a chance, they shared a smile, a kiss & held hands…two lovely people.
Pete made some solo records, good ones. We went to see the “Homosapian” tour because we were fans. What we really wanted was Pete, Steve Diggle, Steve Garvey & the rock solid John Maher charging into those songs they had written between 1976 & 79. It could be dismissed as our own nostalgia for some very carefree times. I prefer to see it as an example of music that has spirit, energy & humour having value at whatever stage of life you are at. The Buzzcocks were a great British band.