Buzzcocks are an English punk rock band, formed in Bolton in 1976 by singer-songwriter-guitarist Pete Shelley and singer-songwriter Howard Devoto.
They are regarded as an important influence on the Manchester music scene, the independent record label movement, punk rock, power pop, pop punk and indie rock. They achieved commercial success with singles that fused pop craftsmanship with rapid-fire punk energy. These singles were collected on Singles Going Steady, described by critic Ned Raggett as a "punk masterpiece".
Devoto and Shelley chose the name "Buzzcocks" after reading the headline, "It's the buzz, cocks!", in a review of the TV series Rock Follies in Time Out magazine. The "buzz" is the excitement of playing on stage; "cock" is Manchester slang meaning "mate" (as in friend/buddy). They thought it captured the excitement of the Sex Pistols and nascent punk scene.
Howard Trafford, a student at Bolton Institute of Technology (now the University of Bolton), placed a notice in the college looking for musicians sharing a liking for The Velvet Underground's song "Sister Ray". Peter McNeish, a fellow student at the Institute, responded to the notice. Trafford played electronic music and McNeish had played rock.
McNeish assumed the stage name Pete Shelley, and Trafford named himself Howard Devoto, after a bus driver in Cambridge. In late 1975, Shelley and Devoto recruited a drummer and formed an embryonic version of Buzzcocks. The band formed as Buzzcocks in February 1976 and performed live for the first time on 1 April 1976 at their college. Garth Davies played bass guitar and Mick Singleton played drums. Singleton also played in local band Black Cat Bone.
After reading an NME review of the Sex Pistols' first performance, Shelley and Devoto travelled to London together to see the Sex Pistols in February 1976. Shelley and Devoto were impressed by what they saw and arranged for the Sex Pistols to come and perform at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester, in June 1976. Buzzcocks intended to play at this concert, but the other musicians dropped out, and Shelley and Devoto were unable to recruit other musicians in time for the gig. Once they had recruited bass guitarist Steve Diggle and drummer John Maher, they made their debut opening for the Sex Pistols' second Manchester concert in July 1976. A brief clip of Devoto-era Buzzcocks performing The Troggs' "I Can't Control Myself" appears in the Punk: Attitude documentary directed by Don Letts. In September 1976 the band travelled to London to perform at the two-day 100 Club Punk Festival, organised by Malcolm McLaren. Other performers included: the Sex Pistols, Subway Sect, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Clash, The Vibrators, The Damned and the French band Stinky Toys.
By the end of the year, Buzzcocks had recorded and released a four-track EP, Spiral Scratch, on their own New Hormones label, making them one of the first punk groups to establish an independent record label, trailing only The Saints' "(I'm) Stranded". Produced by Martin Hannett, the music was roughly recorded, insistently repetitive, and energetic. "Boredom" announced punk's rebellion against the status quo while templating a strident musical minimalism (the guitar solo consisting of two repeated notes). The demos recorded while Devoto was in the band were later issued officially as Time's Up. Long available as a bootleg, this album includes the alternative takes of all the tracks from the Spiral Scratch EP as well as early version of tracks that later appeared on the official debut Another Music in a Different Kitchen.
After a few months, Devoto left the group; he returned to college for a year, then formed Magazine. Pete Shelley continued as vocalist; his high-pitched, melodic singing stood in stark contrast to the gruff pub rock vocal stylings of many punk contemporaries. Diggle switched from bass to guitar, and Garth Davies rejoined on bass as Garth Smith or Garth. Garth appeared on the band’s first Radio 1 Peel Session, in September 1977, but due to his alcoholism he was quickly replaced with Steve Garvey, joining Dirty Looks in New York. This new line-up signed with United Artists Records.
Signing to United Artists
Their first UA Buzzcocks single, "Orgasm Addict", was a playful examination of compulsive sexuality that was (and remains) uncommonly bold. The BBC refused to play the song, and the single did not sell well. Later, more ambiguous songs staked out a territory defined by Shelley's bisexuality and punk's aversion to serious examination of human sexuality. The next single, "What Do I Get?" reached the UK top 40 charts. "Lipstick", the B-side to "Promises," shared the same ascending progression of notes in its chorus as Magazine's first single, "Shot By Both Sides," also released in 1978.
Their original career produced three LPs: Another Music in a Different Kitchen, Love Bites, and A Different Kind of Tension, each supported by extensive touring in Europe and the U.S. Their trademark sound was a marriage of catchy pop melodies with punk guitar energy, backed by an unusually tight and skilled rhythm section. They advanced drastically in musical and lyrical sophistication: by the end they were quoting American writer William S. Burroughs ("A Different Kind of Tension"), declaiming their catechism in the anthem "I Believe", and tuning in to a fantasy radio station on which their songs could be heard ("Radio Nine"). In 1980, Liberty Records signed the band, and released three singles. The double 'A' side "Why She's A Girl From The Chainstore/Are Everything" made the Top 75.
In parallel with Buzzcocks, Pete Shelley formed a more experimental and post-punk band, The Tiller Boys, along with Eric Random and Francis Cookson, while Steve Garvey joined The Teardrops in 1978, along with The Fall's Tony Friel and Karl Burns; both bands were releasing material in late 1970s and broke up at the same time as Buzzcocks.
Break-up and reunions
After recording demos for a fourth album the group disbanded in 1981, when Shelley took up a solo career. Diggle and Maher formed Flag of Convenience, who released several singles between 1982 and 1989. Garvey formed Motivation and joined Blue Orchids, moving to New York, shortly afterwards, to continue with the first band. Maher had joined Wah! by the time Buzzcocks broke up. Shelley and Devoto teamed up in 2002 for the first time since 1976, producing the album Buzzkunst, 'Kunst' being the German word for 'Art'. The album was a mix of electronic music and punk.
John Maher now owns and runs John Maher Racing, a vintage Volkswagen performance tuning workshop located on the Isle of Harris, Scotland. He has built and raced several Volkswagen Beetles. In 2005, Shelley re-recorded "Ever Fallen In Love" with an all-star group, including Roger Daltrey, David Gilmour, Peter Hook, Elton John, Robert Plant and several contemporary bands, as a tribute to John Peel. Proceeds went to Amnesty International. Shelley also performed the song live, with Plant, Daltrey, Gilmour, Hook and Jeff Beck at the 2005 UK Music Hall of Fame.
Buzzcocks have reformed several times since 1989, featuring Shelley and Diggle with other musicians; initially with Maher and Garvey for a world tour, then briefly replacing Maher with Smiths drummer Mike Joyce. In 1992, Tony Barber joined on bass and Phil Barker on drums. This line-up toured on one of Nirvana's last-ever tours in 1994. Buzzcocks toured as the opener for Pearl Jam in 2003. In April 2006, Barker left and was replaced by Danny Farrant. In March 2006, the band released their eighth studio album, Flat-Pack Philosophy, on Cooking Vinyl Records, the supporting tour found them playing on a leg of the mid-2006 Vans Warped Tour.
They made an appearance for Maxïmo Park's homecoming gig in Newcastle upon Tyne on 15 December 2007.
In April 2008, Barber left and was replaced by Chris Remmington.
In January 2009 the band embarked on a UK and European tour, the "Another Bites Tour", in which they played their first two albums in full, as well as an encore of their other hits.
In July 2009, Buzzcocks played in Serbia for the second time, at the EXIT festival in Novi Sad. Their song, "Why Can't I Touch It" was played in the second episode of the sixth season of TV series Entourage. On 9 November 2009, Buzzcocks gave a very rare performance on a small balcony overlooking Dame Street in Dublin, for the music viral show BalconyTV.
In December 2009 they played as the main support act for The Courteeners.
In August 2011 they headlined the first night of The Rhythm Festival in Bedfordshire.
In November 2011 it was announced they would be playing two shows in 2012 that would feature the original line-up as well as the classic line-up of the band reunited for the first time in many years; these shows took place on 25 May 2012 in Manchester at the O2 Apollo and on 26 May in Brixton at the O2 Academy. It was announced on 26 May 2012 that, for the first time, they would headline Thursday night in the Empress Ballroom at the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool sharing the stage with the likes of Rancid, Public Image Limited and Social Distortion.
Never Mind the Buzzcocks
Buzzcocks' name was combined with the title of the Sex Pistols album Never Mind the Bollocks to create the title of the long-running UK comedy TV panel game show Never Mind the Buzzcocks. Diggle claimed in his autobiography that he and Shelley had only granted the BBC use of their name under the impression that it would be a one-off, probably unsuccessful pilot, and that they are now mildly disgruntled that the name is more readily associated in Britain with the TV series than with their band. Shelley himself appeared on the programme in 2000, where host Mark Lamarr introduced Shelley by saying that without Buzzcocks "there'd be no Smiths or Radiohead, and this show would be called Never Mind Joan Armatrading!"
- Studio albums
- Another Music in a Different Kitchen (1978)
- Love Bites (1978)
- A Different Kind of Tension (1979)
- Trade Test Transmissions (1993)
- All Set (1996)
- Modern (1999)
- Buzzcocks (2003)
- Flat-Pack Philosophy (2006)
- Official website
- Buzzcocks at AllMusic
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Image from Discogs