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Tribute To Legacy of Pioneering Influential Artist Pete Shelley [1955-2018] Co-Founder of Seminal 70’s UK Punk Band Buzzcocks

Posted by Billyjam, December 7, 2018 11:43am | Post a Comment

Sad news emerged yesterday that Buzzcocks lead singer/guitarist Pete Shelley had died from a suspected heart attack, as first reported on social media by his surviving younger brother Gary McNeish. Aged 63 the British artist born Peter Campbell McNeish, who enjoyed a career as both solo artist and co-founder of seminal UK punk band Buzzcocks, had been living in Estonia up until his passing on the morning of December 6th, 2018.

In 1975 while attending college Shelley and Howard Devoto co-founded the early era UK punk band Buzzcocks who made their influential debut performance opening for the Sex Pistols in Manchester in 1976. In January 1977 they released their debut record, the Spiral Scratch EP which, following the Sex Pistols, The Damned, and The Vibrators, was among the original wave of UK punk releases.

Not long after the release of Spiral Scratch in 1977 Howard Devoto left the band with Shelley then moving center stage as lead singer/songwriter and guitarist. As such he honed the band’s distinctive power-punk style.

In 1978 Buzzcocks released the two albums  Another Music In A Different Kitchen and Love Bites. The following year they released A Different Kind of Tension. Note that the band’s first official US release was the post-Devoto Buzzcocks compilation Singles Going Steady, released by IRS in 1979. In 1981 Buzzcocks suddenly broke up but would reform at the end of that decade and go on to record and tour up to this year. In fact their next scheduled concert event was to be in one week in Arnhem in the Netherlands with another for next June planned for London’s Royal Albert Hall. After reuniting in 1989, Buzzcocks releases included 1993’s Trade Test Transmissions and 2014’s The Way (avail on vinyl/LP). Already scheduled for a January 25th 2019 release date was the 40th anniversary edition reissues of Another Music in a Different Kitchen and Love Bites.

The year before the band’s breakup Shelley released his first solo project (Sky Yen) that he’d recorded six years earlier. But following the Buzzcocks breakup he fully embarked on his solo career beginning with his biggest solo hit "Homosapien" from the 1981 album of the same name.  Shelley’s final solo album, his first following the 30 year gap since 1986’s Heaven and the Sea, was 2016’s Cinema Music & Wallpaper Sounds released by Caroline True Records.

Following the beloved artist's passing yesterday surviving members of the Buzzcocks tweeted that Shelley was "one of the UK's most influential and prolific songwriters and co-founder of the seminal original punk band Buzzcocks.” This is true not just musically but also from a music business perspective since Shelley and Devoto, out of necessity, crafted the blueprint for what would become known as “indie rock.”
Just as rapper Too $hort and his manager Randy Austin back in the (pre Jive record deal) 1980’s pioneered the DIY “out-the-trunk” blueprint for Bay Area indie rap Shelley and the Buzzcocks similarly did for the so-called “indie rock” movement born in the 1970’s.

As noted in an article by the BBC, “They [Buzzcocks] essentially invented indie by releasing the first DIY single, the Spiral Scratch EP, in 1977.” Due to studio budget restraints Spiral Scratch was recorded and mixed in a rushed total of only five hours! With no record label willing to risk an investment in these young punk upstarts the band members scraped together a series of loans that combined amounted to the needed US$870 costs of the recording and pressing up  of 1000 copies of their premiere ten minute, four song 7” record released on their own independent tiny record label New Hormones.

The 1977 single “Orgasm Addict” both paved the way for the unique power pop punk sound of the Buzzcocks and a string of UK hit singles in the late 70’s that would later become staples of US college radio for many years. These songs are all found on the must-own timeless and pitch-perfect Buzzcocks collection  that was reissued four years ago in 180 gram vinyl by Music On Vinyl.These classics, to name but some, include “What Do I  Get,” “I Don’t Mind,” “Love You More,” “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” and (their biggest hit) “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)."  Over the years numerous Buzzcocks live albums have surfaced including the Cleopatra Records’ Orgasm Addict Live. 

In terms of sexuality Shelley’s personal life also played an important role in his music. A self-described bisexual Shelley never shied from his sexual identity. The Buzzcocks best known hit (one covered by numerous other acts including Fine Young Cannibals) “Ever Fallen In Love,” while not identifying the gender of the song’s love object, was, as later revealed, about someone of the same sex. Meanwhile Shelly’s solo electro pop hit single from 1981 Homosapien did I.D. the gender of the love object with such lyrics as "I'm the cruiser" and "I'm the shy boy. You're the coy boy.” Considered controversial by certain cultural gatekeepers at the time, these lyrics did not go unnoticed by the censors at BBC radio and television who promptly banned the single, reportedly for its lyrical "explicit reference to gay sex".

That single, a club-dance hit in the USA that was released as a 2 12” set of remixes, was the title track from the 1981 Pete Shelley album Homosapien which was remastered and reissued with five extra bonus tracks in 2006 as a UK import   That same year Shelley's second solo album, XL-1, from 1983 was re-released. Below are four music videos and one interview video honoring the musical legacy of the late great Pete Shelley and the influential band he co-founded Buzzcocks.


Buzzcocks "Ever Fallen In Love" 1978 on "Top Of The Pops" UK TV


Buzzcocks "What Do I Get"


Pete Shelley "Homosapien"


Pete Shelley "Telephone Operator"


Pete Shelley 1996 interview by Cherry Red Records

Relevant Tags

Sex Pistols (14), Indie Rock (9), Pete Shelley (1), Buzzcocks (7), Howard Devoto (1), Fine Young Cannibals (1)