Buzzcocks were the first British punk band to release their music independently, with their self-funded EP “Spiral Scratch” in 1976 establishing a trend for DIY labels across the country as well as setting themselves up as a pioneering force in the fledgling punk movement. After splitting up in 1981, the band has reformed several times since 1989 around core members Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle. Last in Australia in 2009 as part of a tour during which they played their first two albums from front to back, Buzzcocks are returning this month to take part in the Dig It Up! Invitational shows in Sydney and Melbourne. From his home in eastern Europe, Loud chatted to singer/guitarist Pete Shelley about punk rock.
Hi Pete. I believe you’re calling from Estonia today. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a call from anyone from there before.
Yes, I moved here almost a year ago. A year next week.
You’re going to be in Australia again very soon for the Dig it Up! Invitational tour.
Yes, and we’ve got a few other shows as well and then we’re off to New Zealand. So it’s a full Antipodean tour. It’s going to be our first time down there since 2009.
I asked on my Facebook page if anyone had any questions for you and unfortunately most of my friends are smartarses so they mostly only asked stupid things; however, one did ask which version of “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” is your favourite.
(Laughs) Um… well, none really. In a perverse way I like the Nouvelle Vague one. I like that one because it’s different and it brings the song to a whole new audience. But as far as for the song itself, our version is still my favourite. I know a few people get quite offended when others do it. I hear, “Oh, I hate that. I hate that.” But it doesn’t really worry me.
From your perspective, you must feel something when you know that people have attached to that track so well that they either don’t want to hear a new version or do one of their own?
Well yes… I mean, both. I mean I’m always happy when I hear people are gonna do a version of it, but I know they’re gonna get a lot of flak, that they should leave well enough alone! Our drummer Danny, he teaches music and in one of his lessons he mentioned that “Ever Fallen in Love” was one of the Buzzcocks’ songs. He started singing a little bit of it and the kids all said, “Oh we know that one. It was in Shrek 2“! So all the kids had grown up listening to that one. It reaches a new audience.
When you play now, do you really see the generational change?
Yes very much so! Ten years ago you would see the audience get older and older, then all of a sudden new faces have started appearing. People started to bring their sons and daughters along, to shows that are all ages. Then you meet people that have been brought up with Buzzcocks and know all the lyrics.
To a lot of people, the 70s British punk scene is like a really mystical time…
Well, I think it’s like that for everybody! (laughs)
(Laughs) Well yes, that’s probably very true! But for someone like myself for example, just beginning to explore music around 81-82, just after the Buzzcocks split up, it seemed so close but still so far. You were there, of course, so what was it really like going through that?
Well it was a great time because everything we were doing was a new thing, and so there was that excitement. But then again, it was really, really underground. It didn’t become a big thing until the Sex Pistols swore on television and that got in the tabloids, and then of course it became a lightning rod for some people to get involved that probably shouldn’t have.
Did that spoil it a little bit?
Well that made it a little bit less understood, the whole purpose of it. The real purpose of it was a call to people. It was almost like an art movement, you know. It was all about, You too can be a part of it. Even the Sex Pistols… they wanted everyone to start a band, but they didn’t want everyone to start a band that was the same as them!
What do you think about the punk scene now? Has it recaptured that early spirit?
Well I think it really depends. I mean there’s a lot of what we’ve dubbed the Punk Taliban, where you’re not supposed to have any fun at all. It’s all serious and earnest. And the thing about that is that it’s not our thing at all. But, you know, it’s all a lot like that scene in the Life of Brian with the People’s Front of Judea. And I think that misses the point, really. In lots of ways, (punk) became a bit of a cartoon cut-out of what it really was, you know, with Sid Vicious doing “My Way”… there was an awful lot more going on. But you know that happens with every art movement, any movement really. Society will get hold of it, water it down and sell it back to you.
In relation to society and politics, you’ve written about sexuality a lot in your music. What sort of a take do you have on the same-sex marriage question that is very prominent at the moment in different parts of the world?
Well I think if people are together and they’re happy, they should be respected for doing that. If people want to get married, it’s up to them really. I’m all in favour of people being able to be happy with the partner of their choice.
The Buzzcocks have been back together now for quite a long time, but it’s been a while between records. Is there the likelihood of another album at some point?
Well we keep uming and ahing. You know, you keep saying “We’ll do one this year”. But nothing happens. Usually what happens is we end up going off on tour and we’ll think, Oh well, we’ll leave it be until after the tour, and then we never do it. Eventually… eventually. It’s a whole different business. We don’t have a record label. And you know it’s far better for us to be touring and playing the songs that people want to hear and we like to play. I mean when you do an album, a lot of the songs you never get to play. You’re just going out and playing the songs people want to hear. And these days, a lot of people probably haven’t even heard the songs.
There is probably going to be quite a lot of people here on this tour who will be hearing your songs for the first time.
Last time we were over there, we played the first two albums, and a lot of the songs we hadn’t really even played when we did those albums! So maybe we’ll do some of that. Who knows? There’s an awful lot of songs that never get played. Of course you want to play a lot of the songs that people want to hear and at a festival, you don’t get as much time as you’d like to play everything. And also, at the festival, there’ll be a lot of people who’ve maybe heard one song from Buzzcocks so we’ll be playing to a bunch of fresh ears.
Buzzcocks play the Dig it Up! Invitational with Hoodoo Gurus, Blue Oyster Cult, Flamin’ Groovies and more:
21/4: Enmore Theatre/Sly Fox Hotel, Sydney NSW
25/4: Palace Theatre, Melbourne VIC
Plus three of their own shows:
18/4: Rosemount Hotel, Perth WA
20/4: The Zoo, Brisbane QLD
24/2: Fowlers Live, Adelaide SA