Buzzcocks, The

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Buzzcocks, The

Buzzcocks, The, the English band that captured punk lightning in a pop bottle, formed 1975, in Manchester, England. membership:Pete Shelly (real name, Peter McNeish), voc, gtr. (b. April 17, 1955); Howard Devoto (real name, Howard Trotter), voc. gtr. (b. Manchester, England, 1955); Steve Diggle, bs.; John Maher, drm.

Peter McNeish had played heavy metal in bands through high school. Howard Traford was fascinated by the music of the Stooges and the MC5. They met at the Bolton Inst. of Technology’s electronic music society in 1975 and formed a band with a drummer, covering Brian Eno, the Stooges, and others, but never performed live and eventually broke up. McNeish and Traford remained friends, however, and when the Sex Pistols first hit in 1975, the pair went down to London to see the first flowerings of punk. The show convinced them they could start a similar scene in Manchester. They changed their names to Pete Shelly and Howard Devoto, and so the Buzzcocks were formed.

They set up their initial gig by booking the Sex Pistols in Manchester, with the intention of sharing the bill, but their bass player and drummer left just before the show. There they met Steve Diggle, who joined the band on bass. They recruited drummer John Maher through an ad in Melody Maker, and were ready to actually open for the Pistols the next time they came through Manchester. The Pistols asked them along on their Anarchy tour.

Shortly thereafter, with funding from Shelly’s father, they cut Spiral Scratch, the first so-called do-it-yourself (D.I.Y.) record of the punk era. After its release, Devoto left the band to go back to school, forming Magazine later in the year. Shelly took over lead vocals, Diggle took over on guitar, and the bassist who punked out on them before the Pistols’ show rejoined the band. Spiral Scratch sold out its initial pressing, and record companies started taking interest in the Buzzcocks’ apolitical songs of romantic frustration. They signed with United Artists, who guaranteed them creative control. They took advantage of that with their first single, “Orgasm Addict.” The government-owned BBC radio found it too explicit and wouldn’t play it. Their next single, “What Do I Get,” hit #37 despite the raunchily titled B-side, “Oh Shit.” Neither saw American releases.

This set the stage for their debut album, 1978’s Another Music in a Different Kitchen. The album hit #15 on the U.K. charts, despite the lack of a hit single (“I Don’t Mind” topped out at #55). They released the single “Love You More”/“Noise Annoys” four months later, and it hit #34. Just half a year after their debut, they pumped out another album, Love Bites. Concurrently, they released the single “Have You Ever Fallen in Love with Someone You Shouldn’t’ve.” The single rose to #12, while the album peaked at #13. The band toured relentlessly and partied with nearly the same passion.

By the time they released A Different Kind of Tension in 1979, the cracks were beginning to show. They showed even further on their first American tour. The last straw came when EMI bought United Artists and refused to fund the band’s next studio project. In revenge, the group released a compilation of singles, most of which had not been on previous albums.

Shelly went solo, recording the critically acclaimed but small-selling album, Homosapien. Diggle and Maher formed Flag of Convenience. By 1986, Shelly had released two more albums. One of them, XL1 actually charted. Flag of Convenience became known as FOC.

Although they might have lacked chart success, the enormous influence the band had on both sides of the Atlantic began to show. The grunge movement paid homage to them as influences while bands from Heaven 17 and Fine Young Cannibals to Naked Ray gun started covering their songs.

In 1992, the Buzzcocks were the subject of a boxed set, Progress and a tribute album. By 1993, Maher was back in the fold, and the band released the album Trade Test Transmission and toured with Nirvana.

By 1995, Garvey had left the band to be with his family, and Maher to devote his time to car racing. They were replaced by bassist Tony Arber and drummer Phil Barker. For their next album, the Buzzcocks sought out Neill King to produce All Set. Ironically, he had been a gofer at the studio when they recorded A Different Kind of Tension. Although none of their records have sold especially well, their impact continues to be substantial.


Another Music in a Different Kitchen (1978); Love Bites (1978); A Different Kind of Tension (1979); The Peel Sessions (1979); Singles Going Steady (1979); Lest We Forget (1980); Buzzcocks Pts. 1-3 (1980); Operators Manual (Buzzcocks Best) (1991); Product (box set; 1989); Entertaining Friends: Live at the Hammersmith (1992); Trade Test Transmissions (1993); French (1996); All Set (1996); Modern (1999).

—Hank Bordowitz