AS SEEN OVER AT THE OLD PLACE : MAY 2007 (2)

I thought a nostalgic look at a famous Manchester band would go down well today. Originally posted on 15th May 2007:-

THE SOUL’S JOY LIES IN THE DOING

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Outside of Glasgow, my top city in terms of music has to be Manchester. The Smiths, Joy Division/New Order, and Magazine are among my all-time list of great bands, and I’ve a soft spot for The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, James and Oasis. And of course everyone likes Mark E Smith and The Fall….. Don’t they???

And then there’s Buzzcocks (although a close friend from Manchester will always insist, and rightly so, that Buzzcocks are from Bolton, a substantial town of its own merit some 20 km outside of the northern metropolis)

Most music aficionados will know that the Sex Pistols were in the inspiration for Howard Devoto (vocals) and Pete Shelley (guitar) to form Buzzcocks in the summer of 1976. The other members of the band were Pete Diggle (bass) and John Maher (drums).

In January 1977, the true punk DIY ethos was followed to the letter with the formation of a brand new record label specifically to record and release the band’s debut, an EP called Spiral Scratch. Just two months later, and at a time when every major record company on the planet wanted them to sign on the dotted line, Devoto dropped the bombshell that he was leaving.

The news however, didn’t deter the others from carrying on. Shelley took over the responsibility of being the main songwriter, as well as lead vocalist, Diggle moved to guitar, while a new bass player, Garth Smith was recruited. By August, they had signed to the United Artists label (part of EMI who had of course dropped The Pistols), and debut single Orgasm Addict came out in October. Not surprisingly, this ode to teenage masturbation was banned from radio play across the UK and didn’t trouble the charts. By the turn of the year, the band had fired bassist Smith (seemingly he just wasn’t a good enough player) and brought Steve Garvey into the fold. The new line-up was to conquer the UK in 1978 and 1979 thanks to a run of incredibly good singles that were released at roughly two-monthly intervals.

And it is these 8 singles, and their b-sides, nearly all of which last no more than two and bit minutes at a time, that make up one of the most listenable bits of vinyl ever to be let loose on the world.

Ostensibly, it’s a greatest hits collection, and from recollection, was the first of its type from a punk/new wave band. Singles Going Steady came out in September 1979, and it featured everything bar tracks from the debut EP.

01. Orgasm Addict – released in October 1977 but didn’t chart
02. What Do I Get? – released in February 1978 and reached #37 in the charts
03. I Don’t Mind – released in May 1978 and reached #55 in the charts
04. Love You More – released in July 1978 and reached #34 in the charts
05. Ever Fallen In Love? – released in October 1978 and reached #12 in the charts
06. Promises – released in December 1978 and reached #20 in the charts
07. Everybody’s Happy Nowadays – released in March 1979 and reached #29 in the charts
08. Harmony In My Head – released in August 1979 and reached #32 in the charts.

Tracks 9-16 were the b-sides of each single.

The chart positions might not look much to anyone nowadays, but you had to sell tens of thousands of singles to make the Top 40 in the late 70s, and the band managed this with ease. The record were also magnificently packaged, with covers and labels being colour co-ordinated (usually with the use of bright and cheerful day-glow colours).

Then, all of a sudden it all went pear-shaped. In October 1979, the band embarked on a major tour of the main concert venues across the UK, including the 3,000 capacity Glasgow Apollo. Every night they were blown away by the support act who were something fresh, new and fronted by someone unlike anyone we had seen before. Their support act was Joy Division.

Before long, the music press had started to turn against Buzzcocks. The reviews of the late 1979 tour were full of praise for the support act and full of venom for the main act who were now seen as has-beens. Having been constantly in the limelight with single and after single after single, and tour after tour after tour (not to mention 3 LPs in the space of two years), they disappeared for much of 1980, emerging in the Autumn for a tour which hardly anyone bought tickets for, and an album and two singles that no-one bought. Six months later, Shelley dissolved Buzzcocks.

The band did reform again almost a decade later, but that is perhaps a tale best left for a future posting.

For a short period in my life when I was 15/16 years of age, Buzzcocks, along with The Jam, could do no wrong in my eyes. They made great records that sounded magnificent on the radio, giving us a perfect combination of punk/new wave and pop. Singles Going Steady is glorious in all aspects except for having a lousy sleeve that was completely different in style to the works of art that had accompanied all the previous releases. Most of the lesser known b-sides are every bit as good as the singles themselves.

It was a real dilemma selecting the tracks to actually post, but in the end, I’ve gone for the flop single, the single that didn’t have Pete Shelley singing lead vocals and two more than worthy b-sides:-

mp3 : BuzzcocksOrgasm Addict
mp3 : Buzzcocks – Harmony In My Head
mp3 : Buzzcocks – Oh Shit!
mp3 : Buzzcocks – Noise Annoys

This is a record that every collection just has to contain. A re-mastered copy with loads of extra tracks is very widely available and cheap to boot.

A couple of boring facts to end.

(a) John Maher was the drummer in Buzzcocks. It is also the real name of another Manchester musician who went on to achieve fame, fame fatal fame a few years later. To avoid confusion with the famous drummer, this young, handsome and talented guitarist changed his forename and surname ever so slightly to Johnny Marr.

(b) The lead track on the Spiral Scratch EP was called Boredom. And it was name-checked by the god-like Edwyn Collins who penned this lyric:-

“You know me I’m acting dumb-dumb
You know the scene is very humdrum
And my favourite song is entitled Boredom’

From Rip It Up. A song one or two of you might just be aware of.

PS : The title on the posting is a quote from a different P.Shelley, but it kind of sums up why I blog……..

3 thoughts on “AS SEEN OVER AT THE OLD PLACE : MAY 2007 (2)

  1. Buzzcocks were indeed most excellent. With passing of time I am unclear whether I saw them once or twice in late ’70s (at Malvern Winter Gardens, where I also saw Joy Division on their last tour). Then saw the reformed Buzzcocks at a club in Edinburgh (Carlton Club?) in 1991, which seemed eons since they had split (but was only just over 10 years), and they were as good as ever. They have turned up on the Top of The Pops from 1978 currently being shown on BBC4, and they still thrill.

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