IT REALLY WAS A CRACKING DEBUT SINGLE (32)

I don’t care that these songs featured on the blog back in August 2016 as part of a series looking at all the 45s by Buzzcocks.  The words that follow are different….

Spiral Scratch is, without any question, one of the most important pieces of plastic in all history as it set the template for the DIY attitude that began with punk and still resonates today, probably even more so given how much new music is self-financed, promoted and released to the listening public.

The four-track EP came out at the end of January 1977, with the bands’s main protagonists – Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto – having been inspired to start up a band after initially seeing Sex Pistols play live down south and then promoting the now legendary show(s) at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Up until this point, the only way a singer or band could get product into the shops was through some sort of contract with a record company through which all the technical, administrative, practical, financial and legal stuff would be sorted out. It was also more difficult for any bands living or working outside of London to land any contract as the capital was where all the labels had their headquarters or satellite office if they were owned overseas.

Pete and Howard borrowed £500 from friends and family members (it equates to around £3,000 today). They went into Indigo Studios in Gartside Street, Manchester on 28 December 1976 working alongside a new producer called Martin Hannett , who, in keeping with the ethos of punk changed his name to Martin Zero on this occasion. The real hero of the session, however, is the uncredited Phil Hampson, the in-house engineer at Indigo who guided the band and the man at the controls through the three hours it took to record four songs, albeit it was Hannett/Zero who then spent a further two hours doing the final mixes….

………..except it has since emerged that just a few days later, in response to learning that Pete and Howard weren’t entirely happy with the end results, Hampson went back into the studio to do a little bit of remixing for free as the rest of the budget had to go on forming a label called New Hormones and pressing up the initial 1,000 copies.

It seems incredulous but while Hannett went on to form a production career with post-punk bands for the rest of his short life, Hampson went back to the bread and butter of what happened at Indigo which was comedy, cabaret and novelty records, most often driven by the demand from the nearby Granada TV studios. Spiral Scratch would be his only involvement with the punk/new wave scene – not that he was bothered as he thought the music was awful!

History shows that the EP quickly sold out its initial pressing and in due course would sell around 16,000 copies, initially by mail order but also with the help of the Manchester branch of music chain store Virgin, whose manager took some copies and persuaded other regional branch managers to follow suit.

Howard Devoto, almost as soon as the EP was pressed, announced he was quitting the band, going on to form Magazine, leaving the path clear for Pete Shelley to move centre stage and take lead vocal on a number of Top 40 hits in the ensuing years.

mp3 : Buzzcocks – Breakdown
mp3 : Buzzcocks – Time’s Up
mp3 : Buzzcocks – Boredom
mp3 : Buzzcocks – Friends Of Mine

Yup…..the best-known of the four songs wasn’t seen by the band as being their best.

JC

BUZZCOCKS SINGLES 77-80 (Part 13)

 

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And so we come to the 13th and final 45 released by Buzzcocks in their initial incarnation. The lyrics, written by Steve Diggle, kind of sum up how much of a chore it must have become trying to hit payola again now that the band had fallen out of favour.

Here in suburbia
There’s nothing left to see
Just want to spend my time running free

I’ve had enough of the day job
I can see farther than that
Just want to spend my time running free

The air of tension still is rising higher
Screaming emotions are singing to you
(No no no time no no no time)
(No no no time no no no time)

Here in the engine room
A pulse shouts for a word
Just want to spend my time running free

I’ll pull out condition
There’s no need to face facts
Just want to spend my time running free

You better make a move before sleeping gets you
You better shape soon before the weak things make you
(No no no time no no no time)
(No no no time no no no time)

Here in proles’ paradise
Experiments on the weak
Just want to spend my time running free

It’s a trick of the torment
You tend to forget yourself
Just want to spend my time running free

Your conscience may be changed as the plan gets harder
It’s just been rearranged to keep the strata
(No no no time no no no time)
(No no no time no no no time)

Your conscience may be changed as the plan gets harder
It’s just been rearranged to keep the strata
(No no no time no no no time)
(No no no time no no no time)
(No no no time no no no time)
(No no no time no no no time)
(No no no time no no no time)
(No no no time no no no time)

It’s a sad, resigned lyric and it has a similarly sad and resigned tune to go with it.  But very listenable.

The b-side is a really strange one.  I never knew it until more than 20 years later (see last week’s posting for an explanation) and the first thing that hit me was that it sounded remarkably like Pete Shelley fronting The Boomtown Rats (blame the sax and shout a long chorus).  Was What Do You Know? the departing shot at the record label bosses who behind the scenes were looking for Buzzcocks to achieve the same sort of mainstream success of some of their contemporaries?  If so, it’s a great two-fingered salute to all concerned.  Even if it’s not, it was a fine way to go out.

mp3 : Buzzcocks – Running Free
mp3 : Buzzcocks – What Do You Know?

Right who’s next for the Sunday singles treatment?

BUZZCOCKS SINGLES 77-80 (Part 12)

 

r-464676-1203267603-jpegThe fact that the final few singles from Buzzcocks sold in such few numbers means that they are now the most difficult to find on the second-hand market and are marginally more expensive to buy than the hits.

That’s one theory.  But it might well be the case that this particular single is more valued as it is something of a forgotten classic.

Strange Thing isn’t anything at all like the catchy near power-pop of the hits of the previous years.  Instead it’s more akin to the sound of many of their new wave peers – surely I’m not alone in listening to the music and hearing the sort of sounds that Weller & co. were taking to new unthought of heights of popularity?  The closing section in particular always brings to mind Private Hell from Setting Sons.

In keeping with what had happened with the previous single, the flip side was given over to Steve Diggle and this time he came up with something that proved he had indeed been playing close attention to the support band on the last big tour of 1979.  Airwaves Dream really does sound like Joy Division without the tricked up production values applied by Martin Hannett.

What I’m kicking myself about is that I didn’t buy the single on its release.  In fact, I didn’t discover these two gems until many many many years later when I picked up a cheap copy of the re-released and re-packaged Singles Going Steady CD which had been expanded to include the final four singles from that great era (the initial release of the compliation ended with Harmony In My Head/Something’s Gone Wrong Again).   Given that the younger me had felt let down by Are Everything I wasn’t expecting much from these unknown songs; it was a surprise that they both turned out to be pleasures.

It’s fair to say that the teen me might have struggled with Strange Thing/Airwaves Dream on its release as my mind and tastes would have been attuned to the poppier side of Buzzcocks, and so I’m glad it took me 20+ years to hear them for the first time.

mp3 : Buzzcocks – Strange Thing
mp3 : Buzzcocks – Airwaves Dream

Enjoy.

 

BUZZCOCKS SINGLES 77-80 (Part 11)

 

Moving forward to 1980 and what proved to be the beginning of the very end of things first time around for Buzzcocks.

They were no longer press darlings and the events of late 1979 when they had been blown out of the water on tour by their support band caused something of a crisis.

It would also seem, looking back, that they had fallen out of favour at United Artists and with no guarantees of hit singles the money spent on promoting and releasing the material was cut back.  Thus, the rather lacklustre sleeves as compared to the previous singles on the label.

It was also clear that the band were now being seen as a singles-only outfit which is why the first new recording from 1980 has ‘Part 1’ on the sleeve. Just how many ‘parts’ there would be in over the following months none of us knew.

mp3 : Buzzcocks – Are Everything
mp3 : Buzzcocks – Why She’s A Girl From The Chainstore

With the benefit of hindsight, Are Everything is not the worst thing you’ll ever hear in your life but on release it felt awfully flat and devoid of imagination in comparison to what had come before.  And the gimmick of it seemingly fading out and then suddenly bursting back into life again some 45 seconds from the end must have it made a difficult sell to radio producers.  And yet it sold enough copies to spend three weeks in the UK singles charts in September 1980, peaking at #61 which was more than You Say You Don’t Love Me had ever managed.

The b-side is a Steve Diggle number that seems to have its roots in the rough’n’ ready stuff of new wave bands hoping to be discovered on the back of a catchy shout-out-loud chorus without much else to back it up.

The end truly was nigh.

 

BUZZCOCKS SINGLES 77-80 (Part 10)

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As mentioned last week, the release of the third LP was always going to be crucial in terms of what happened next for Buzzcocks.

But before then, the Spiral Scratch EP was given a re-release and climbed into the Top 40 in August 1979.  A few weeks later a new 45 was released to precede the new LP.  It was a single now regarded with the benefit of hindsight as one of their finest but which on release was a total flop.

This must have been hard to take.  A single containing everything that had brought the band to the fore wasn’t playlisted by Radio 1, which in those days was basically a death sentence.

Unperturbed, the band announced a major UK tour to promote the new LP which they called A Different Kind Of Tension which, although it could be thought of as a swipe at their critics, was in fact the name of one of the new songs.

It was 1979 that I started going to gigs and I got myself a ticket for Buzzcocks at the Glasgow Apollo – looking it up now I can see the gig was on Friday 5 October.  I got along early, as has always been my practice, to catch the support act. This lot had been getting a great deal of coverage in the music press.

It was Joy Division.

The intensity and power of their set, which to be honest wasn’t universally enjoyed as there were a lot of slow songs which wasn’t quite what the audience were there for.  But their front man really made a huge impression.  The fact that Pete Shelley took  to the stage a short while later and opened with the words ‘excuse me while I put out my ciggy’ instead of blasting into a great hit from days of old showed that he knew the game was up and new bands were about to become the media darlings.

The album did hit the top 30 but no other single was lifted from it and released in the UK.

mp3 : Buzzcocks – You Say You Don’t Love Me
mp3 : Buzzcocks – Reason D’Etre

Decent enough old-fashioned b-side too.

Enjoy.

BUZZCOCKS SINGLES 77-80 (Part 9)

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As with all new music back in 1979, the first place you would get to hear it would be across the airwaves of BBC Radio One, 247 on the Medium Wave.

I’ve no idea what DJ was spinning the discs when this came but he did introduce it as the new single by Buzzcocks.  I thought he had made a huge error.  Yes, it did musically sound like them, but unless Pete Shelley had been replaced as vocalist by one of The Stranglers, then this was most certainly another group.

A couple of weeks later and I saw them perform the new single on Top of the Pops and the mystery solved itself when the camera panned over to the mimed performance and it was Steve Diggle who was doing the singing as Pete moped around in the background trying unsuccessfully to be a team player.

Maybe it was the criticism of the vocal delivery on ‘Happy’ that had hit home or maybe it was just that the lead guitarist had come up with the best available song for the next 45.  Harmony In My Head was as post-punk/new wave as it came but the record buying public didn’t fall for it as it spent just three weeks in the Top 40 and got no higher than #32 – it was a far cry from the heady days of Ever Fallen In Love less than a year previously.

mp3 : Buzzcocks – Harmony In My Head
mp3 : Buzzcocks – Something’s Gone Wrong Again

Three singles in 1979 had suffered declining sales.  The third LP was going to be critical…..as indeed was the UK tour that had just been announced.

BUZZCOCKS SINGLES 77-80 (Part 8)

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The Buzzcocks juggernaut showed no signs of slowing down as yet another brand new song became the latest 45 in March 1979.

However, this one didn’t do as well as hoped or expected, spending a miserly four weeks in the Top 40 and peaking at #29.

Not everybody would be happy nowadays.

I do recall there being something of a critical backlash against the band around this time.  Magazine had just released their second studio LP, Secondhand Daylight and its ambition and breadth led some to suggest that Pete Shelley was a bit of a one-trick pony incapable of lacing the Doc Martins of his former band mate. The fact that the new Buzzcocks single had the vocalist straining to hit the high notes was also a source of some amusement and ‘Happy’ took a bit of a caning when compared to what had been written before.

mp3 : Buzzcocks – Everybody’s Happy Nowadays
mp3 : Buzzcocks – Why Can’t I Touch It?

The b-side is a strange one.  A band which specialised in the classic 2-3 minute pop song put down something that stretched out over six minutes.  This could have been a pleasant surprise except for the fact that the song is not all that good and leaves listeners pining for the more simple shouty catchy stuff of old,