Add Pete Shelley’s name to the depressingly long list of seminal rockers to have passed away recently. The longtime Buzzcocks frontman suffered a severe heart attack the morning of December 6 in Estonia, where he had been living. Shelley (real name: Peter McNeish) was 63.
Buzzcocks were not only linchpins in the UK punk scene, they were the root of the Manchester branch of its family tree. Shelley and short-lived bandmate Howard Devoto were responsible for bringing The Sex Pistols to play the Northern England city in 1976, one of those legendary “shows that launched a thousand bands,” including The Fall, Joy Division and (arguably) The Smiths. A still-nascent Buzzcocks also squeezed themselves onto the bill.
The quartet released three very good albums from 1978-79 (the first two – Another Music In a Different Kitchen and Love Bites, both from 1978 – are being reissued in remastered form by Domino Records on January 25) but their true landmark is Singles Going Steady, a no-filler collection of their eight classic 7” singles, most of which did not appear on the proper albums. Hastily pulled together to coincide with the band’s first US foray, it expanded the punk genre through Shelley’s insistent melodies, undeniable hooks and (gasp) love songs. It’s a testament to his songwriting that even the ostensible B-sides remain rock solid to this day.
Soon after the band’s 1981 breakup Shelley released his first solo album, which included the more beat-centric “Homosapien” – which became a club hit and an unlikely gay anthem. Buzzcocks reunited in 1989 and had remained active since, releasing several credible albums. But let’s face it – it’s that remarkable early flurry we’ll be turning to for a spiral scratch in the coming weeks