Buzzcocks was formed in Manchester in 1975 by guitarist/singer Pete Shelley (real name Peter McNeish) and singer Howard Devoto (real name Howard Trafford).
They shared common interests in electronic music, the idiosyncratic work of British musician Brian Eno and American proto-punk groups like The Stooges.
In late 1975, Shelley and Devoto recruited a drummer and formed an embryonic version of Buzzcocks that never performed and which dissolved after a number of rehearsals.
After reading an NME review of The Sex Pistols‘ first performance, Shelley and Devoto travelled to London together to see The Sex Pistols in February 1976.
Impressed by what they saw they arranged for The Pistols to come and perform at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester in June 1976.
Buzzcocks intended to play at this concert, but Shelley and Devoto were unable to recruit other musicians in time for the gig.
Once they had recruited bass guitarist Steve Diggle and drummer John Maher, they made their debut opening for The Sex Pistols’ second Manchester concert in July 1976.
By the end of the year, Buzzcocks had recorded and released a four-track EP – Spiral Scratch – on their own New Hormones label, making them one of the first punk groups to establish an independent record label.
After a few months, Devoto left the group, returning to school for a year before forming Magazine. Pete Shelley continued as vocalist, while Diggle switched from bass to guitar and Garth Smith joined on bass. Due to Smith’s alcoholism, he was quickly replaced with Steve Garvey. This new line-up signed with United Artists Records.
Their first UA single, Orgasm Addict, was an explicit rumination on the perils of wanking, set to a furious two-minute fuzz-box spurt. The BBC refused to play the song, but the single sold well. Later, more ambiguous songs staked out a territory defined by Shelley’s bisexuality and punk’s aversion to serious examination of human sexuality.
Their original career consisted of three LPs: Another Music In A Different Kitchen (1978), Love Bites and A Different Kind Of Tension, each supported by extensive touring in Europe and the US. Their trademark sound was catchy pop melodies with punk guitar energy, backed by an unusually tight and skilled rhythm section.
Debut LP Another Music In A Different Kitchen shows a band with not an ounce of spare fat. It is all speed, noise, and melody, with a healthy sense of adventure and a willingness from the start to move beyond punk’s rules on lyrics and sound.
In 1980, Liberty Records signed the band, but after recording demos for a fourth album the group disbanded in 1981, with Pete Shelley taking up a solo career, commencing with his debut solo LP, Homosapien.
The band reunited in 1989 and released a number of albums, including Trade Test Transmissions (1993), All Set (1996) and Modern (1999).
Pete Shelley passed away on 6 December 2018 from a suspected heart attack. He was just 63.
Guitar, vocals, bass