Their band name is the greatest uni-word translation of adolescent sexuality ever, and their singer was an out-of-the-closet (back when that closet was awfully crowded) U.K. punk-rock “star” whose songs moved from a grim Manchester basement to American TV ads pimping Toyota (“What Do I Get”) and — gasp! — AARP (“Everybody’s Happy Nowadays”). You’ll recall the huge influence — from Nirvana to Green Day, etc. — of this unlikely band whose unlikely singsong tunes were always smarter than they came off. Teen hormonal torment never sounded (and will never sound) so loud, fast, and sugary — or so honest. (There’s a reason “Orgasm Addict” — a 33-year-old song — still rears its head on a million pubertal playlists.) From his Toronto hotel room, Buzzcocks’ cherub-cheeked singer-songwriter Pete Shelley answers our questions about the band’s current North American tour (on which the band plays its first or second albums whole).
What album absolutely caused a major shift in your life?
The first actual album I owned was Sgt. Pepper’s. So I suppose that was the pivotal one. But it was the Beatles, Kinks, and Stones, and a long list of others in the mid-to-late ’60s, and then into the ’70s with T. Rex and David Bowie. And if we’re dropping names, there was the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, which got me into punk.
What’s it like to play your whole first album, Another Music in a Different Kitchen, 32 years after its release?
It’s remarkably good `laughs`! In some ways, we’ve been blessed with more than our share of good tunes.
What’s the story behind “What Do I Get”? It has been good to you over the years — covered by many, appeared in films and, oddly, on an American TV ad for a Toyota SUV.
I was in a windowless basement flat `laughs`. I was 21, living on my own. But, it was something I did for myself; that was the real secret of it.
When the song was in the Toyota ad, at least it wasn’t Phil Collins! It seems there was a generational tide that came along among those who were growing up hearing the Buzzcocks and then came of age when they were in positions to decide the tracks (for TV spots).
But it was like most paydays; it didn’t take long for the money to get spent.
During the band’s early Manchester days, were you aware there was a scene bubbling up in London with the Sex Pistols and Damned?
No. The first we heard of it was when we read a review of a Pistols gig at the Marquee club in London. And it said they did a Stooges song. And because me and Howard `Devoto, the Buzzcocks’ singer on the 1976 EP Spiral Scratch` enjoyed the Stooges, we went that evening to London and tried to find if this band, the Sex Pistols, were playing anywhere. We met up with them and saw them for the next two nights. In conversation, we said, “Oh, do you ever fancy playing up north?” And they were interested, so we said, “Why don’t we just hire a hall and put on a gig?” And that’s what we did — July 20, 1976, at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester.
What other bands besides the Stooges influenced you growing up?
Well, I suppose the MC5 counts `laughs`! Yeah ... I mean I was always interested in music that made a statement by appearing to be dumb and noisy. When I was growing up, people were listening to progressive rock. I wanted anything that had an attitude to it. I liked it because it annoyed the hell out of my friends and that made me feel good. Motown was on the radio. And earlier, like ’68 or ’69, I had friends who listened to Motown. I’d hear it at parties. We’d sit around and drink cider `laughs`. •
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