Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 June 2019

'Punk is the art of action': Buzzcocks frontman Pete Shelley dies

The punk pop star was behind 'Ever Fallen in Love' and other hits of the late '70s

Buzzcocks frontman Pete Shelley in 1978. Redferns
Buzzcocks frontman Pete Shelley in 1978. Redferns

Pete Shelley, frontman of the British band Buzzcocks, has died at the age of 63 of a reported heart attack.

Buzzcocks were one of the punk bands of the late 1970s who came out of Manchester, northern England, with an unskilled aesthetic and pure verve.

“Punk is the art of action,” he said in 2006.

Shelley had a knack for the three-minute pop song, such as Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've) or What Do I Get?

Shelley was born near Manchester in 1955, to a former mill worker and a fitter at a nearby coal mine.

He formed Buzzcocks in 1975 with fellow Bolton Institute student Howard Devoto, united by a love of the Velvet Underground.

They played their first gig at their college and by the following year they were debuting for the Sex Pistols, having driven 200 miles in a borrowed car down to London to convince the Pistols’ manager, Malcolm McLaren, to let them onstage.

They became closely associated with the Sex Pistols – their mentors – in style, though they didn’t share their overt political stance.

They initially recorded a four-track EP on their own label, but quickly moved to United Artists. By this time, Devoto had left.

The BBC refused to play their first single on UA, with its suggestive title, but that only increased their notoriety: their next single, What Do I Get?, went straight up the British top 50 charts.

They were darlings of NME, the influential rock magazine, and of the punk movement that centred in the north of England, an area known for its grit and determination in contrast to the apparently softer south.

The Sex Pistols toured to the US and Canada but never quite made it there. They broke up after a dispute with EMI in 1981, and Shelley shifted towards a solo career in electronic music. (Little known fact: he created the song Do Anything in the 1980s John Hughes classic Some Kind of Wonderful.) The Buzzcocks reunited in 1989 and released a few more albums and toured, though its high point remained in the 1970s.

Buzzcocks were extraordinarily influential on pop music. When the news of his death, in his adopted home town of Tallinn, Estonia, appeared on social media, tributes from pop stars flooded in: Ron Sexsmith, Duff McKagan of Guns N' Roses, Pearl Jam, the Charlatans, Everyone But the Girl and the writer Jon Ronson all offered their sympathies.

The band also gave the name to a long-running British comedy panel show, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, which quizzed its sarcastic participants about pop trivia. Shelley appeared a guest.


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