Ever Fallen in Love with a Buzzcock?
With songs like ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)’, ‘Orgasm Addict’, ‘What Do I Get’ and ‘Why Can’t I Touch It’, Manchester punks The Buzzcocks – guided by frontman songwriter Pete Shelley – brought pop wit and art school angst to a UK genre not known for lyrical subtly.
Shelley’s solo career commenced with hit single ‘Homosapien’ in 1981, but The Buzzcocks have played on and off since 1989 and Andrew Shaw caught up with Shelley ahead of the band’s Brisbane gig at The Zoo this month...
Pete Shelley, when I first heard The Buzzcocks I thought you were writing songs about relationships with men, but that’s not necessarily the case is it?
No… I mean, sometimes on a personal level they’re about guys. But really, the universality of the songs is the reason why people take them to their heart. I didn’t actually write gender specificness into the lyrics, so people can apply it to any relationship they have. It’s always been my feeling that the feelings you have for the people and the affection and even the lust is something that isn’t really tied down to gender. It’s a bit more fluid.
As an artist is that something you do, universalise a personal experience?
I think so, yeah. It isn’t an attempt to be autobiographical. For me it’s something that people can see themselves in. And people say they are in a relationship and it’s not going to plan and the song says to them what they want to say. It’s a useful thing to have around.
‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)’ has a very long melodic line in the chorus. Did it start out as a slower song and get faster?
No, things are normally very fast when I do things. It’s an adrenalin rush song, you know, I had to get everything out. There’s no middle 8 or guitar solos, it’s quite compact and that’s what the spirit of punk was: getting back to three minute blasts of emotion.
You’ve said in the past rock and roll is about being aware and being a free thinker.
Well, initially it’s started by people who get together for shits and giggles and end up saying something that other people can relate to. It’s music of people for people.
I read where you said without Bowie there wouldn’t have been punk.
It was really that he drew together the strands. He brought to people’s attention things like William Burroughs and The Velvet Underground and Iggy Pop and The Stooges. Without his input producing [The Stooges’] Raw Power album and [Lou Reed’s] Transformer, both of those icons of punk would have gathered dust in the collective memory. It was always good reading a David Bowie interview because he’d have lots of leads to follow up on, things that he mentioned.
Was the scene in Manchester in the late Seventies accepting of punk ‘difference’?
Gay clubs were the one place, perhaps the only place, where we could go and meet; where people were dressing differently, they were expressing themselves not just as heavy rockers or things like that. It was very hard to go somewhere and not cause a fuss. But you could go in a gay club and no one would bat an eyelid about how you were dressed. They were used to, shall we say, the more flamboyant aspects of what punk was. And punk was more inclusive, there was room for girl bands that were actually saying something rather than standing there looking pretty.
I was involved in student politics at college and campaigning for rights of women and gays and lesbians and bisexuals – although being bisexual you didn’t get a look in in those days to be honest [laughs]. It was that level of activism. It was bringing people together in the common fight against injustice.
You said bisexuals didn’t get a look in, do you find that still happens?
It isn’t that I have personal experience of it happening. But then there was always the thing, ‘you’re neither one nor the other’, sitting on the fence and everything. But a lot of people are. Personally, I’ve had more sexual experiences with people who wouldn’t consider themselves to be gay at all – or bisexual. It isn’t a clear-cut thing. It’s fine if you’re lesbian or transgender and you want everyone to know about it, it’s all good and healthy and that’s what we need more of, people standing up for what they believe in. But some people aren’t that politically motivated, for some people it’s a secret passion. Not necessarily for fear of discrimination, although I’m sure that must come into it.
What are you playing at The Zoo show, will we get ‘Orgasm Addict’?
In 2009 we played the first two albums and people said, ‘why didn’t you play that song or why not that song’ – but it wasn’t on the two albums! This time we’re doing a greatest hits selection. Hopefully there’ll be enough there for people to play spot the favourite.
How do you feel up there singing those songs thirty-odd years on?
Really great, coz I’m not alone. I’ve got the band and they make a nice merry noise and we have a good time. And you’ve got things to look at in the audience, the people, and strange antics. It’s a charmed life really, it’s like a party every night and we’re the guests of honour.
Did you cop any flack for ‘Homosapien’? It was a bit of a departure from punk.
No, not really [laughs]. It didn’t get much airplay on Radio One [the line “homo superior in my interior” earned the track an unofficial banning by the BBC]. It did really well in Australia. It’s about ‘we’re all on this planet together so we might as well have as much fun as we can on it’.
The whole thing is very camp.
Oh that’s just me I’m afraid.
The Buzzcocks at The Zoo, 711 Ann St, Valley, Saturday, April 20, 2013. Bookings: thezoo.com.au
IMAGE: The Buzzcocks 2013: (from left) Chris Remington, Steve Diggle, Pete Shelley & Danny Farrant.