If you were born after 1980, when you hear the name ‘Buzzcocks’, you probably think of a slightly arch musical quiz show on BBC2. (If you were born after 2000, BBC2 was a channel on a thing called television. Google it).
If you grew up in 1970s Britain, on the other hand, there’s a good chance the name will fill you with a warm glow of nostalgia.
Even if you didn’t really like punk, it would have been hard not to be drawn to the infectious energy of the Buzzcocks’ output. Songs like ‘What do I get?’, ‘Orgasm addict’ and ‘Whatever happened to…?’. Ear-worming riffs. Whip-sharp, slightly edgy lyrics. Cocky, confident posturing. All wrapped up with a knowing grin and a three-minute play-length. It was about as close as you get to perfect teenage music.
So today feels like a pretty sad day to me.
Pete Shelley, who died yesterday, was the man who formed and led the Buzzcocks and wrote all their best songs.
He was also a natural entrepreneur, who basically invented the idea of independent record labels.
When the Buzzcocks couldn’t get a deal with one of the big record companies who dominated the industry at the time, Pete talked family and friends into lending the band enough money to start pressing their own vinyl EPs, which they sold in the Virgin record store in Manchester.
20 years before the internet was invented, the Buzzcocks went viral through sheer energy and bloody-minded determination: playing gigs, building an audience, hustling record stores and, eventually, elbowing their way into the mainstream.
Their best-known number – ‘Ever fallen in love (with someone you shouldn’t have)?’ – was a brilliant reinvention of that old pop cliché, the love song.
It was also unusual, at that time, in being written as a love song to another man. While Elton John was coyly getting married to a woman, Pete was quite comfortable talking openly about his bisexuality.
Pete Shelley broke the mould. He made his band successful without any help from the music industry behemoths.
Along the way, he helped to democratise popular music – and pave the way for a much more eclectic and authentic soundtrack to my (and many other peoples’) youths than those behemoths would ever have allowed.
And he did it all with a smile on his face.
So, if you want a template for authenticity, creativity and sheer can-do determination, my advice is to google ‘Buzzcocks’ and keep scrolling down until you get to the band.