The name Pete Shelley may not be familiar to everyone, but he was a giant for those who cut their teeth on punk rock in their formative years or subscribed to the D.I.Y. ethos.
The groundbreaking, melodic, aggressive, pulsating sounds he and his band, Buzzcocks, made are a way of life for many and integral to the relevance of punk as a movement.
Rising from the dreary confines of Manchester, England, the founding members of Buzzcocks heard their calling after attending a gig by Sex Pistols. Shelley, Steve Diggle and Howard Devoto (the latter of whom left the lineup to form the quintessential post-punk band, Magazine) felt the urgency of the Pistols’ music and the storm that was brewing in U.K. rock.
Instead of waiting for a record label to discover the band and sign it to a fat contract (as was the norm at the time), they instead bypassed that tradition and literally did it themselves. The band created its debut EP — the 7-inch single “Spiral Scratch” — on its own and distributed it alone before “D.I.Y.” was a thing. The impact Buzzcocks had on other up-and-coming Manchester acts is immeasurable. Joy Division (which later morphed into New Order), The Smiths and Oasis have all cited Buzzcocks as one of their primary influences.
Shelley’s nagging, high-pitched and urgent vocals made every Buzzcocks record unique. The band sounded like no one else. Its penchant for melodies and harmonies in songs was practically unheard of at the time. The term “pop-punk” was surely developed thanks to the amazing sound these guys made and continued to make for decades.
And all those singles, EPs and B-sides; to say that any other band from the punk explosion was a better singles band than Buzzcocks would be unjust.
Subscribing to the crux of the punk-rock spirit, Shelley and his bandmates saw no barrier between themselves and the folks who’d come to see them. Ask anyone who had the extreme pleasure of seeing the band live. The buzzsaw sound and the unassuming, yet coy, persona Shelley and his guitar presented onstage were coupled with a warm, friendly and welcoming demeanor that was on display after each and every Buzzcocks show. Those in the know would hang out after gigs and would be invited to join the band for conversation, jokes, stories, beers and camaraderie.
In other words, the band walked it like they talked it. And it wasn’t an act or a put-on. These were working-class kids who made records that resonated with millions of disenfranchised kids, and made them feel as one.
The loss of Pete Shelley is a great one. A hero to many and a constant source of inspiration, the news of his fatal heart attack is hard to take for so many who followed him and Buzzcocks for years.
You never let us down, Pete. Like the title of one of the most powerful Buzzcocks tunes states, “I Believe” — and I always will.