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Event Review: An Evening with Buzzcocks, Urbis Manchester 12 Aug 2005

Buzzcocks were one of the most commercially successful bands to emerge during the punk era, and achieved a succession of hits during the late 70's. They also helped to define and develop the punk trend by inviting the Sex Pistols to perform in Manchester. Following their lead, Buzzcocks played a key role in developing a new and different Northern branch of the genre and are among small group of artists who helped to change the direction of pop music. Though their songs are not played very often today, their influence still resonates.

I was an enthusiastic follower of Buzzcocks, and saw them live at the Electric Circus, and other venues in Manchester, at the Roundhouse in London and a venue in Dublin where in 1978 I was in a band who played support to them. I wrote a short piece about the Buzzcocks in the Irish music magazine Hot Press, and did an interview with Pete Shelley at the Russell Club, after a performance by Joy Division. I bought and still own a copy of their first single Spiral Scratch, and was a fan of Magazine, the band of Howard Devoto, who I saw at the Russell Club in 1979.

I knew this was going to be a fascinating event, and I wasn't disappointed. The discussion kicked off at 8pm.

Here are some interesting points that emerged.

Pete Shelley (born McNeish) is from the Lancashire town of Leigh, to the north west of Manchester. He studied at Bolton Institute of Technology and was actively involved with the students union.

Howard Devoto (real name Trafford) was born in Scunthorpe, moved to the Bolton area and studied at Bolton Institute.

After experimenting with electronic music, Howard Devoto put up a notice on the board at Bolton College looking for musicians to collaborate with, and Pete Shelley responded to it.

The name Buzzcocks was chosen after they saw a Time Out review of the TV series Rock Follies entitled 'It's the buzz, cock!'. They iintended it to echo the name 'Sex Pistols'.

In early 1976, Pete Shelley unexpectedly had the loan of a car for a weekend, enabling him and Devoto to travel to London, meet Malcolm McLaren, see the Sex Pistols live, and bring them to Manchester. If he hadn't had the loan of that car, the course of events might have been quite different...

They chose the Lesser Free Trade Hall Manchester, not Bolton, as the venue for the Sex Pistols gig of Friday 4 June 1976 because it was centrally located and accessible to lots of people.

At the follow-up gig on 20 July, Buzzcocks were told they had to go on stage within five minutes or they wouldn't get to perform. That was their first gig.

By self-releasing their first record, Buzzcocks set an example followed by many bands.

The Spiral Scratch EP cost around 500 to record, press and release. The initial pressing was 1000. It went on to sell 15,000 copies and became a collectors item.

Howard Devoto left Buzzcocks only a few days after Spiral Scratch was released.

Buzzcocks' first appearance in London was at Screen on the Green Islington in 1977.

Though often described as a Manchester band, Buzzcocks in their early years had little to do with the Manchester scene.

It was always going to be difficult to cover the key events of 1975 to 1977 in just two hours and soon it was 10 o'clock and, as the Pete Shelley song goes: "Time's Up", at which point the discussion ended, to enthusiastic applause. Audience members came forward for autographs and photographs with the speakers, and I exchanged a few words with both Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto, who also signed his autograph for me.

Many thanks to the people at Urbis for organising this event. VIsit the Urbis website www.urbis.org.uk.

For a detailed, authoritative, insider account of the story of Manchester music, read 'Shake Rattle and Rain' by musician and music historian CP Lee.

'I Swear I Was There' is a film and book produced by David Nolan, all about the legendary first Sex Pistols concert, and peoples' recollections of it. At the discussion, Howard Devoto had a copy of the accompanying book of the same name and commented favourably on it.

See my photographs of the amazing Urbis centre in Manchester.

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2005-08-15

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