The Buzzcocks. One of the great punk bands. Up there with the Pistols, Clash and Jam. Northern songs of lost love, exclusion, misery. But with the best pop melodies of any punk band. Their album “Another Music In A Different Kitchen” remains one of my true favourites.
So what better than to go down to the Brixton Academy (now an O2) to enjoy a top quality blast of nostalgia? The show was called “Back To Front”. It started with a session from the reformed Buzzcocks – singer/guitarists Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle. Don’t remember Diggle doing much singing back in 1978, but he does now. Then we had the centrepiece: the old band bashing out the classics. And then… the legendary Howard Devoto, who left the band early on to form Magazine, singing the songs that formed the band’s first EP, “Spiral Scratch”.
This was punk history in the flesh, it really was.
Ehhh, the first session the new stuff went on for an hour, and the sound was awful. I’m 53, maybe prefer my folk and jazz live these days, but I was up for it. But there was so much distortion at the top end of the guitar that it was as if the Jesus and Mary Chain were playing their feedback-drenched songs throughout. The new songs seemed quite good – what I could make out of them. Steve Diggle had turned into a rock artist, punching the air and looking a bit like Paul Weller. Pete Shelley wandered about in a baggy black dart player’s shirt, playing his Ramones riffs.
A better sound and half the length and I’d probably have been on iTunes when I got home, seeking out the new sounds. Instead, I was just just relieved when it ended.
Then the classic section. Band members from the time, John Maher and Steve Garvey, joining Pete and Steve. Starting with “Fast Cars”, one of my total favourites. Jeremy Clarkson would hate it. Took me a while to work out that was what it was. It’s partly because I can only hear in one ear, but that distortion was there again. Anyway, it was fun: lots of the old favourites from “Another Music” and various singles. Because of the sound, the ones that came out best were the jerky numbers like “Fiction Romance”, rather than the wall of sound riffers. I enjoyed “Moving Away From The Pulsebeat” with the first ever punk drum solo, and I think we had “Autonomy”, “I Don’t Mind”, “No Reply” and “Get On Our Own”. And definitely, towards the end “What Do I Get”, “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays”. And then, for an encore, “Ever Fallen In Love…” and “Orgasm Addict”. Can’t complain – all the classics.
But I just couldn’t cope with the sound – and being with friends who like to be quite near the front, I wasn’t so enamoured with the sight of fifty-something geezers with shaven heads reliving their youth, throwing their considerable bulks around the crowd, in an approximation of the pogo-ing they no doubt did back in the seventies. On the other hand, it was good to see some youngsters getting down to the punk sounds too. There were even one or two dads with their teenage kids, which I thought was great. And, just guessing, a lot of Germans. Buzzcocks package tour? How un-punk is that?
So I came away feeling equivocal. My problem. Mainly because I just couldn’t hear the songs. Songs I absolutely love. I felt slightly cheated, but it wasn’t the band’s fault. It was the sound system. Or me. Maybe I was just coming down from the euphoria of Quins’ Premiership win that afternoon. (See my Sportsthoughts 26).
I went to the back for the Howard Devoto bit, as I needed to make a quick getaway, grabbed a quick half of lager and left before it had finished. I couldn’t believe I was doing that. I’d said to my son that I’d meet him in central London after a party he was at. But would I have left if I was loving it? No.
It won’t affect my love for “Another Music”, but I might hold off going to other punk reunions. Just stick with the seventies memory and enjoy the more tuneful live experiences from now on. Next up, Coldplay on 1 June at Arsenal’s stadium.
Aaah, that will be cool! And nice. Oh well… still a rock’n’roller in my head.
And here are two of the great Buzzcocks tracks – the start and finish to “Another Music In A Different Kitchen”. If you haven’t heard this album I exhort you to do so!
You can switch this one off at 5.20. there’s one of those hidden track things that don’t really work after that.
And just to finish, maybe the two best Buzzcocks pop tunes.