RIP Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks

News came through yesterday that Pete Shelley, singer in one of the great punk bands, the Buzzcocks, had died, aged 63. The Buzzcocks have, if anything, grown in stature over the years. The leaders of the northern branch of punk; influences on all of the great post punk bands that followed, like Joy Division, the Fall, the Smiths, New Order and probably a later generation of Mancs too – Stone Roses, Oasis and others.

I wrote a bit about them in “I Was There – A Musical Journey” of course. Here it is:

So the punk triumvirate were the Pistols, Clash and Jam. The Damned briefly lurked up there on account of being first to get their rowdy records out.  But they were a bit of a joke ultimately.  Fourth in the hierarchy were definitely Buzzcocks. The northern punks, inspired by what they read about the Pistols to come down to see them and, shortly after, form a band.  They went on the riotous tour with the Pistols and Clash, and made some of the important DIY EPs: “Spiral Scratch”, “Boredom”, “Orgasm Addict”, in 1976 and 77.  Iconic titles, music that I heard on John Peel but didn’t really connect with in a big way, not at first. Then the tunes got bigger, sharper.  “What Do I Get”, released in February ‘78, showed what was coming: a fast Ramonesy riff, an industrial edge to the guitars, a whiney vocal over a great pop melody about the trials and tribulations of love, courtesy of Pete Shelley.  By then, the co-founder, Howard Devoto, had moved on.  He formed Magazine.  They had a more leftfield sound, closer to Roxy Music. One truly great song, “Shot by Both Sides”, a decent album, and not a lot after that.  Equals cult band for the rest of time!  Nowhere near as good as Buzzcocks though, because their debut album was one of the greatest.

 “Another Music in a Different Kitchen”. I loved it the day I bought it, soon after it came out in April 1978, and I love it still.  Of all the punk albums, only “The Clash” and “London Calling” and “Pink Flag” by Wire rank as high.  The buzzsaw guitars, those pop melodies, the counterintuitive stance. Anti-rock’n’roll in philosophy; pure rock’n’roll in sound.  Take the starter, “Fast Cars”.  A sample of the old favourite “Boredom”, and then a diatribe against fast cars.  Not a celebration.  A damnation – of cars.  So anti-rock’n’roll.  Hating the car.  A riff as good as any The Ramones came up with.  Brilliant.  As a non-driver until the 90s it hit my button!  Still does, even though I now drive.  The song to put up against all that boy racer nonsense that permeates our culture. 

 Every song on the album is diamond sharp: three chord surges powering, mostly, tales of boy wishes he had girl, or boy splits with girl. Taking refuge in drink and drugs and clubbing. The Manc way, over the years to become one of the great themes of pop music: Smiths, Stone Roses, Oasis.  Founder members, Buzzcocks. The final track, though, was something else.  “Moving against the Pulsebeat”, featuring maybe the first punk drum solo!  To this day I’ve never really latched on to the lyrics; it’s just the driving beat of the drums and those buzzsaw guitars again.   It makes me want to reach for my air guitar every time I hear it.  Maybe it’s metal in disguise. It must have inspired some metal bands.  Metallica, probably.  Ends with a snatch of “Fast Cars”.  A brilliant album topped and tailed by two of the definitive, but unorthodox punk tracks. 

 After that, there wasn’t all that much from the band that grabbed me.  As ever, that meant Buzzcocks had their most successful single ever:  “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t Have Fallen in Love With)?”. Great pop tune, no more no less. A singalong chorus that still gets ‘em going at any reunion party for forty and fifty somethings.  (Do I know this?  Of course not, but I’m sure I’m right. And they won’t be finishing with “Pulsebeat” either.)  And there’s another track I love.  I got it when I bought a Buzzcocks triple CD with pretty much everything they did in their early and successful days, called “Product”.  The track’s called “E.S.P” and it’s driven by a hypnotic two note guitar riff.  There’s not much else to it, but while the riff is repeated it seems from time to time to jump to another level.  I’m not sure why, but it makes the song uplifting at every turn.  A work of simple genius.

(By the way, the reference I make to “Fast Cars” being reprised at the end of “Moving Away from the Pulsebeat” isn’t 100% right, because really it’s the solo from “Boredom”.)

A lot of the tributes today are making a lot of the early EPs, with the state-of-the-youth cry of anguish, “Boredom”, the seminal song. The DIY ethos of the music and the marketing is often said to be the beginning of indie, a term which is still with us today, denoting an attitude, a detachment from the mainstream (even when part of the mainstream) a generally dissatisfied outlook on the world. The Buzzcocks didn’t have a long period of success, but their early works helped define a generation of music lovers and our affection for the music never went away. After a period apart the band reformed, and have been touring for many years. I saw them at Brixton Academy a few years ago, and to be honest, didn’t enjoy it. We stood near the front and the music was so ear-splittingly loud, the sound so distorted that I retreated to the back of the venue after a while to protect my hearing. It was one of those evenings when you only really recognised the songs because they were etched on your memory. The bassist was being an arse as well. So it wasn’t the best exercise in nostalgia that I have been to! But it didn’t sully the memory of those great songs, and one of the finest albums of all time, “Another Music in a Different Kitchen”.

So RIP Pete Shelley: in your brief time in the sun, you made a real and lasting difference.

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The Orielles at Heaven, 29 November 2018

The Orielles are a young band from Halifax, who have been getting increasingly good reviews, both on account of their excellent live shows and a very good debut album, “Silver Dollar Moment”, which was released in February this year. I’ve seen them a couple of times this year, at Latitude and End of the Road. They feature, on bass and vocals, Esme Dee Hand-Halford; and on guitar Henry Carlyle Wade. Their trademark sound involves jangling, echoey guitar, a dose of diamond-edged funk, punchy basslines and Esme’s wafting vocals. If it reminds me of anything it is mid-80s indie – Orange Juice and the Pastels spring to mind. But actually, they don’t really sound like anyone else – they have something which is very much their own.

Last Thursday they played a showcase London show at Heaven, which, I have to say, is an excellent venue for concerts. Holds a decent number of people, has an airy feel to it, and just a good vibe. Given that the two shows I’ve seen here – Girl Ray and the Orielles – attract a benign crowd not dominated by rowdy blokes, that obviously helps.

And this was the best I’ve seen the band perform so far. Full of confidence, really enjoying themselves, the music tight and at times, very funky, in a 70s Isley Brothers way – remember those guitar workouts they used to have at the end of songs like “Summer Breeze” and “That Lady”? Esme and Henry make a contrast centre stage. She stands slightly side on, swaying to the beats as she sings, while Henry at times does an impression of Wilko Johnson on steroids, with his guitar held high on his chest, a bit like John Dwyer of The Oh Sees. And his guitar is something to marvel at – when he gets going with the choppy riffs, the woozy solos, the funk workouts, he really gets going. The highlight in this respect is the closing song of the encore, the epic “Sugar Tastes Like Salt”. A magnificent tune and an uplifting finish to the show. The Orielles’ “Freebird”!

The set covered most of the album, kicking off with “Old Stuff, New Glass”, with a twangy bassline and a triumphant swirling riff. The star tune “Let Your Dogtooth Grow”, with its classic dreamy melody and jangling indie guitar appeared four songs in. That was followed by the bluesy slow one, “Liminal” and its companion “The Sound of Liminal Spaces” where the keyboard player came into his own, with a lovely 60s movie groove. Those two songs show that this band could go anywhere in the future, which was confirmed by the next song, a new one called “Bobbi’s 2nd World”, which is their 70s funkiest yet. It may have been about someone’s cat!

And you couldn’t complain about the last two of the main set, “Sunflower Seeds” and “Blue Suitcase (Disco Wrist)”. Orielles high points. Both with those distinctive stop-start beats and riffs. Truly infectious. The encore started with a new one, “Flowers” (thanks Setlist FM!) and then that epic which I mentioned earlier, “Sugar Tastes Like Salt”.

And that was it. 10 o’clock, and Heaven ready to change back into a club. But what a good evening. Unquestionably one of the best new bands around. And they have the potential to get better and better. Watch out for the Orielles!

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lovelondonscenes 153 – London at nightfall from the Millenium Bridge

Yesterday I spent a few hours at the Tate Modern working on the follow up novel to “The Decision”. Afterwards, around 4.30, I walked over the Millenium Bridge en route to Mansion House tube station. The views of the City and other directions are stunning as darkness falls. I took a few shots – not for the first time – and have turned a few of them into black and white pictures. See what you think.

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Swimming Tapes at the Moth Club, Hackney, 20 November 2018

This time last week I went to see Swimming Tapes with Jon G at the Moth Club in Hackney. When he suggested it I confess that I’d never heard of them, but he said it was summery beach Boys-style indie guitars and I thought, why not? A nice contrast to the gloomy November weather which has now asserted itself. I did a bit of research before I went and liked what I heard. Jangling guitars; lovely, breezy melodies. Reminded me a bit of a band I used to like in the early-mid 2000s, The Thrills. I used to play their album “So Much For The City” in the car a lot and my kids used to sing along to songs like “Big Sur” and “One Horse Town” in the back!

The Thrills are from Ireland, and coincidentally, Swimming Tapes, while based in London, hail mostly from Northern Ireland. They came on to a traditional Irish song, “The Star of the County Down”. Live their sound was excellent. The guitars did indeed jangle and lilt, and sometimes soar. There was an infectious, danceable beat to the tunes and they looked like they were having a lot of fun. The place was pretty full and the crowd were really with them. I really enjoyed it.

The band were very happy about the number of people who had turned up. One of their singers confessed that they were so nervous before they came on that they could “hardly breathe”. They put “Star of the County Down” on to relax themselves – though I thought it was also a statement about where they were from.

They don’t have a debut album yet, but they’ve put out a number of EPs since 2016, full of those summery sounds. I’ve put them all on one playlist on Spotify and have been playing it a lot. Feel good music. We all need a bit of that. Top tunes for me at the moment are “Alison” (which was their last song), “Souvenirs” and “Cameos”.

I’ll be looking out for any new music they put out, and they would be perfect for a mid-afternoon slot at Latitude or End of the Road. We shall see!

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lovelondonscenes 152 – From Albert Bridge to Hammersmith along the Thames

Last Sunday was a beautiful, crisp, sunny day, and I took the opportunity for a stroll along the river from Albert Bridge near Battersea Park to my old favourite, Hammersmith. I wanted to time it so I caught the sunset down by the Old Ship in Hammersmith, where the river bends and you get a fantastic view looking west. I didn’t quite get there in time, as I spent a lot of time taking photos, but got some lovely shots just as I approached Hammersmith, along Fulham Reach.

Here’s a selection – some with my Canon Power Shot SX60 HS, a “hybrid” with a great zoom; others with the iPhone 8, which captures the colours nicely, I find. Well, that’s as technical as I’ll ever get, so on with the pictures…

Albert Bridge

Battersea Bridge

Battersea/Wandsworth

Putney

Fulham Reach

Approaching Hammersmith

Finished with a pint of London Pride in the Blue Boat, near where I took the last photo, and then home!

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lovelondonscenes 151 – Tate Modern turbine hall in black and white

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lovelondonscenes 150 – A mist hangs over the City

I was walking along the river yesterday lunch time, heading for the Tate Modern. I liked this scene near Blackfriars railway bridge, of the City caught in a low cloud or mist. St Paul’s stands aloof.

In black and white.

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