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Music

Kurt Cobain's favourite British punk band

Aptly described as an “international phenomenon” by former manager Danny Goldberg, Kurt Cobain spearheaded a wave that defined a generation. Formed in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1987, Nirvana would go on to soundtrack Generation X’s perpetual struggle against the ills of their parent’s generation and the societal pressures neoliberal economics had placed on them. 

An incredible songwriter who blended the pop melodies of The Beatles with the uncompromising ethos of punk, Cobain tapped into an area that hadn’t been touched since The Beatles first burst onto the scene in the early ’60s. Indeed a cultural phenomenon, Nirvana provided a soundtrack for the jaded and misunderstood everywhere.

Cobain swiftly achieved iconic status after the release of Nirvana’s sophomore album Nevermind in 1991, a level afforded to him primarily because of his lyricism, guitar playing, and position as a force for good amongst all the mire. As the chief songwriter of the trio, Cobain discussed themes covering parental abandonment, childhood isolation, heroin addiction and depression. 

As fans of Kurt Cobain, we often get bogged down or distracted by the darker aspects surrounding his persona. Whether it be his traumatic childhood, the opaque but bleak themes of his songs or his tragic suicide in 1994, in contemporary times, there seems to be an inclination to forensically examine his life and psyche due to how his life ended. However, he was so much more than the darkness that plagued him towards the end of his life, and we mustn’t forget it.

Aside from being one of the most gregarious figures in music history, he was also an avid consumer of music and was as much of a music fan as the legions that flocked to his shows every night. He was a fan of everyone from The Vaselines to David Bowie and had an eclectic music taste, to say the least. 

However, the one form of music he particularly loved was punk. Be it first wave, post or hardcore, if it had punk on the label, Cobain was a fan. Although he namechecked many punk bands over the years, such as Black Flag, there is another classic punk outfit that Cobain coveted more than the rest. They are English heroes Buzzcocks, and their blend of artistic sensibilities and pop hooks with the overarching punk energy galvanised Cobain.

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A part of the original wave of British punk bands, Buzzcocks always stood out from the crowd due to their dedication to their unique creative vision, much like the way Nirvana stuck out amongst the morass of alt-rock bands in the early ’90s. Thanks to the surreal and often hilarious lyrics of their late frontman Pete Shelley, they spread the DIY ethos across the globe in the most unapologetic of ways. 

Brilliantly, Nirvana and Buzzcocks toured together in 1994, and luckily for us who weren’t around at the time, backstage footage exists. It offers a candid image of Shelley and Cobain acknowledging the power of each other.

The footage was taken just a few short weeks before Cobain’s suicide, and it sees the singer in a cheerful but somewhat withdrawn mood. The clip was shot during the European leg of Nirvana’s world tour, and, unfortunately, it would see Cobain lose his life before Buzzcocks even got back home to Manchester. 

As guitarist Steve Diggle told the Clitheroe Advertiser, “When Nirvana played, Kurt wore a Buzzcocks beanie hat on stage. I said to him, ‘I’ll see you when we get to London’ and by the time we got back there, it was all over the news that he was dead.”

It’s a morbid end to the story, but at least there is one optimistic point to take home. Kurt Cobain got to hang out with and watch his favourite punk band play numerous times whilst on tour. On the other hand, Buzzcocks got to experience first-hand the effect of their influence as they observed their most prominent disciple, Kurt Cobain, take to the stage in front of thousands of adoring fans every night.

Watch the backstage footage of Nirvana and Buzzcocks below.