Buzzcocks are one of the most influential punk bands of all time. Their music provided an introspective and often funny take on the bleak socio-economic landscape of 1970s Britain. Through encompassing genres such as power-pop and pop-punk, they put a refreshing twist on the genre that had become way too wrapped up in its pretence of nihilism and anti-establishment sentiment.
Don’t get me wrong, Buzzcocks were both of those things, but they managed to do it in a way where they really gave you something to think about. Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle’s lyrics went into more depth about their surroundings than any of their contemporaries could ever have hoped to do, perhaps except for The Clash.
Buzzcocks showed that as a spirit or ethos, when tinkered with, punk could be an even more potent beast than the one the likes of Sex Pistols exuded. Inspired by the likes of “Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Can” and a lot of the other “German stuff”, frontman Pete Shelley was always interested in artists “that were more on the noisy side but were funny as well”, and it showed.
This divergence from the norms is what endeared the band to fans. In addition to being one of the most iconoclastic groups of the first British punk wave, Buzzcocks are also cemented in popular culture for another reason. This is the show they organised on June 4th, 1976, at The Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester. This wasn’t any old show, though. Organised by the then-unknown pair of Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley, who were students at Bolton Technical College making their first waves under the moniker Buzzcocks, the show galvanised the city. Those in attendance would go on to become some of the biggest and most important names in British music. These included members of Joy Division, Morrissey, Mark E. Smith and John Cooper Clarke. Hell, even Mick Hucknall of Simply Red was watching on.
Whilst we could go on about those in attendance, the gig was also significant for another reason. It was the band who headlined the show, the vanguard of the nascent British punk movement, who would go on to become one of the most iconic punk bands of all time; Sex Pistols.
Devoto and Shelley had read a review of one of their London shows in the NME and were totally enthralled. In a retrospective interview with The British Library back in 2016, Pete Shelley, Steve Diggle and ex-manager, Richard Boon looked back on those momentous days.
For about ten minutes, the trio set the scene. They discussed the “dire” situation that Britain and Manchester before music found themselves in back in the mid-1970s. Shelley explained: “In those days, it was a whole different country, you see. Everybody was into heavy metal, but it wasn’t as ‘widdly-widdly’, things like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. There was a lot of Blues, and it was all to do with how many notes you could fit into your twenty-minute guitar solo.”
Then, the interviewer asked the burning question: “What gave you the idea to bring the Sex Pistols up to Manchester?”. Speaking of the time they first heard about Sex Pistols, Shelley said: “In February, there was one day we were in the coffee bar and Howard had bought a copy of the NME“.
He continued: “We saw this review, and it said they did a Stooges song. If they’d have said they did a Faces or Small Faces song, we’d have flipped over and carried on going. But because they did a Stooges song, we thought, ‘There’s another band who likes The Stooges!'”
Perplexed but excited that another set of people their age were into The Stooges, Shelley recalled: “That evening we drove down to stop at Richard’s”. At the time, Boon was studying at Reading University, and that night Sex Pistols were playing locally. Of the experience of seeing Sex Pistols play live for the first time, Boon said it “was just inspiring”.
The rest was history. That review and the explicit mention of Iggy and The Stooges helped kick off a wave of music that would completely change British culture. It is a great reminder that music is nothing but linear and a clear reflection of just how pervasive Iggy and The Stooges’ influence was.
Watch the Buzzcocks interview below.