Dave Henderson, from Q Magazine, talks to Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto about the early days of the Buzzcocks.
Buzzcocks formed in Manchester, England. School mates Peter McNeish and Howard Trafford had attended a Sex Pistols concert in London in 1976 and decided it would be fun to start a band. Guitarist Peter and Singer Howard called their band “Jets Of Air.” Peter took on the name “Shelley” because (depending on the source you believe) either that’s what his parents were going to call him were he born with two “x” chromosomes or out of deference to an author of archaic English literature. Howard took the name Devoto from a Cambridge bus driver. They were soon joined by bassist Garth Smith (real name Gordon Davies). Not long after that they adopted the name “Buzzcocks” reportedly from a “macho-posturing” catch phrase they either used or heard (“Get a Buzz, Cock!”). By the end of 1976 and well into 1977 the line up consisted of Shelley, Devoto, Steve Diggle (bass) and John Maher (drums). In 1977 the quartet recorded their famous EP, ‘Spiral Scratch’…
Dave: How did you get the band together all those years ago?
Pete: I don’t know. I’m fairly sure will power had something to do with it.
Go on tell your story because you started it.
Howard: A procession of notices, bits and pieces pinned up whilst being at college, which is where we both were. Bolton Institute of Technology.
Dave: What were you both doing at college?
Pete: I was doing Electronics.
Howard: I was doing, what was I doing at the time? Humanities and listening to records like you do and going to see bands on a Saturday like you do at college and not really liking it. In fact getting really fed up with it., which is possibly how I was feeling about life generally as well. But, music meant an awful lot to me and this band called the Stooges meant a lot to me. And what was kind of different about them was the music seemed to be fairly simple and elemental, and I felt singing along with this, hey, I could do something like this, possibly, with a bit of help. And wouldn’t it be good if there were bands like this at college! We stuck up a notice and started one like that. Peter answered it at any rate, along with one or two other people.
Dave: So what did it say in the notice?
Pete: Something about wanting musician, with the idea of doing a cover of ‘Sister Ray’. I thought I knew the chords to what they had, different chords to what they were playing.
Howard: You had the right chords in the wrong order.
Pete: Something like that. It was about half and half. About half in the right order and half in the the wrong order.
Howard: And that was sort of how we got started really, was with a load of cover versions in the privacy of one or two people’s front rooms. And then reading about this band, The Sex Pistols. This particular review that was in mentioned that they also did a cover of a Stooges song and said things like, ‘we’re not into music, we’re into chaos’. I think that was the first article that was ever in the press about them.
Pete: The Marquee, wasn’t it!
Howard: A review of the Marquee gig.
Pete: Yeah, a one where the chair got thrown across the stage. Sounds like right good fun!
Howard: Shall we cut this a bit short and say we saw The Sex Pistols, we thought they were bloody great, and got back and thought we could be approximately a bit like them are really, up North because they were only…It seemed quite different to us. There was quite obviously no other bands around like that and it kind of set some blueprint really, for us. February or so and they’ve got a contingent of about twenty five people that go around and see them and it is before they’ve been much heard of at all.
Pete: And people are conditioning their vans as well!!!
Howard: So we didn’t think we were doing anything fantastically fashionable, we just kind of liked the style.
Dave: So what did you do when you got back? You just started writing your own songs or….
Howard: Well that’s what I’m trying to fit in because we had this one gig, the gig which everyone knows about is the gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in the July and to a lesser extent they knew about The Sex Pistols playing there a month before. But Buzzcocks actually played this…
Pete: Textila association because part of my…
Howard: That was a choice gig that.
Pete: Because part of my political manoeuvring to get myself elected was to go around to all ethnic associations (you’ve got the Indian Society and you’ve got this and that and the other) and one of them was the Textile students. And I used to go along with them to see who was in charge and say I can address your meeting, and then got them all to vote for me because no one used to bother about anyone who wasn’t a white psychology student, it used to be at the time because psychology students used to have all the….But, anyway, and so they were having an annual get together in the reflect, so I got us on the bill and we were going to get £5 for it, weren’t we, but it ended up after about two numbers because we’d just cobbled the band together.
Dave: Did they have any idea of what they were going to get?
Pete: No, and I still don’t think they know what they got.
Howard: But I don’t think at that…I think we might have played ‘Get on your Own’ or ‘No Reply’, or something like that.
Pete: Yeah, ‘No Reply’ it could’ve been.
Howard: But there were certainly none of the ones we wrote together. I think that came…that was just about to happen.
Pete: No, I thought we were doing them before. Well I mean I know I like lots of them because it was was like during the summer when we did ‘Boredom’ and ‘Breakdown’ and ‘Friends of Mine’. But I think we’d done ‘Times Up’ earlier, but then again.
Howard: I don’t think we played it at that one anyway. I’ve got a set list kicking around somewhere.
Peter: Well we started…we did Diamond Dogs and this drummer we had, he used to be in this awful Rock and Roll band basing themselves on sort of Deep Purple, because they were very fashionable at the time. And this drummer played everything really slow. So, Diamond Dogs instead of being 1234 it was 1—2—3—4 and it lasted for about twenty minutes. So, we only got about three songs. I think we did Come On and things.