Glen Matlock, Sex Pistols
I knew them right from the get go. They came all the way from Manchester, Pete and Howard, and turned up at Malcolm [McLaren]’s to track us down so that they could book us for a show up there, so they had someone to support. They really stuck their heads out when nobody had heard of us. They didn’t support us the first time we played Manchester because they hadn’t got a band together, but they did the second time. I remember Pete had this really cheap guitar with half the body missing. He said he had got it from Woolworths, and the top bit had just fallen off, but that’s all they had and they were going to do it anyway.
They were different, quite wacky, arty, but they had the common touch as well. There was a sweetness about them that I loved because it was very human. Something about Pete’s writing had a slightly off-the-wall, knowing but humorous take on the way people go through life. He showed that you didn’t have to be political or angry to be punk, and touched on some quite important subjects, like his sexuality. I think that gave a lot of people encouragement that they can speak their mind – like Bowie did. A song like Ever Fallen in Love had that – but it was also a fantastic pop song, and he wrote loads of them.
The last time they played London, I thought, I’ll go – but then I didn’t. I thought, I’ll see them next time around. But now I can’t. Us lot are all of an age now that means maybe you should make that extra effort before it’s too late. But 63 is no age at all.
Jon Savage, rock writer
Sex and gender roles were an important part of that to me, and Buzzcocks were singing about male vulnerability at a time when not many people were doing that. Pete later said he was bisexual, but even before that he said he wrote to appeal to both genders. And certainly all the Buzzcocks’ mannerisms, their approach – he wasn’t confrontational. He was sly, witty, and that was a different way of getting your message across.
I suppose my favourite song is Orgasm Addict, which is one of the wittiest songs ever about sex: so fast, so exciting, just perfect. But there’s wonderful songs like I Need, which is all about the difference between wanting and needing – the capitalist perplex! He used love songs to talk about all sorts of things: the nature of perception, the nature of implanted desire, the nature and the problems of love itself. He was dismissed at the time for just writing about love, but he wasn’t just writing about love.
I went to see the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall on 4 June 1976, and as the gig finished me and Barney [Sumner] decided to form a group. We didn’t know that Pete Shelley and Howard [Devoto] had put the Sex Pistols on; it was only when we came to the next Pistols gig, when the Buzzcocks played, that we got talking to them. Me and Barney took to phoning Pete up to talk about our group. He’d only been in one a month longer than us, yet he was our mentor. Every time we phoned him, God bless him, he’d say, “Come and meet us and talk.” He was very generous. It was him that gave us the gig with Stiff Kittens supporting the Buzzcocks that started us off. He was always instrumental in making sure that our courses ran together. Without the Buzzcocks tour that Joy Division did, I don’t think any of us would have given up our day jobs. He never made you feel like you were imposing. I probably would not be where I am now without Pete Shelley.
Gina Birch, the Raincoats
We had some drunken scrapes, and Pete wrote a dedication to me on the inner sole of his shoe, the poet that he was, when he decided we were deep, drunken soulmates. I still have this – it always makes me smile and remember the night we went to a bar where Pete joined in with the singing, standing in front of a lonely, concentrating musician playing Ever Fallen in Love. The guy nearly jumped out of his skin, but Pete was so sweet and charming. We went to the house of the Royal College of Art’s head of film production; he lived in the Albany, the rather exclusive and exotic apartments in Piccadilly. Pete and Simon Fisher Turner danced naked, happily and euphorically on his rooftop, causing rather a commotion. I, unlike in my song We Had a Really Smashing Time, kept my clothes on. We decided that night that Pete and Simon would come and sing on my song, Love a Loser, which they did, and Pete’s voice is particularly inimitable. In my band the Hangovers, we used to play a version of Why Can’t I Touch It – performing it used to make me feel like I was outside of my body. So many Buzzcocks songs are engraved on my heart, and I am so happy I knew Pete a little bit and that his songs live on and on.
Stephen McRobbie, the Pastels
At 15 or 16 I was ready for the change that punk was bringing, ready to move on for a while from my Beatles, Bolan love and get into something a little more current. In the shock of the times, Buzzcocks became my thing: their already amazing catalogue of songs, the way their records looked, their muted styles, their everything. Pete Shelley, the modest magician frontperson, became a sort of hero to me. I was fascinated by him, how could he write so many amazing songs, sing and play them the way he did and make it look so easy.
I loved them so much, I even considered trying to go out with this girl – probably totally unsuitable for me in every way other than she had a Love Bites poster on her wall. I stuck with them when people stopped going to their shows, and in a way they became more accessible to a smaller audience. I always come back to them, to their deceptive simplicity, the brilliance of it all, the thrill. They were great and they were a great gateway too, to Can and other music. They were the way into punk and the way out of it. I loved them, I loved him. Thanks, Pete.
I first saw Buzzcocks while DJing at the Roxy back in 1977, and they immediately struck a chord by bringing a pop sensibility to a form that, for the most part, was pretty pissed off and sounded as much. They delivered energetic punk songs that weren’t afraid to deal with topics like love and emotion, neither of which were on the cards when the whole punk thing kicked off. I really got know Pete on the White Riot tour in May of 1977, when Buzzcocks were supporting the Clash along with the Slits. It was during that period I came to realise Pete Shelley was far too intelligent to ape what were fast becoming the cliches of punk.
Geoff Travis, Rough Trade
Rough Trade might not exist without the Buzzcocks. The Spiral Scratch EP with the immortal track Boredom – which we bought direct from Richard Boon, Buzzcocks’ manager – was the impetus for us to start thinking about becoming a distribution hub for independent music. It was not only self-made and gloriously independent – more importantly, it was brilliant. Pete Shelley will never be forgotten.
Stuart Braithwaite, Mogwai
Pete Shelley’s music was utter pop perfection. Buzzcocks’ songs are as timeless as he was an incredibly enigmatic frontman. There aren’t many bands who have been so influential to so many generations of musicians as they continue to be to this day and will be for generations to come. Pete Shelley was a punk rock icon. He’ll be sorely missed.