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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, January 30th 2009
I know I saw the Buzzcocks way back in the 1970s, but as I think I’ve explained before, and am ashamed to confess, this distant memory is shrouded by a surfeit of Boddingtons (still then made in Manchester) consumed in the parlour of a pub next door to the sadly-missed Strangeways Brewery. At the time, the Buzzcocks cut a bit of a dash: a frenetic guitar-led sound touched by an unusual Pop sensibility in their angst-laden and sexually challenging lyrics largely the responsibility of front man Pete Shelley, now lauded, like Martin Peters, as being somewhat ahead of his time. Despite some chart singles, commercial success and the more widespread recognition it brings never greeted this Manchester foursome who went the inevitable way of all things until the recent new wave of Seventies nostalgia saw them re-form in a partly changed line-up, and even record some new material. But tonight is firmly about the past as the band work through all the tracks from their first two albums, Another Music In A Different Kitchen and Love Bites (albeit in a rather eccentric order), supplemented by a few other early ‘hits’.
The Lurkers
The Lurkers
Much to my surprise, the Bush is packed to the rafters – it’s even pretty full when support act, the Lurkers, fronted by the gloriously unreformed Arturo Bassick, take the stage. Introducing ‘Come and reminisce if you think you’re old enough’ he opines, “Being a punk’s about not growing old in some home, sitting in a chair and pissing and shitting your pants, although frankly that’s what I do now most nights when I’m on tour” (those closest to the stage reeled back at this point). As they say, you couldn’t make it up. But when they finished the set with a two-hundred-mile-an- hour rendition of Dean Martin’s ‘Little old wine drinker me’, I got the strong impression that, conceivably, their day was past. The same could not be said for the Buzzcocks, who, but for the exception of Pete Shelley’s voice (not helped by a pretty poor sound balance) sounded as fresh as a daisy, their material positively vibrant, and their music a lot louder and heavier than I recall through the beer haze. They were, somewhat to my surprise, and the Photographer’s (“I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage all night”) very impressive.
The Buzzcocks
The Buzzcocks
Shelley couldn’t have been as disinterested as he looked. Although his vocals were strained (I think there was some sort of echo or reverb on them, an attempt to make them carry a little further perhaps?) and his occasional remarks terse and indifferent, he gave a magnetic performance. He looked an unlikely character for the job – with a Mondrianesque design shirt and an ill-matched well-worn pair of baggy Jolliman style Action Trousers (with a roomy cut and elasticated waist). His sparring partner, guitarist Steve Diggle (who displayed a surprising aversion to barre chords), was sipping Moet and Chandon NV from a pint-sized plastic glass and looked just the part whilst clearly having the time of his life. New band members, bassist Tony Barber and drummer Danny Farrant turned in more than creditable performances – in fact Farrant was a commanding figure. Together they created a sense of energy that quite took hold of the audience. Beer and (plastic) glasses flew around in all directions, one girl was swiftly restrained from lurching off the balcony into the crowd below. In the sizeable mosh, there was a heaving mass of bodies, crashing and crushing, sometimes quite violently – to be truthful it was hard to know if they were ‘dancing’ or fighting. And it was illuminating to see, along with the kids (who seemed to start at the age of about 16, many a bald or grey head (and bouncing beer-belly) in the thick of it - clearly some were more than old enough to know a lot better. This of course only added to the delight of many of the kids upstairs with their Dads (and just occasionally Mums) who were witnessing a real flashback, and a glimpse into their parent’s past.
Pete Shelley I suppose it’s far too late for the Buzzcocks to become fashionable again, but when you see a performance like this, and realise just how contemporary much of their music still sounds, you can’t help thinking than they deserve a little better than the footnote in the history of rock and roll that they seem doomed to occupy. The current tour is extensive, with dates across Europe, so why not go and see them and make your own mind up, or invest in the new series of re-released albums? - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

<- Pete Shelley in his Mondrian shirt

The Buzzcocks on MySpace

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