Known for their raw and scratchy guitar sound, high-energy tunes, and pop artistry, The Buzzcocks stand as one of England’s most influential punk rock bands … and that’s genuine “punk rock” from the first wave of 1976-’77. Formed in the barely-reconstructed post-war industrial city of Manchester, England, in early 1976, The Buzzcocks were inspired by the raw energy of The Stooges, The Ramones, and London’s punk upstarts, the Sex Pistols.
Guitarists Pete Shelley, Howard Devoto, and Steve Diggle, and drummer John Maher blended an edgy, fuzz-guitar sound with fast-tempo three-minute pop songs to create an unusual, recognizable rock sound —a sound that inspired and influenced a slew of punk-styled bands in the rock world over the last 25 years.
This month, founding members Shelley and Diggle lead the current version of The Buzzcocks through the States in support of their new studio album, Flat-Pack Philosophy. (Cooking Vinyl). They co-headline the Vans Warped Tour’s only stop in S.C. on Monday evening.
“Yeah, it’s our first time we’ve joined the Warped Tour, so we’re looking forward to it … I’m told it’s a carnival with a lot of punk rock bands,” says Diggle, 51, speaking from the band’s tour van in Philly on the eve of their first Warped gig. “It’s going to be quite amazing, really, because they’ll definitely see the old school this week — the original well where it all came from. We do have that very distinctive and individual sound. I mean, when they see us, they’ll realize there’s a difference between Buzzcocks music and a lot of music that came after, that people think sounds like Buzzcocks music. It’s a great compliment that people say we’ve influenced a lot of bands, though. We feel like punk rock godfathers coming to town [laughs].”
The Vans Warped Tour 2006 hits the Exchange Park Fairgrounds in Ladson. The event is an all-day rock and punk festival, featuring The Buzzcocks and many other national and local bands on five different stages.
The Buzzcocks played their first concert supporting the Sex Pistols in July of 1976. They released their debut EP, Spiral Scratch, in early 1977 on the band’s New Hormones record label. Shortly after the release of the EP, Devoto quit the group and formed Magazine. Shelley assumed the role (lead singer) and Diggle switched from bass to six-string. Garth Smith became the band’s bassist. Following the release of their debut single, 1977’s “Orgasm Addict,” Smith was kicked out of the group and was replaced by Steve Garvey.
“The dynamics between the two guitars and mine and Pete’s vocal harmonies have always kept the standard sound of the Buzzcocks, really,” says Diggle. “Even when the original drummer and bass player left, we still maintained our sound.”
In rapid measure, the band released classic albums between 1978 and ’79: Another Music in a Different Kitchen, Love Bites, and A Different Kind of Tension. With their melodic tendencies, sarcastic tones, and clever arrangements, they garnered as many comparisons to the Kinks and Beatles as they did to the Clash or the Sex Pistols.
Most American fans remember the 1979 compilation album Singles Going Steady (IRS Records), which featured many of the band’s first UK hits (“What Do I Get,” “Orgasm Addict,” “Ever Fallen In Love”).
While working on song ideas for their fourth studio album in 1981, the Buzzcocks found themselves in a nasty fight with their new label, EMI, which led to a sudden split-up. Diggle played a bit with drummer Maher in Flag of Convenience while Shelley did a few solo recordings (the title track from his 1981 album Homosapien made a splash on early MTV). Only in 1989 did Diggle and Shelley reunite for some Buzzcocks shows. The band officially reformed in 1993 with a new rhythm section: Tony Barber (bass) and Phil Barker (drums). The Trade Test Transmissions album, their first recording in 14 years, was a strong effort with a modernized production sound. All Set and Modern followed in 1996 and ’99.
In 2002-’03, the band recorded a new self-titled album and released in the States on the Merge label. It clobbered the listener with unusually heavy-distorted guitar and big drum sound under their catchy pop melodies. The 14-song Flat-Pack Philosophy arrived this year on the Cooking Vinyl label.
“I was mostly pleased with the self-titled record from ’03,” says Diggle. “It was maybe a little bit heavier. This new one has some pop elements that are similar to some of the tunefulness on early Buzzcocks records. When we recorded it, I didn’t how good it was myself; I left alone for a few months and came back to it when we rehearsed for a British tour … that’s when I thought we might have something on our hands here, you know?”
They readjusted their rhythm section earlier this year, temporarily replacing drummer Barker with former Alarm and Spear Of Destiny stixman Danny Farrant.
“When we first got him, Danny had two days to learn 30 songs,” laughs Diggle. “He’s a really good drummer as well and he’s filled Phil’s shoes perfectly.”
Diggle and the band are playing seven new tunes from Flat-Pack Philosphy on this tour and they hope the younger fans and newcomers will dig into their sound the same way their older fans did 25 or 30 years ago.
“I don’t particularly know what we’re getting into with this one,” he says. “All I know is we’re hoping to reach out to a new audience with this album and tour. There are a lot of young kids out there who probably won’t discover us if we don’t go and try to find them.”