Buzzcocks @ The Apollo, Manchester, UK – 25th May

Posted by Bianca on Friday May 25, 2012 Under New Wave, Punk-rock

1. Buzzcocks, Manchester Apollo 25-5-12

Tonight I witnessed a real moment of music history. Buzzcocks were one of the key punk bands of the 1970s and three versions of the band are now reunited for two nights only (Manchester and London). When any band gets back together again after a long absence, there are always arguments among fans about whether it’s the definitive line-up that people really want to hear. Usually someone is missing, but with this reunion you have the two distinct and classic line-ups, plus the current version. The quirk is that the various editions of the band are performing three sets in reverse order.

2. Buzzcocks, Manchester Apollo 25-5-12

Their story is well known, but here it is again. Buzzcocks were formed by Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto in Manchester in 1975/6. Steve Diggle (bass) and John Maher (drums) completed the first classic line-up. After seeing the Sex Pistols in London in 1976 Devoto arranged for the Pistols to perform in Manchester. Buzzcocks then played support at a second Pistols gig in Manchester. They then recorded the classic ‘Spiral Scratch’ EP (that is 4 tracks on a 7” vinyl disc, to you younger MP3 folk). It was groundbreaking as one of the first released punk records and it was also released on the band’s own ‘New Hormones’ label. It was (probably!) the first ever indie-released record – at the time bands relied on being signed by established record labels.

3. Buzzcocks, Manchester Apollo 25-5-12

The Buzzcocks really are up there with the Clash, The Sex Pistols and The Damned as one of the premier British punk bands. They are so famous that they have even given their name to the TV music quiz programme ‘Nevermind the Buzzcocks’. Punk was really pretty diverse. The Buzzcocks played fast, exciting and short songs like many punk bands. However, they also made a lot of great, catchy pop songs that appealed to a wide audience and their lyrics well expressed the angst of youth. Devoto, Shelley and Diggle are all, in their different ways, great songwriters.

4. Buzzcocks, Manchester Apollo 25-5-12

Tonight’s gig has been long anticipated and is sold-out. Manchester is the spiritual home of the band and is the obvious place to get together again. The Apollo is a really nice venue too – a 1930s art deco former cinema and a listed building. This also means the floor slopes down to the front and everyone gets a good view of the stage.
BBC 6 Music DJ Marc Riley has been talking enthusiastically about the gig on his radio show this week and is a keen Buzzcocks fan. He has come to the gig and although it wasn’t planned he is persuaded to introduce the band!

5. Buzzcocks, Manchester Apollo 25-5-12

First up, for set one, is the current version of Buzzcocks, with new boys Chris Remmington on bass and Danny Farrant on drums, supporting founder members Shelley and Diggle. The band plays material from recent (and less known) albums. Although these albums contain some good material, the set is a little long (at 19 songs), considering the songs are less well-appreciated. Also the real early classic songs have been saved until the later sets. The sound is not too good either– essentially it’s too loud and distorted. Fortunately the sound is better for the second and third sets that follow.

6. Buzzcocks, Manchester Apollo 25-5-12

Then comes the classic late 1970s version (‘Mark 2’) of the band who were responsible for the first three albums. After ‘Spiral Scratch’, singer Devoto suddenly left the band in 1976. Shelley then took over as lead vocalist on most songs and Diggle moved from bass to lead guitar. Steve Garvey became the new bass player. Most of the best songs were recorded by this quartet and we get 18 of them in this set, including ‘Fast Cars’, ‘I Don’t Mind’, ‘Autonomy’, ‘Sixteen Again’, ‘Promises’ and ‘What do I Get’.

Then more – the three song encore for the set is ‘Harmony in My Head’ and ‘Ever Fallen in Love’ (maybe their best known track – I am pleased to say I bought the single when it first came out!). And finally, ‘Orgasm Addict’ (if you don’t know, you can probably guess what this is about and, naturally, it was banned by the BBC at the time). These better-known songs seem to go down very well with the audience, who are mainly middle aged blokes (like me) (and some women of a similar age)!

7. Buzzcocks, Manchester Apollo 25-5-12

‘Pulsebeat’ (from first album ‘Another Music in a Different Kitchen’) was a highlight tonight, although the great drum part of the original was unfortunately a bit cut-back. This track shows what great musicians the Buzzcocks are and how interesting the construction of their songs can be. The classic twin-buzzsaw guitar sound first emerged in this second line-up of Buzzcocks and defined their hits of the period.

Looking at on-line comments on the gig, there is quite a bit of criticism that Steve Diggle was a bit inebriated and over-the-top! Well, he was rather, but he was also genuinely into the music, enjoying himself and connecting with the audience (many of whom had travelled long distances for this landmark reunion). The band was a bit ramshackle at times, it has to be said. However, isn’t this what ‘punk’ was about – not pristine versions of highly produced albums? For those of us who remember, many bands were a bit intoxicated on stage in the 1970s (for example, I never saw the band Family ever play sober!). Today most bands seem to be more ‘career conscious’ and keen to put-over how sober, polished and professional they are!

12. buzzcocks_DSC0803 copy

In contrast, drummer John Maher (coaxed out of retirement for the gig) looked very studious throughout. His drumming seemed pretty darn spot-on and he is often cited as being one of rock’s great drummers. Buzzcocks are very audience-orientated and at various points of the evening I saw John Maher and Pete Shelley at the stage door chatting to fans and signing autographs. The band members seemed to be really enjoying themselves over the course of the evening and there was a real camaraderie.

Finally, we get set three, the most interesting part. The bit that Marc Riley says, in his introduction tonight, really wets his whistle. The first reunion of the original band – Shelley, Devoto, Diggle and Maher – since 1976. It is only a short set, as Buzzcocks ‘Mark 1’, with Howard Devoto, had a very short lifespan and only released the four tracks on ‘Spiral Scratch’ during their lifetime. Few people ever saw them live. Other material was recorded at the time and released years later (on ‘Time’s Up’). However, when Devoto left (to form ‘Magazine’), Buzzocks re-recorded a lot of the material, like ‘Orgasm Addict’ with the new line-up.

8. Buzzcocks, Manchester Apollo 25-5-12

The fact is that Buzzcocks Mark1 were a very different band from Mark 2. The original group was a stripped down outfit with one guitar, bass and drums and it was a far more basic band. It was really more ‘punk’ than the second ensemble that soon found fame and success. Devoto’s voice has more sneer and cynicism, while Shelley’s vocals are lighter in feel and express more youthful angst. Live it was amazing how the sound of the two versions of the band was so different. This was how the Buzzcocks would have sounded if Devoto had stayed, instead of Shelley taking over singing duties and bringing in a second guitar.

9. Buzzcocks, Manchester Apollo 25-5-12

The classic third track on Spiral Scratch is ‘Boredom’, with its very simple guitar riff having two-notes (supposedly repeated 66 times). Part way through this, Devoto’s manager, posing as his personal stylist, comes on stage with a mirror and Devoto tries on some designer sunglasses, preening himself (supposedly bored?). Devoto really stamps his mark on this final set – he is the main-man and even the flamboyant Diggle sits down on the drum riser with his bass and takes a back seat.

10. Buzzcocks, Manchester Apollo 25-5-12

Their rendition of the final track on Spiral Scratch, ‘Friends of Mine’, goes drastically wrong and breaks down. As far as I could see, different members of the band seemed to be trying to play different songs! The song is re-started and eventually they get through it and walk off stage. Then they are back on for the encore and perform ‘I Can’t Control Myself’, the old Troggs classic. Devoto is now wearing a peaked cap and bright-coloured spiky wrist bands (don’t ask why!). Chaotic, yes, but to me this final set was the best bit. True punk attitude, make-do and mend. Fun! Anything could happen!

11. Buzzcocks, Manchester Apollo 25-5-12

Well, quite an evening all round. Will they ever all play together again? Who knows, but at least I saw this moment of history!

Buzzcocks Review and photographs by John Bentley

4 Responses to “Buzzcocks @ The Apollo, Manchester, UK – 25th May”

  1. steve garvey Says:

    well done john, i think you nailed the whole night. cobwebs were brushed away, the london show was much better as a show but not not the same chaos / fun. diggs is just crazy sometimes but always brings it! very good photos

  2. john bentley Says:

    Thanks, Steve. A splendid evening!

  3. John Maher Says:

    Hey John, these photos are fantastic! I’m well impressed! Thanks for sharing them.

  4. john bentley Says:

    Many thanks, John. I really enjoyed covering the gig. I will be putting some more Buzzcocks photos up on my own Flickr site in a few days time. Link below-
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/john_arc-images/collections/72157626598338498/

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