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Buzzcocks Biography

Home > Music > B > Buzzcocks > Biography

Birth Place: Bolton, England
Years Active: 1976–1981, 1989–present
Genres: Punk Rock, Pop Punk, New Wave

Buzzcocks is an English punk rock band, formed in Bolton in 1976 by singer-songwriter-guitarist Pete Shelley and singer-songwriter Howard Devoto. They are regarded as an important influence on the Manchester music scene, the independent record label movement, punk rock, power pop, pop punk and indie rock. Devoto and Shelley chose the name "Buzzcocks" after reading the headline, “It's the buzz, cocks!,” in a review of the TV series “Rock Follies” in “Time Out” magazine.

Howard Trafford, a student at Bolton Institute of Technology (now the University of Bolton), placed a notice in the college paper looking for musicians sharing a liking for The Velvet Underground's song “Sister Ray.” Peter McNeish, a fellow student at the Institute, responded to the notice. McNeish assumed the stage name Pete Shelley, and Trafford named himself Howard Devoto.

In late 1975, Shelley and Devoto recruited a drummer and formed an early version of Buzzcocks. The band formally formed as Buzzcocks in February 1976 and performed live for the first time in April 1976 at their college. Garth Davies played bass guitar and Mick Singleton played drums.

Shelley and Devoto travelled to London together to see the Sex Pistols in February 1976. Shelley and Devoto were impressed by what they saw and arranged for the Sex Pistols to come and perform at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester, in June 1976. Buzzcocks intended to play at this concert, but the other musicians dropped out, and Shelley and Devoto were unable to recruit other musicians in time for the gig. Once they had recruited bass guitarist Steve Diggle and drummer John Maher, they made their debut opening for the Sex Pistols' second Manchester concert in July 1976.

By the end of the year, Buzzcocks had recorded and released a four-track EP, “Spiral Scratch,” on their own New Hormones label, making them one of the first punk groups to establish an independent record label. Produced by Martin Hannett, the music was roughly recorded, insistently repetitive, and energetic.

Their first single, “Orgasm Addict,” was a playful examination of compulsive sexuality that was uncommonly bold. The BBC refused to play the song, and the single did not sell well. Later, more ambiguous songs staked out a territory defined by Shelley's bisexuality and punk's aversion to serious examination of human sexuality. Their next single, “What Do I Get?” reached the U.K. Top 40.

After a few months, Devoto left the group, going on to form the band Magazine. Shelley continued as vocalist; his high-pitched, melodic singing stood in stark contrast to the gruff pub rock vocal stylings of many punk contemporaries. Diggle switched from bass to guitar, and Garth Davies rejoined on bass as Garth Smith or Garth. Garth appeared on the band’s first Radio 1 Peel Session, in September 1977, but due to his alcoholism he was quickly replaced with Steve Garvey. This new lineup signed with United Artists Records.

Their debut studio album, “Another Music in a Different Kitchen,” was released in 1978 through United Artists Records. It included the hit single “I Don't Mind,” which reached #55 on the U.K. Singles chart in May 1978. Also released in 1978, “Love Bites,” the band’s second LP, was released. It peaked at #13 on the U.K. Albums chart. “A Different Kind of Tension,” their third album, was released in 1979. It went to #26 in the U.K. and reached #163 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart in the United States.

After recording demos for a fourth album the group disbanded in 1981, when Shelley took up a solo career. Diggle and Maher formed Flag of Convenience, who released several singles between 1982 and 1989. Garvey formed Motivation and joined Blue Orchids, moving to New York shortly after to continue with the first band. Maher had joined Wah! by the time Buzzcocks broke up. Shelley and Devoto teamed up in 2002 for the first time since 1976, producing the album “Buzzkunst,” “Kunst” being the German word for “art.” The album was a mix of electronic music and punk. Buzzcocks have reformed several times since 1989, featuring Shelley and Diggle with other musicians.