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Pete Shelley: History is Made by Those Who Turn Up

Written By: - Date published: 8:08 pm, December 7th, 2018 - 31 comments
Categories: class war, community democracy, Deep stuff, uk politics - Tags: , ,

“I never knew there was a law against sounding vulnerable. And anyway, personal politics are part of the human condition, so what could be more political than human relationships? Many of those songs are more about not having love, the downside of things.

I heard that Joe Strummer once told Paul Weller that he should write songs about life as it’s lived, rather than singing about driving around the freeway in convertibles. I mean, in England we didn’t have convertibles – or even freeways – so we had to do something else. We were sick of those boring old farts from America and, if our songs sounded bleak, well that’s normal if you live in Manchester. It’s grim up North!”

 

Pete Shelley, punk pioneer and prolific songwriter, has died, aged just 63.

Obviously, a lot of sixties pop and rock stars have shuffled off this mortal coil. However, to lose one of the first and best of the new music that kicked the flaccid music industry in the bollocks in 1976 is particularly jarring.

Buzzcocks were not just insanely good at writing fast, clever and refreshingly short rock songs, they revolutionised the way artists and audiences related to each other. They were the first band to self produce, manufacture and sell their product, with no record company input. The band borrowed a few hundred pounds, recorded four songs, had the results turned into the Spiral Scratch EP at a local record pressing plant and sold the records to Manchester music stores themselves.

No agents, no talent scouts, no record company exec’s. They tore down the barriers between artist and fan; each was as important as the other.

Now, in a world where self publishing music on the internet is not just possible, but brutally monetised by the likes of Spotify, this may seem quaint. But I own a copy of Spiral Scratch and I’ll take that physical artifact of rebellion over a million YouTube stars any day.

Here’s the thing with punk; we could all do it. Xeroxed fanzine Sideburns put a diagram showing how to play some guitar chords on their cover with the message “This is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band”

Contrast that with entitled guitar gods like the unrepentant racist Eric Clapton, getting rich ripping off black musicians, or coke snorting West Coast former hippies Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles, helicoptering into gigs on farms and speedways while the fans wallowed in the mud and paid for the privilege, or tired old hacks like Billy Joel, whose ‘It’s still Rock n Roll to me’ was the confused whine of an old man waving his impotent fists at the clouds.

And yeah, we fought the Punk Wars and the dinosaurs won. Billy Joel, Elton John and the fucken Eagles are still with us and young fogies like Ed Sheeran have done their best to suck the life out of modern music. But we tried, we really tried.

So farewell Pete Shelley. You wrote some stonking tunes, you got banned by the BBC for singing about anal sex and you lived a good, purposeful life. Everybody’s happy nowadays, but what do I get?

 

 

31 comments on “Pete Shelley: History is Made by Those Who Turn Up”

  1. Sanctuary 1

    I still get Rupert Grint and Ed Sheeren mixed up 🙁

    • Chris 1.1

      …and long may that mix up continue, for it is a grand mix up, one to be nurtured and cherished forever. Well done, and thank you. Be sure to keep up the good work.

  2. lurgee 2

    Well, that’s my weekend ruined. Probably not as much as Pete’s is though.

    One of the best.

  3. WeTheBleeple 3

    Weirdos.

    A soundtrack of punk as we puked up and punched
    A piss up on Monday unconscious by lunch
    A pile of refuse a garden of silt
    A slum and some scum it was right to the hilt

    Was society fucked up or was it just me
    Looking back looking now it’s the same shitty scene
    With bankers and wankers all calling the shots
    Never accounting for our human costs

    And now it’s our planet they warned me those kids
    With crass punk patched jackets and whiskeys to sip
    And I laughed and I jeered and said who gives a fuck
    As they marched to McDonald’s to glue that shit up

    All these years later I just must admire
    Those toughest young punks with hearts made of fire
    Surrounded by souls trying hard not to care
    Standing their ground to the sound of ‘you’re weird’.

    RIP Pete, long live punk.

  4. Draco T Bastard 4

    And yeah, we fought the Punk Wars and the dinosaurs won. Billy Joel, Elton John and the fucken Eagles are still with us and young fogies like Ed Sheeran have done their best to suck the life out of modern music. But we tried, we really tried.

  5. mickysavage 5

    Well said TRP. I remember as a teenager dying when Saturday Night Fever appeared and celebrating when the Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks responded.

    • Thanks, MS. Disco was definitely a dividing line! Kids in the seventies were incredibly tribal about their music, echoing the earlier mods/rockers divide. I can recall having passionate debates about whether such and such band was punk enough or whether it was possible for American bands to be punk at all.

      Certainly, letting slip that you quite liked some boring old fart’s latest single could even end relationships. This idealogical purity was probably best summed up by the Pistols sacking bassist Glen Matlock for allegedly liking Paul McCartney. A fair call in my book 😉

  6. Blazer 6

    ‘Everybody’s happy nowadays, but what do I get?

    ‘singing about anal sex ‘

    You get to be an arsehole who has disrespected hugely popular artists,while
    failing to appreciate the role of different genres of music.

    Get a sex pistol and blow yourself….away.

  7. Kevin 7

    Musical snobbery is just fucking boring. Who gives a shit what people listen to? If THEY like it, that’s all that matters.

    • Actually, it wasn’t snobbery, Kevin. It was a rejection of snobbery. Punk, as I noted a couple of times in the post, demystified rock. Some punk bands even went as far as putting the details of how they recorded their songs, and what chords they used, and what it cost to make on the sleeves of their records.

      The point being that anyone can do it, and attitude is more important than talent. Fuck ‘proper’ music and ‘proper’ musicians. Learn three chords, write about what you know, form a band. It’s easy as.

      • solkta 7.1.1

        The point being that anyone can do it

        but unfortunately this is not true. There have been some really awesome self taught bands like The Clash and UB40, but not everybody who picks up an instument can learn to play well.

        • Gabby 7.1.1.1

          It wasn’t about playing well. It was barely about playing.

          • esoteric pineapples 7.1.1.1.1

            Each of the best punk bands could play well. That was a myth about them not being able to play their instruments. The Sex Pistols were an extraordinarily tight unit who had been practising for ages before they became big. This was pre-Sid Vicious or course.

        • te reo putake 7.1.1.2

          The Sid Vicious argument! To be fair, Solkta, I’m a terrible ‘musician’, but I still bang out passable covers of songs by the Clash, the Cramps, Gun Club, Husker Du and many more bands who actually matter whenever somebody will let me near a stage. There are plenty of bands who didn’t play well, technically, but made vital, engaging music. Hell, I can even recall wincing the first time somebody called me a musician. It really missed the point of what I was trying to do.

          • solkta 7.1.1.2.1

            Each to their own, just don’t ask me to listen to it. There are so many truly talented people out there. So much good local music these days.

            • Incognito 7.1.1.2.1.1

              Are you referring to meritocratic talent? To be punk all you need is the talent of a screaming baby that gives the world a message because it can and in the only way it can. When older, instead of shitting your nappies you shit on the system and the people (the establishment) who adore and perpetuate it and who only care about themselves.

              If only people with a certain ‘talent’ or skill (ideally with a prior formal certification and ‘seal of approval’ from the system) were allowed to speak up and be heard (e.g. making music purely to express themselves) in this PC world based on consumerism, waste & pillaging we would be in deep shit. Oh, wait …

              You don’t need talent, you need a (political) voice, and you need to use it to make yourself known to the world, challenge the status quo, and create a different world. Hannah Arendt was punk IMO.

  8. riffer 8

    Such a damn shame. A huge influence on me as a young musician in the early 1980s. Wore out numerous copies of Another Music in a Different Kitchen.

    Nice to hear Shayne Carter dedicate the first song in his set last night to Pete. Acknowledging the influence the man had on so many of us back in the day. And if you weren’t there last night at Meow in Wellington you missed out big time – Dimmer and Straitjacket Fits were phenomenal. Even Chris Bishop was enjoying himself.

    I’m so glad I caught The Buzzcocks last year at Bodega. They were every bit as good as they had been – although Pete was looking really old – and quite overweight. He looked half-dead by the end of their set. Still, I can’t talk – I look similar.

    A real loss. As Neil Gaiman said yesterday, a piece of my youth died with Pete.

    Sigh…

  9. tc 9

    Saw them at st James not long before it became defunct in the noughts.

    Another music from a different kitchen and so much more. Excellent summary TRP.

  10. Descendant Of Smith 10

    So sad he’s gone. Second favorite punk singer behind Stuart Adamson who went far too young.

    Ever Fallen in Love is one of my life anthems – intensely reflective of my wife’s family dismay that a working class boy should marry their daughter. Of all their kids we’re the only ones still married to the same person not that it makes any difference to them but we find it mildly amusing.

    Probably timely to listen to Nostalgia.

  11. Adrian Thornton 11

    Fucking loved the Buzzcocks, I remember doing a cover (singing) of Love Battery at Main Street in Auckland in a puck band called Local Chaos..I was 14 yo, I think we were supporting The Androdiss and The Primers, it was pretty intense, but then again being a punk back then was pretty intense.

    The Buzzcocks were IMO the best pop band of the mid/late 1970’s, with a completely unique sound, probably not matched until Weezer showed up with their first LP in 1994.

    Here is some seriously sophisticated pop/punk from one of the best, so long Pete…

  12. Dazzer 12

    Oh shit.

    A shock to read about Shelley’s death. Almost as much as agreeing with the Standard 😉

    And TRP it was a great post too.

    The one thing I would question to a degree is the comment that “And yeah, we fought the Punk Wars and the dinosaurs won. ”

    I think on the surface it is true. The first generation wave of punk made little impact in the US. Yet the legacy is there – without the UK punk bands there would be no Nirvana and that generation of US bands. Nirvana paid a very open homage to Buzzcocks by inviting them to be support band on one tour. The first RHCP album was produced by Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill who the band specifically sought out.

    In that light, if anything I think the influence of punk has been downplayed without mentioning the way reggae and other riddum genres were introduced to a mainly white audience.

    Not to mention there touring ethic. I saw Buzzcocks three times in the last seven years at Bodega. Fantastic every time. Never tired of seeing them live.

    Anyway, thanks TRP, a great post.

  13. esoteric pineapples 13

    The dark side of punk was that it became as repressive a musical movement as any that has ever existed. Glen Matlock, who co-authored the Sex Pistols songs, got booted out for not looking punk enough and was replaced by the parody of Sid Vicious as what a punk should look like and be.

    I remember reading an interview with one of the members of The Stranglers in Uncut magazine who said that at the beginning punk was very eclectic and then the The Stranglers who helped set the music going were oestracised for not being punk enough.

    In the serious music scene in Dunedin around 1978, the only acceptable non-punk music was the Kinks and perhaps a bit of Motown.

    By the early 1980s on Radio Active in Wellington nothing that wasn’t darkly morbid was deemed acceptable for the playlist. Like Henry Ford said, you can have any colour you want, as long as it is black.

    The music had become the equivalent of Stalinist Russia.

    Its saviour was Paul Weller who had got bored with punk and gave it the finger with Style Council.

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