“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?