2018 has been a cruel year for “Manchester” (we talk of Bolton and Salford really, but you know what I mean). The city has lost two of its greatest wordsmiths on the cusps of the year: Mark E Smith in January and now Pete Shelley on December 6th. Two talents that signified to me the essence of punk and its long-lasting, ever-shifting, essentially renewable influence more than any of the better known names. Both embodied the idea that talent and creation was classless and that your core independence, intelligence and wits can always take you places, silver spoon or not. It’s an idea worth holding onto.

There are many other appreciations that are worth your time, written by those who knew him well. I highly recommend the scorching piece my good pal John Robb – Membranes singer, football fan and friend of True Faith – wrote click here. There are some fine, instructional reads by the great and the good; the best being by Simon Reynolds, who wrote something you should all read here – click here. They all say what should be said and what I, of course, should say. You can’t talk enough about the good stuff with someone like Pete Shelley.

So you can see from others, and from the outpouring of genuine sadness this last few days, it’s easy – brilliantly, fantastically so – to say Pete Shelley’s writing and actions in Buzzcocks and on his solo records shaped many things we take for granted in both popular music and wider society.

A quick list of the essentials, I’ll keep it short so you can let it all sink in on reflection. And anyway, hundreds of others will say this better than me. But still, it bears repeating. Buzzcocks are the first English group to establish their own, truly independent record label, New Hormones. They helped launch game-changing (local) talent both visually with Malcolm Garrett and Linder Sterling (here: the ‘Orgasm Addict’ cover). And musically: giving support slots to provincial unknowns the likes of Joy Division. And – as Simon Reynolds’s piece rightfully  hammers home – Shelley was very keen on promoting other, more holistic and positive aspects of human love: “Our songs are bisexual.” Later Shelley – through some very adventurous solo releases such as XL•1 – immersed himself in the potential of the coming digital revolution.

In short, pretty much everything Shelley was involved with in his music was bottom-up, forward-thinking and inclusive. It makes me laugh writing this last sentence using so many current buzzwords, beloved of braindead marketing types.

Maybe that shows how adaptable and flexible Buzzcocks were. But that adaptability also comes from the non-starry, essentially human aspect of his writing; which reflected his persona. You can clearly see that, right from the off, whilst everyone was gobbing off about riots and anarchy, Shelley and his creative sparring partner Steve Diggle were revelling in their role as punk’s jesters at the Court of Love. Him? Vile and obscene? The very thought

]! Rather, Shelley’s pin-sharp lyrics were more concerned with the pain of being dumped or the (inevitable) cocking up promising situations in your love live. What is striking is they are often set in the first person. Shelley often sets himself up as the fellow sufferer, and writes primarily to give you the listener a quick guide, or pick-me-up. Lesser souls normally just sneered, or showed off. Not Pete. You can hear it in the classic singles, and great LP tracks like ‘I Don’t Know What to Do With My Life’, which is a great example of his confessional, empathetic and often very funny approach.

I don’t know what to do with my life

Should I give it up and make a new start

I don’t know what to do with my life

’cause the one I’ve got just tears me apart

Then there is is his classic solo single ‘Homosapien’ which (sorry) still must have taken some balls to release. The song is lush, but the lyrics are still inspirational.

Homosuperior in my interior

But from the skin out

I’m Homosapien too

And you’re Homosapien too


I don’t wanna classify you

Like an animal in the zoo

But it seems good to me to know

That you’re Homosapien too

It’s often easy to forget – because we think we know them – just how great the songs are. The Singles Going Steady compilation should be in everyone’s collection. And unlike many other bands of the time, Buzzcocks’ music had a shelf life and potential that far outstripped the Stunde Nul idea of punk. Later and much less celebrated LPs still had that infectious energy and searching wit. 2006’s LP, Flatpack Philosophy is a great example of that.

Their ideas  found their way into the postmodern pop of the 1980s (Orange Juice, for instance, openly name checked ‘Boredom’ in their big hit ‘Rip It Up’). Shelley’s solo work found its way onto Antwerp’s dance floors at the beginning of the New Beat explosion; the precursor to rave. You can hear his ‘I Don’t Know What Is It’ alongside Section 25, KIlling Joke, Severed Heads and Liquid Liquid in this great Liaisons Dangereuses mix (suitably segued in New Beat style). A fitting hybridisation for someone who was always interested in more esoteric music such as Cologne’s mighty Can, and exploring the new – click here.

To end this piece, I want to summon up a third Mancunian (well he wasn’t, strictly, but you know what I mean). A certain A H Wilson once said, “When forced to pick between truth and legend, print the legend.”

So here’s a “legend”.

I have it on good authority from a friend living in another country (the one Pete lived in in his last years) and a friend who must remain nameless that they’d heard from another friend that this friend had bumped into Shelley this week at their local pub quiz. Pete had talked to him for hours about punk rock, Buzzcocks, and lots of righteous Northern things. And (to cap it all) on a happy note – Pete won the pub quiz!

RICHARD FOSTER – Follow Richard on @incendiarymagazine