Buzzcocks Review: Original punk rockers give musical lesson
PUBLISHED: 14:09 07 May 2018 | UPDATED: 15:39 08 May 2018
After spending the Saturday at the Live @ Leeds Festival with a mostly young crowd watching mostly young bands at various venues around the city I was looking forward to the juxtaposition of being part of a more aged crowd watching a more aged band this Sunday night in Norwich.
Buzzcocks were in the city alongside their 1970s punk-rock peers The Professionals and The Vapors.
The band members tonight are now mostly in their sixties whereas the band members yesterday are mostly in their twenties. For the record I am 39 so approximately in the middle. So the questions are; how did the energy compare? How did they perform? Can they still rock? The answers are; favourably. Brilliantly, and yes indeed.
Sadly I arrived later than expected so I missed The Vapors. But The Professionals had kicked off their set so I dived straight into the photography pit to get snapping. Comprised of former Sex Pistol Paul Cook, alongside Paul Myers and Tom Spencer they were great to shoot. Tom Spencer in particular moved around the stage playing rhythm guitar and showing he most certainly still had it. As a band they were extremely tight, extremely loud and still have the anger and vitriol the genre was built on. They perhaps lack the highly recognisable anthems of their punk compatriots of the same era like The Clash, The Damned and ironically The Sex Pistols. But their sound is solid and I enjoyed their set.
The crowd however seemed content to stand and watch, and at first I put that down to them largely being in the same age bracket as the band. But I noticed a few younger faces in there too who were taking it in, perhaps keen to receive a lesson in punk rock from those who were there at the start, and had a hand pretty much in inventing it all.
This however changed, as when the Buzzcocks entered the stage around half past nine the energy levels around the venue increased tenfold. I was pleased to see a mini-mosh pit form with plenty of pogo-ing and head banging. Colourful mohawked, spiked hair and ripped denim clad punks had welcomed their heroes as they settled in for their extended set.
The lead singer was formative Buzzcock member Pete Shelley. With his grey hair and beard, wearing black jeans and teeshirt he looked as far from a punk rock pioneer as you could possibly get. This was one of the guys after all who organised the legendary Lesser Free Trade Hall gig in Manchester in 1976 which made the Sex Pistols superstars. But he owned centre stage and sang with strength and confidence, playing lead guitar.
Steve Diggle was fantastic on the left of the stage playing rhythm guitar and providing additional vocals. He was highly animated and was happy to be the centre of attention as he played his guitar at all angles striking some great poses. Great for a photographer like me. He epitomised the band’s style which is separate to other punk rock bands of the era with the different content of their songs, lower aggression levels and larger use of melody. He performs with a smile on his face, enjoying every second.
A large crowd were lapping it up and the energy stayed high throughout the set. The peak moment was of course when the huge anthem ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)’ was dropped. Officially NME’s highest ranked song of 1978, the year I was born, this is arguably the most recognisable punk song of all time, and has almost certainly seen more radio airplay than any other in the genre. Myself, and it seemed everybody else in the room enjoyed the song from start to finish and it encapsulated the night, providing one of several sing-along moments which always make a gig a great gig.
The Buzzcocks are still a great band. And I mean that sincerely, as the term ‘great’ is thrown about way too much in music. And they ‘still’ are able to perform at the highest standard. They do things the right way, they are technically excellent, and they have truly great songs. I think it is perhaps unfair to compare yesterday to tonight as the events were so very different. But then punk rock is attributed to have invented the indie rock movement, which is the genre six of the bands I saw yesterday would fall into. Over the decades the generations have taken this ethos and launched it in a thousand different generations, making it their own. Because that is indie music. Music that is independent from the main stream and a way for each individual band to express themselves.
Buzzcocks were quite literally there at the start of this musical reinvention, and the baton Pete Shelley helped pass on that legendary day at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, which inspired so many people directly and indirectly, is still being passed all over the world. I could certainly see the influences of punk in each of yesterday’s bands and I feel more connected to the history of this fantastic music as a result.
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