Buzzcocks are new wave legends and a
fantastic way to kick off Friars Aylesbury Phase Four. They made two
sold out appearances at Friars Phase Three in the 'classic' period and
produced some damn fine songs. If you don't own a Buzzcocks album and
want just one, get Singles Going Steady, a perfect album of supreme
We spoke to Steve in
October 2010 on the eve of their long awaited Friars return.
Steve, Friars Aylesbury, 28/09/79.
photo - Don Stone
Friars Aylesbury Website:
Steve, welcome to the Friars Aylesbury website! We're all terribly
excited as you can imagine, the long awaited return of the Buzzcocks to
Aylesbury after all this time. I bet you're looking forward to it as
much as we are!
Yes! It's been a
while! It was always an electric place. I remember those early tours and
Aylesbury Friars was always a place on the map [to look forward to]. It is a legendary place.
You did two sold out
shows in 1978/1979 - great times - you must see the photos from that
1979 gig, you weren't supposed to take cameras in, but we're glad he
It's hard to take in
then, the concept of the internet and YouTube!
These days, all
around the world, everyone has a mobile phone and your mates are watching
while we are playing!
Funny thing is tonight
right now, I have a 350 page thing from the Times newspaper - about
"Where have all the legends gone?" and Simon Cowell's in it! Obviously
just as legendary are places like Aylesbury Friars and the Buzzcocks and I wonder
now where the next legends are.
We're excited about
the gig next week as it's the first gig of Friars Phase Four and the
first gig at the new Waterside Theatre - your previous gigs were at the
Civic which closed this year. Which leads me on to....talking of
legendary venues, I read David Nolan's book I Swear I Was There about
the Sex Pistols gig at Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976 (I
couldn't put the book down).....and
you were there at that gig that Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto put
That's actually where
we all met.
It's not an
understatement is it to say that gig proved to be such a pivotal moment
in the Manchester music scene?
I was on the radio last Saturday saying that they have put a plaque
outside the hall where they played. There isn't one for the Buzzcocks,
so I will put my own one up!
I think you should!
Well, we kick started
the Manchester scene and proved there was a hell of a lot of life in
Manchester. We started the band at that gig and stood at the back with
all the rows of empty seats wondering what we were going to do with the Buzzcocks.
And all these years
later, the Buzzcocks are still going strong. The legend is that Manchester gig
in 1976 gave birth to not only the Buzzcocks, but Joy Division, The Fall,
Some of them were at
the first gig. There was another Pistols gig three weeks later where we
opened up for them and there was a lot more people at that one. It was
life changing for everybody in Manchester who was there, it inspired
those bands like Joy Division and the Fall.
It's hard to imagine
that in this day and age, a gig having such impact....
Yeah, it came from nowhere. It
wasn't London where it all happened. The Pistols came from London though,
started two days before The Clash and they all came to Manchester. Of
all the places! The punk rock atom was split open in Manchester, a lot
of it started there. All the journalists who came to review the Pistols
reviewed the Buzzcocks as well and helped put the province on the map.
Then from that the Liverpool scene started, the Sheffield
scene...everybody thought why can't we do something like that in our
town? It was great. The thinking before that was that you had to go to
London on your hands and knees with your tongue sticking out begging for
a record deal. After that gig, the fact we were a local band, people
started putting on events in their own town and suddenly the country was
The A&R people suddenly had to go
round the towns to find all this new talent.
Now they wouldn't dream of getting
out of their offices! If they still have one left!
These days, A&R is
Yes. The corporate
world and the corporateness of the record company have strangled their
own flower and shot themselves [in the foot]. They have let it be over-run by
accountants. They should have had sociologists in there as well to say
why don't we invest in the cultural art of music which is now slowly
starting to get noticed. They just throw money into obvious acts and
want them to sell 12 million records. There's no interest in the rest of it.
What happened with us
changed people's lives.
You can take a four
piece band like the Buzzcocks today and sign them and if they don't
have that hit single after a couple of attempts, it's goodnight...
That's right. The
accountants look at the figures and say they haven't sold 12 million
records so we'd better get rid of them. In the old days, by the third
album, the record might be great and a good audience, you had a chance
to develop. Even the Rolling Stones and The Who only came into their
stride later on.
Looking back at that
Manchester scene, I guess today you can appreciate how influential it
was and how influential the Buzzcocks were on other bands.
amazing is the direct things the Buzzcocks could do at the time. The
landscape was barren and the progressive rock bands had run out of
steam. Three minute songs and smash the equipment and getting a
reaction. But it turned out that we became good songwriters out of it
and we had a distinctive sound...me and Pete and those two distinctive
guitars. You hear echoes of that now but at the time, we didn't realise
it, looking back, we realise now how unique it was.
It was...and record
companies were finally waking up to the fact that bands like yourselves
could be really big. You ended up on United Artists along with The
Stranglers...a major label.
Yes, we were the
first to make an independent record with Spiral Scratch. I know the
Americans did this too, but we thought that if we went with the devil to
a record company in those days, they'd laugh us out the building,
no-one would be interested in it. Spiral Scratch was the most
un-commercial sound possible. We went to a label in the end as we were
having to print and sort the sleeves out ourselves, so we went to UA and
sold lots of records.
That first one, the
legendary Spiral Scratch EP with Howard Devoto still in the band, that ended up, after
deletion, selling for small fortunes didn't it?
Yeah, and I think it is going to
be released on CD. It became a collector's item. It became a testament and
monument to your own ideas. The sleeve on it, we used a covert camera
with two shots. Someone had their eyes closed on the first shot, we had
one shot left and that became the picture on the sleeve.
Talking of sleeves,
particularly in the UA years, each seven inch vinyl had a different
two tone on each label. Was that an artistic decision the band took or was
that the record company?
We used an art
student, Malcolm Garrett, who came into the office and wanted to do some
artwork, so it kind of came from him. But on the first album, Another
Music In A Different Kitchen, he wanted to put a collage of things like a
cabbage with eyes and teeth in and I ended up arguing till six in the
morning that we had to have a photograph on it as the cabbage didn't
really represent the band! (laughs) There's a fine difference between an
artist using a record sleeve as an advertising billboard for himself and
art that's rock and roll art.
And you've got a
record to sell!
But the final cover,
the silver with the orange writing was incredibly distinctive
Yes, it was, it was
very unusual. Malcolm was very responsible for the two colours. Thank God
we got a picture on the album cover!
I remember one single
label would be blue and yellow and the next would be pink and red and
The two tone idea was
a great one...which The Smiths kind of borrowed afterwards! (laughs)
Borrowing from their
After we split, our
manager went to Rough Trade and they were asking him how we did it! I
was looking at a Smiths record thinking this is familiar! But a great
concept. The sleeves developed as we did musically.
I particularly love
things like Why Can't I Touch It? and stuff like that and we went
underground with a few tunes as well, We did TOTP seven or eight times
with classic pop songs.
Why Can't I Touch It
which was a B side was absolutely brilliant.
It was another string
to our bow in a kind of way. It had a different groove which we didn't
have before. Autonomy was experimental, also we had those kind of songs as
well. I think there was a lot of depth to our songs. People were
thinking we just had classic pop songs, which we did, but there
were some other avenues along the way. It was rounded.
It was rounded -
your B sides at the time weren't just an obscurity or a throwaway that
didn't make it on to an album. I remember those singles and the B sides
were always top quality.
It was always a
dilemma - we used to go and record a single and we would do two songs and
it was always very difficult to decide which was the A and B side.
That's a testament to
We never went in (to
the studio) thinking this is the B side - we had the two songs and had
to decide. By the end of that era, there were no A and B sides. EMI, who
had taken over UA, let the radio stations decide and it worked out even at
That classic period
when you made the three albums and called it quits in 1981....after that
you did Flag of Convenience and got back together in 1989. You've been
back a few times and back more permanently now for some time.
We've been together
longer now than originally. We were in each other's pockets, hotels,
planes and vans for six years and that sort of stuff and we went and did
our own thing. We needed a break and the break got longer. Doing other
things was great and Pete was doing his own thing and by 1989 we came
full circle. In the intervening seven or eight years, everyone was asking when
we would get back together. The New Romantic scene was still going so it
was timely when we came back, although it wasn't meant to be that way. We came back when Nirvana had just
discovered us [Nirvana, along with bands
like Green Day cite Buzzcocks as an influence - Ed].
They wanted us to open for them at their American shows, but we were
busy with our own US tour, but we did some shows in Europe on Nirvana's last tour
before Kurt Cobain died. We went on from there and
since then we have done some great albums. The last two albums are
And you have your new
solo album out around now as well?
Yes, even though we
are talking historically about the Buzzcocks, it feels like I am starting out again! My new
album is called Air Conditioning and the single Something in the Air is
out any day now. It's great to do that as well. For me, the songwriting part is
flowing really well at the moment. Whilst you can still do it, I am
excited about it all again. I think this album is my best solo album. I
know it's a bit of cliché, but I think this is the best of the three
solo albums. I
kind of always wanted a trilogy you could put in a box. Listening to it
recently with fresh ears (after finishing the latest round of Buzzcocks
gigs), I thought it was really good. It's had good reviews in the press.
Without giving too much away, what
classics can we expect to hear at Friars on Friday?
There'll be all the
classics, one of my favourites to do is Sick City Sometimes (from
Buzzcocks Black Album 2003). Some people have said to me since the
band's reformation that's one of the Buzzcocks classics. We enjoy doing
that one. As a song in general it's pretty good. All the major classics
we're known for we'll be doing. It's a good set which we have worked in
round the world recently. It's a very lively set which is what you'd
expect from us.
Whilst you won't be doing that this time,
last year and early this year, you played gigs playing the first two
albums in their entirety? How well was this received seeing the albums
played back to back?
It was successful, more
than I thought. The dynamics were different - when you're picking a live
set from making a record which is more for listening and you wonder how
it will translate, it could be fast then take it down and then fast
again. So many memories and some of the songs we had never played before
or at least only rarely played them. A song like I Need (from the
first album) went down a storm, I really enjoyed playing that and we
hadn't done that since the Roundhouse in 1977. That worked as as set.
Some of the other songs as well, which had been put aside for no
particular reason got played again. It was great doing them and great
doing the albums as it took you back to the time when you made them.
To finish, a couple of 'fan' questions -
Never Mind The Buzzcocks - flattery or irritation?
Somewhere in between. It's
more for comedians on the way up or one hit wonders like Right Said Fred
on the way down and who've had a taste of fame - you never saw Joe Strummer or
Bob Dylan on there. And you won't see me on there either as people
believed in what we did and you won't see me selling soap powder on
there (laughs). Will I be on there anytime soon? No. I like a laugh like
anyone else, but I have my limits. People who know my lyrics from
Autonomy and the like know I have a lot more depth and resonance than to
go on there and whistle something out. I hope, one day, people will
respect what you did for the right reasons and not this corporate and
mundane society that's been foisted upon us. It's not personal respect I
am after, it's the respect of the actions that you do. This is what I
stand for and a lot of fans relate to that and that's harder to get that
than going on and getting the money and the adulation.
I know many people have covered Buzzcocks
songs over time, some better than others, what do you think of Fine
Young Cannibals version of Ever Fallen In Love? Probably the best known
cover in the UK at least.
I've not heard a good
Buzzcocks cover version yet. FYC version? A load of crap! I don't think
anything of it, I don't own a copy or listen to it.
I was just wondering what an artist thinks
of a successful cover version, although we'll hear the proper version on
John Peel's family asked
us to record Ever Fallen in Love for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
album and on that we had David Gilmour and Jeff Beck on guitars, Robert
Plant on backing vocals and many more and with all those people you
think it's going to sound amazing......but it's not as good as the
Buzzcocks one, that's why I say these things about covers. There's a
whole album of Buzzcocks covers released in the US and the trouble is
they all sound like the Buzzcocks! Someday someone will blow me away
with a cover of one of our songs!
Probably the first time I heard a cover
was Orange Juice's tasteful snippet and homage to Boredom (from Spiral
Scratch) in their hit Rip It Up......
That's pretty tasteful and
pretty good. It's quite imaginative. I can go with that. But one day
someone will do a full blown cover! Camper van Beethoven did Harmony In
My Head and that was OK. The Offspring did Autonomy but it's not far
removed from what we're doing, although the publishing money's nice! I'd
like to hear something that you think 'wow, I never thought of it like
that' which would do the band and the song justice I think. A bit of
flair and imagination rather than an obvious copy. I guess it's all a
compliment in the end.
Steve, thanks for your time.
Join the campaign (on
Facebook/MySpace/Steve's website etc) for my new single to get played on
the radio! Some stations are playing it. We've all had enough of Take
That and the rest of it - we want real music back. Hopefully we can
start the revolution again with real music. Not this X Factor crap! It's
such a powerful position, it's needs turning.
That's why the Rage Against The Machine
campaign last Christmas was so successful!
I want to do the same
again - with my single. The change hopefully will come universally. I'm
still a punk at heart!
Looking forward to Friday,
it was great in the past and we will be rocking on Friday - it's going
to be brilliant!
Buzzcocks official site
This interview and its
content are © 2010 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not
be used in whole or in part without permission.