The importance of the Buzzcocks is often understated. As punks, they weren’t as provocative as The Sex Pistols or as visionary as The Clash.
As a Manchester band, they weren’t even as evocative as Joy Division or as an indie band, as lauded as The Smiths. But, as an amalgamation of all these things, the Buzzcocks’ influence is unparalleled.
The first release, the four-track Spiral Scratch EP, was British punk’s third record – behind singles from The Damned and The Sex Pistols – and hit shelves in early 1977, peaking at number 31 on the UK singles chart. Spiral Scratch may not have been punk’s earliest record, but it was the first ever to be self-released.
It cost just £500 to make, with money borrowed from family and friends, and encapsulated the ethic that would eventually became punk’s legacy: Do-it-yourself.
As the bass player on that recording, Steve Diggle was the relative newbie, having joined the band only months prior. But soon he switched to guitar and with fellow songwriter Pete Shelley, formed a formidable songwriting partnership – outlasting breakups and line up changes – that endures to this day.
After touring Australia in 2009, The Buzzcocks are returning for a series of shows across the mainland. On a typically rainy London morning, Diggle speaks in good spirits, excited to be heading to clearer skies.
“Is it going to be sunny over there?” he asks in a strong Mancunian accent. “It’s been a few years since we’ve been to Australia but it’s always good, we’ve always enjoyed the tours there and we’re really looking forward to it.”
For their last appearance, the group played their classic albums, Another Music in A Different Kitchen and Love Bites, in full. This time, the four piece will be pulling tracks from their entire catalogue, though you can bet they’ll focus heavily on their perfect punk singles of the late 1970s.
“Buzzcocks music is so timeless,” Diggle declares. “Even though these songs were made thirty years ago, they still sound like they were made yesterday. They haven’t dated.”
He says the songs continue to draw younger listeners to the band, generation after generation.
“It’s a classical thing, like Shakespeare,” he continues. “When you’re making these songs you don’t plan for that, you just make them for the moment. It spans three generations now. It’s amazing that young people are still picking up on our stuff.”
“At some places the older ones stand at the back complaining about the young kids jumping about. That gives it a new shot in the arm. It’s the lifeblood for us carrying on.”
Of course, much of the Buzzcocks’ appeal is also in the historical and geographical context in which they recorded their most vital releases. In particular, as a Manchester band, they’re part of a lineage of classic English guitar groups.
“There’s no beaches there,” laughs Diggle, on the subject of Manchester. “It’s an industrial city with heart, soul, and lot of character. It’s like what Detroit is in America and it’s a good breeding ground for bands.”
“We started off in ’76 and all the bands that have come after have been great,” he continues. “From the Stone Roses to Oasis, The Smiths, Joy Division, The Fall, they’ve all got their own individual thing about them.”
However, on the subject of the current British music scene, the 52-year-old guitarist is not so complimentary.
“It’s in a state of flux,” he says. “No one’s really sure what’s happening with it anymore. You have a lot of these talent shows that are in the media. That’s influencing a lot of kids, making them believe rock ‘n’ roll is about that.”
Perhaps because in 2006, the BBC ended production on the music television institution Top Of The Pops, a programme that had launched the careers of many successful British acts.
The gap left by Top of the Pops has since been well and truly filled by the talent shows Diggle mentions and many would argue that has changed Britain’s musical output for the worst.
“Growing up it seemed like it must be great to be on [Top of the Pops],” he says. “Usually they had a lot of throwaway pop stuff but you’d watch it for two or three bands,” he continues.
“The fact that we started off in the punk era, by the time we got on there, it meant less to us. There was the punk vibe in the streets, and there was Top of the Pops – where you had to mime. It seemed a bit weird and phony.”
But now, as in Australia, there are few opportunities for British bands to make a name for themselves with an audience as large as mainstream television. And miming or not, Diggle says that’s exactly the opportunity Top Of The Pops provided.
“You do miss it,” he says. “It was a barometer of what was going on in Britain. Now, nobody knows what’s in the charts.”
The charts may not be their territory any loner, but after more than three decades on stage, Diggle says he and the band are still as passionate as ever about the prospect of playing live.
“The fact that we’re older hasn’t slowed us down on the stage,” he concludes. “In fact, we’re as vibrant as ever.”
Buzzcocks Tour Australia as part of Hoodoo Gurus Dig It Up! Invitational 2013, which kicks off in Brisbane this Thursday 18th April. The band also play three sideshows in Perth, Brisbane, and Adelaide. Dates and details below.
Buzzcocks 2013 Australian Tour
Thursday 18th April - The Rosemount, Perth
Saturday 20th April – The Zoo, Brisbane
Wednesday 24th April – Fowlers, Adelaide
Dig It Up! 2013 Lineup +Ticket Info
Thur April 18th The Tivoli BRISBANE QLD
Featuring Hoodoo Gurus, performing Mars Needs Guitars in its entirety (plus other smash hits) plus Blue Oyster Cult & Flamin’ Groovies.
52 Costin Street, Fortitude Valley. Tickets on sale now from ticketek.com.au, feelpresents.com, oztix.com.au, phone 132 849 or in person at all Ticketek and Oztix outlets.
Doors Open 7.00pm.
Sun April 21st Enmore Theatre & surrounds SYDNEY NSW
Four Venues / Four Stages: The Enmore Theatre, Venue TBA The Sly Fox and The Green Room
Featuring Hoodoo Gurus performing Mars Needs Guitars in its entirety (plus other smash hits) plus Blue Oyster Cult, Flamin’ Groovies, Buzzcocks, Peter Case Band, The Stems, Lime Spiders, The Crusaders, Super Wild Horses, The Laurels, Mother & Son, Bloods, Tumbleweed, Kim Salmon & Leanne Cowie, The Frowning Clouds, Ray Ahn, Bruce Griffith, Ahmed Zub and more to be announced. Four venues, 20+ artists all within 1-3 minutes walk of each other. Take advantage of all day pass outs, a street full of quality food and restricted capacity. All events held indoors. No fear of sunburn here!
Tickets on sale now from ticketek.com.au, feelpresents.com, or in person at the Venue Box Office and Ticketek.
Doors open 12pm
Thur April 25th The Palace Theatre & surrounds MELBOURNE VIC
Three Venues / Four Stages: Palace Theatre (main room and The Attic), TBC and Spleen Bar. Featuring Hoodoo Gurus performing Mars Needs Guitars in its entirety (plus other smash hits) plus Blue Oyster Cult, Flamin’ Groovies, Buzzcocks, Peter Case Band, The Stems, The Moodists, Ron S.Peno & The Superstitions, Super Wild Horses, The Straight Arrows, Bored Nothing, Chris Russell’s Chicken Walk, The New Christs, Kim Salmon & Leanne Cowie, The Crusaders, Harry Howard, Dave O’Neil, Bob Franklin.
Tickets on sale now from ticketek.com.au, feelpresents.com, oztix.com.au, phone 132 849 or in person at Ticketek and Oztix outlets (including Greville & Polyester Records)
Doors open 1pm
Sun April 28th Astor Theatre PERTH WA
Featuring Hoodoo Gurus performing Mars Needs Guitars in its entirety (plus other smash hits) plus Flamin’ Groovies & Peter Case Band.
Tickets on sale now from www.showticketing.com.au, feelpresents.com, oztix.com.au, phone (08) 9370 5888 or in person at the Venue Box Office.
Doors open 6.00pm