Punk was never meant to last, they said, not really. At the time, it was almost immediately dubbed a flash in the pan by the elder statesmen of rock, something that would blow over quickly and let wiser, more technically gifted musicians resume their witterings.
Well, bollocks to that. Buzzcocks are still here, flying the flag and making new music. With the sad passing of Pete Shelley the baton passed to guitarist Steve Diggle, whose blend of punk and Mod style made him an axe hero during the punk wars. Last year’s excellent ‘Sonics In The Soul’ was an astute blend of old and new, lit up by their trademark energy. At the weekend, Buzzcocks received a permanent marker of their impact – a stone on the Music Walk of Fame in Camden.
The genial guitarist was present at the ceremony alongside Libertines’ Carl Barat and BBC Radio London’s Gary Crowly, and he’s still beaming about the occasion. “I’ve walked down the streets of Camden for years and now we’ve got a stone in the pavement!”
“It’s great to get that acknowledgement,” he adds. “We played a gig the next day, too, and it was great to see fans turn out for it.”
Buzzcocks now take pride of place on the Walk of Fame, alongside North London residents such as Amy Winehouse and Madness. The Manchester band are a sign of the broader impact Camden can have – Steve Diggle recalls those early shows in the city with fondness.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Camden,” he says. “We played the Roundhouse really early on. We did two nights there in ’77. We’ve done a lot of gigs in that area over the years. It’s got a magical thing there on the streets, it’s making music. You can’t put a rock and roll venue down in Chelsea, I don’t think it would work. It’s a spiritual place for rock and roll. I’ve spent a lot of time there, in the bars and clubs over the years. Even though I am from Manchester, it’s a second home.”
The band’s excellent 45s collection ‘Singles Going Steady’ will be re-issued in lavish style later this year, a sign of Buzzcocks’ perennial popularity. With tracks like ‘What Do I Get?’, ‘Fast Cars’ and the almighty ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ in their arsenal, there’s no doubting their generation-defining prowess.
The guitarist comments: “Buzzcocks had a certain sound, a certain style, which was quite unique in many ways. It did inspire a lot of people. A lot of people in bands told me that we inspired them, we started them off.”
“You do hear aspects of Buzzcocks in a lot of new bands,” he says. “We kind of wrote the book for a lot of punks, really. We wrote the script; the new bands are acting it out. It was important for music; it was important for songs.”
Buzzcocks perfectly reflected their surroundings – pent-up adolescent anger, that golden run of singles still bristles with energy, three minute manifestos on lust, longing, and the need for identity. “I remember back in ‘72 thinking: I’m 20 years old we need some excitement! All around us was progressive rock, but it was all the same. We were trying to do something with energy. There was an urgency and excitement in it, too.”
Shifting line-up following the release of epochal debut EP ‘Spiral Scratch’, Buzzcocks re-emerged in their classic format – with Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle’s clashing guitars. “We never rehearsed anything in terms of getting the style. When we played the guitars together, it was like two playstyles going together. It was one of those magical things.”
He adds: “When you’ve got the characters of the right people, the band sort of magically works. A lot of those things we recorded live, it’s quite amazing… it sounds timeless.”
The band aren’t about to be tied to the past, however. There’s a lot more to come – ‘Sonics In The Soul’ went down well with fans, and Steve is seemingly “three quarters” of the way through writing the follow-up. “We don’t want to play all the old hits all of the time,” he admits. “We’ve got them and we’re happy to play them. But it’s important to have a new album, to play it. It keeps the band relevant and fresh, not just looking back. I wouldn’t do it if otherwise.”
In a full circle moment, their next era might launch in a place close to their hearts – yep, those North London streets again. “We’ve got a one-off gig at KOKO – in Camden, actually. I think we’re going to America and all that sort of stuff. We’ll do a world tour again, just like we used to do.”
Catch Buzzcocks at KOKO, London on March 22nd.
Words: Robin Murray
Additional Research: Jack Wilkie