I am not enamoured by the grief fests which sometimes surround the deaths of figures in the public eye. The overwhelming majority of people will never have met or known the individual, their perception distorted through the prism of media, vested and self interest. Yet undeniably the odd celebrity death does catch you off guard, prompting a pang of sadness which was not anticipated. I felt thus for the news of the death of Pete Shelley.
I never met him. I never knew him. My first connection with him was sitting on the floor at the house of my friend Pete Kerr listening to the Buzzcock’s debut album , “Another Music in a Different Kitchen”. The cover was striking, silver with a picture of the band, the music fast and loud. Yet it was the melodies and sharp lyrics which impressed . They fused the energy and enthusiasm of punk with memorable tunes, some great one liners, and above average lyrics. Shelley, and the Buzzcocks were not the “best” or the “greatest”, but as an entity they were satisfying and fun.
I saw them live at Leeds Uni in 78, supported by John Cooper Clarke. Punk was in full tilt with gobbing and missile throwing de rigeur. Memorably, Shelley was hit full in the face by a half full beer can during “What Do I Get?”, which I found funny and ironic, although he probably didn’t share the sentiment. It was a great show, brim full with excitement and joie de vivre. I followed them thereafter with admiration and enjoyment.
Subsequently I saw them twice. First at the Market Tavern in 93. A dreadful dive, a music room in a run down pub. The place was sold out and throbbed with the collective bonding of fans and band, a memorable night. Lastly I saw them at the Civic Hall in Wolverhampton in 2010. Physically, Shelley did not look good, overweight and with a large beard, he looked like Papa Smurf, but the songs endured.
“Ever Fallen in Love (with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with)” is a classic three minute pop song, bright, breezy with a memorable lyrical hook. “Sixteen Again” a nostalgic retrospective written when he wasn’t much older a splenetic explosion. “What Do I Get” epitomised the condensed musical excellence he specialised in.
He died only three years older than me. His passing evoking fond memories from both my distant youth, and the recent past. A friend described him, and the band, as “great fun” – he would have liked that.