Alex Griffiths takes advantage of a technical hitch at Chimp Magazine (the website returns next week) to bring you a chat with Steve Diggle.
Buzzcocks play Manchester Apollo this Friday. the back to front gigs feature a two hour set from various line ups the band and an exploration of the classic catalogue ending with Howard Devoto back on stage with the band…tickets from here
Steve, you get plenty of credit for that dubious tag of perfect, disposable pop, but that hardly does the likes of Autonomy, Fast Cars (which namechecks Ralph Nader), or the rewritten Harmony in my Head justice ”â do you want more credit for looking around you?
“The rewrite is kind of me doing Shakespeare! It started as ad lib, spontaneous stuff and just developed while we were touring and it now feels like this more powerful thing. You’re right in that people can be blinded and have not always picked up on that side of us, but it’s always been about what we’re experiencing for me… and how can that not get political?
“My own stuff is even less personal than the band’s and my last album, Air Conditioning, is about trying to inspire revolutionary things. My attitude is: let’s jump in life’s boxing ring and fucking have it, you know?”
It’s been a long time in this love/hate thing with Pete Shelley, your co-founder member… you do only have to put up with a little bit of pisstaking off when you go all Shakespeare on him, don’t you?
“Yeah he’s only fucking jealous!”
The label of punk seems incidental to what you have always done, which is generate this incredible energy onstage. What do you think of such labels these days?
“Well punk was about the attitude for us, not so much a style of music. I had a scooter as a kid, for example, I’m three years older than Paul Weller, and I didn’t feel the need to identify myself as any single thing. What you grow up with is always part of you and so The Who, The Kinks and even The Beatles will always be a part of me.
“I don’t ever start out to write thinking this will be just like a Pete Townsend song, just as I don’t imitate him when I do the windmill arm thing on stage so much as react to the moment and the magic while sticking to the habits that work for you through the years ”â it feels like I’m passing it on!
“We were always very unique, as were the best of the punk bands, but I never looked at that Sid Vicious stereotype and thought it had anything to do with me. Eddie Piller, who started Acid Jazz says he picked up on the pinstripe coat I wore early on and took it as a sign I was different, but after that initial explosion of punk we all had our own identities, really, and they evolved with the songs. You find out who you are.”
Have you a favourite cover of a Buzzcocks song? So many fans looked down their noses at a certain Fine Young Cannibals hit but it must have turned into one mighty cash cow!
“That’s right, there are definitely two schools of thought. I’ve never had my mind blown by a cover if I’m honest but the Cannibals at least did their own thing with Ever Fallen In Love, which you should try and do. I don’t understand when so many bands just do a tune like the Buzzcocks have already done it ”â it might be a compliment but it doesn’t make you feel good!
“What Hendrix did with Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower was take it to another place, and you’d be amazed how many do try with our stuff. I like Brewing Calm’s version of Harmony, actually, it’s a melodic instrumental and worth looking up on YouTube.”
Your band disbanded in 1981 only to drift back into it, and now it seems bands are becoming their own tribute acts, are you impressed by any of the reunions?
“It wasn’t a big deal us booking a tour and deciding to carry on, it was never some comeback like you seem to get increasingly now. Our band is firing on all cylinders and for me it’s possibly even our best ever line-up, it’s kind of magical doing a mixture of our old stuff and making it flow, as we will be doing at Brixton and at the Apollo this weekend,
“I’m constantly surprised by how few bands can deliver like us if I’m honest, there’s not many better, and the way we respond to a different crowd each night I’m serious when I say it’s magical! Our catalogue makes it difficult to choose from, we’re not just straight ahead like the Pistols are live, there are so many good B-sides I’m just happy to still get so excited playing them.”
Excitement as well as nostalgia is yours if you venture out to Ardwick May 25th. In a three-part evening of pure Buzzcocks. They’ll kick off with new and contemporary material featuring the current line-up of Shelley, Diggle, Chris Remington (bass guitar) and Danny Farrant (drums).
Part two sees Pete and Steve perform the United Artists ‘classic years’ tunes and they close in part three with by Pete, Steve and John Maher being joined on stage for the first time in over 33 years by Howard Devoto, to close the evening with four tracks on debut EP Spiral Scratch.