25th May 2012
As the first part of a two-night-only, never-to-be-repeated piece of punk history revisited, this was always gonna be one I had to be at. Buzzcocks have had only a short break over the years and this was a chance to see the current, the classic and the Howard Devoto / Spiral Scratch EP line-ups together for the first and only time. This promised to be old punk utopia.
The Manchester Apollo is a cavernous old cinema, with terracing-like barriers to lean against and an upper circle not unlike the famous Glasgow Apollo. A fairly age-mixed, not-quite-sell-out crowd are clearly highly excited about the prospects of Devoto joining Buzzcocks after 34 years. The first set sees the current line-up play songs from the last three albums and is warmly received, despite the horrifically muddy sound.
Given the circumstances of the reunion, the audience are forgiving of the sound problems, but there are a few grumbles about guitarist Steve Diggle‘s prediliction for power-chording over the intros and outros, constantly turning his amplifier up and generally just fucking around.
He also seems intent on counting in the songs, the choruses and anything else despite Pete Shelley’s rather grim stares. This becomes slightly irritating as the set goes on. Diggle is clearly the worse for wear and slugging from a bottle onstage. Anyone who’s seen Buzzcocks over the last few years can only be aware of Diggle’s cod-guitar hero antics, but someone with his pedigree is given a fair bit of slack.
The second set is introduced, as was the first, by Marc Riley, who supported the Buzzers in his time as The Fall’s bassist. This section heralds the “classic” line up that gave us all those timeless singles.
Paddy Garvey and John Maher are out of retirement for two nights and look to be having a ball onstage. Maher was one of the best drummers in the punk era (in a scene that had some great sticksmen) and despite a bit of ring rustiness, he’s rattling round the kit like a man 30 years his junior.
Ever Fallen In Love, What Do I Get,Promises, there all there as well as classic album tracks such as Sixteen Again and Pulsebeat It’s during the last of those that it becomes apparent Diggle is at it again. Smashing tuneless hell out of his guitar and pointless (and frankly, not very good) soloing over the end of Maher’s drum outro ruins the moment.
He sings on Girl From the Chainstore and Harmony In My Head both of which he deliberately sabotages by inanely ad-libbing arse-cheek-clenchingly throughout. This is a man who in recent interviews namechecks Shakespeare and Joyce as key lyrical influences.
Yeah, Steve, Shakespeare’s Sister and Una Joyce maybe.
The arsing around, sub-Mick Jones posing and gutwrenchingly irritating drunken rambles are bad enough. Ruining your bandmates final hometown curtain call is unforgiveable. Shelley looks like a man who tolerates Diggle. Just.
Final set of the night and it’s Devoto time.
The Magazine frontman wrote and sang on the first UK proper DIY single Spiral Scratch and hasn’t sang with Buzzcocks since he decided punk was over the week after the EP came out.
Bounding onstage beside Shelley (who has dug out his sawn in half Starway guitar from 1976) he’s straight into Boredom, with a rather tongue-in-cheek grin plastered over his face. “Set your hearing aids to 45RP”, he quips.
Diggle has now decided to sit on the drum riser, “playing” bass, as he did back then, although with a couldn’t-give-a-fuck attitude that disrespects the audience and his band. Stopping to lean against the side stage, he concentrates on slugging champagne and stopping playing. This is a man who seriously needs to take a look at himself. Walking offstage he yells “Come and see the real band next time”. Nah, you’re alright, mate. Though it is quite tragic that he’s scoring points in a war that, if it existed out of his own head, ended at least 30 years ago.
Devoto and Shelley starting different songs is the end for most. People are streaming out of what must be one of the most appalling gigs I’ve ever seen. I hear a couple of younger fans outside “Yeah, punk rock, chaos and that”. I shake my head sadly, old punk warrior that I am. I feel like an elder tribesman passing on the truth to the younger generation.
No, my young friends. It is not “chaos and that”. It is a poor, under-rehearsed shambles of a gig that should have been punk rock event of the year. And the sooner Shelley dumps Diggle, the better.
All words Joe Whyte. More articles by Joe can be found here.