Punk Lives On As Buzzcocks40 Comes To SoCal (Flashback 2016)


BUZZCOCKS play The Mayan May 26 and Observatory Santa Ana May 28; photo Ian Rook

Flashback: BUZZCOCKS 2016 interview…

Buzzcocks, Mancunian heroes of the 1976 British punk explosion, commemorate their 40th year with a world tour, Buzzcocks40, that stops in SoCal at The Mayan May 26 and The Observatory Santa Ana May 28.

Not content to shrivel away as a nostalgia act by cashing in on early hits like “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve?),” “Why Can’t I Touch It?,” “What Do I Get?,” and “Fast Cars,” the band has been active since their reunion in 1989, hitting the road and making new music.

Of the original members, the creative core, Pete Shelley (lead vocals and guitar) and Steve Diggle (lead guitar and vocals) have been the yin-yang energy driving the band since its inception.

Concert Guide Live caught up with Diggle to talk about the band’s legacy, not being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and what it actually means to be punk.

Diggle speaks in a warm, northern brogue, the kind of accent Americans imagine all Brits have, like a character in Peaky Blinders or a rakish villain from a Sherlock Holmes story. He’s charming, quick to laugh, and well-read, ever-ready with a Dickens quote or George Orwell reference. He was there when it all began, one of the few punk figureheads left, a fact that surprises him as much as anyone.

“I mean, we kind of thought we’d last four days. We just thought, if we get a few shows, and make a little bit of an impact, that’s as far as we’d go. But here we are, 40 years later, it seems to have flown by, to me. In a way it still feels like we’re starting [laughs].”

Diggle’s relationship with Shelley is also 40 years old, an impressive feat he doesn’t take for granted.

“We’ve been together longer than the partners we’ve had,” Diggle laughs.

“To be honest, if I was at school, and he was in the class, I wouldn’t have hung around with him. He was a geek, ‘I’m not hanging around with him!’

“But there’s an amazing chemistry there that you couldn’t bargain for. It has been a long journey, we’ve had lots of wonderful times, lots of heavy arguments. We’ve run out of things to argue about. It’s just a powerful, mystical thing. It’s hard to explain, but it works.”

For Buzzcocks40 shows, fans can expect a career-spanning set, with new favorites, the band’s standards, plus early, hidden gems like “Time’s Up.” Forming the set-list from such a beloved catalogue was a harrowing task, one in which Diggle approached with his typically self-deprecating attitude.

“Before we started the tour, we brought a lot of songs forward, then we had to cut it down. Sometimes it can go on too long [laughs]. It’s like, ‘Ok, we get the idea, you got to stop with this’.’’

The generational span of Buzzcocks fans serves as a testament to the timelessness of their songs. Unbelievably, the special place the Buzzcocks hold in rock history has been largely ignored. They still aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which Diggle contemplates with detached bemusement.

“You’d think when they look at rock’s rich tapestry as they’re supposed to do, that we’d be in it,” Diggle said.

“There are people who have done lesser things that are in there. Maybe we’re still outsiders to the game. I went around there when I was in Cleveland a few years back, and I noticed there wasn’t even a Buzzcocks poster in there [laughs].

“In some ways, we’ve never really been awarded for anything. Send them something that says ‘Why aren’t the Buzzcocks in there?’ they’ll probably go ‘Who? [laughs].’ Maybe it’s cool that everybody else is in. Even Christ had to carry his own cross. He’s not in the Hall of Fame either, so we’re in good company.”

Pressed further, some mild bitterness breaks through.

“There’s a few bands that are in that I go, ‘Hold on, they’ve told us they were inspired by the Buzzcocks, and they’re in there?’

“It’s really nice, and a great honor, but we’ve never been like, the teacher’s pet or anything like that. I do think, ‘Why not, what’s wrong with us that we can’t go in there? What the fuck, man?’

“But you’re better off being alive without an award, than being poor old David Bowie or Prince. They’re in there, but it’s no good to them now. As Charles Dickens said, ‘It’s no good being the richest man in the cemetery’.”

Regardless of the Hall of Fame’s recognition of such, Diggle is a key piece in the punk puzzle. So what about the state of punk, today? Who better to ask than one of its originators?

“Back in the day, it was The Clash, Pistols, and The Jam, along with the Ramones in New York,” Diggle recalled.

“We wrote the play, and all those after are acting out the script. It was about the attitude, and about excitement, inspiration, questioning stuff. When you listened to those early records, you had to rethink your whole consciousness about what music was doing to you. Those kinds of records are an assault on your senses. They make you feel alive. You think, ‘Wow, I can go out and do things myself.’ Even street sweepers were sweeping the street differently.”

More than a strict blueprint, Diggle considers what bands like the Buzzcocks and The Clash did was an invitation for people to do their own thing.

“Over the years, you start getting the stereotypical thing, ‘Oh a punk should be this and that’,” Diggle said.

“Well that’s the opposite of what it was about. It was about there not being any rules, and that’s what gets lost in a way. Punk is more misinterpreted than the Bible [laughs].”

Forty years on, Diggle is happy inspiration is still coming, happy that people still come to hear the Buzzcocks play, and happy with his place in rock history, hall of fame induction be damned.

“Maybe there are some little things I would change here and there, but I couldn’t do that without it changing everything else. I wouldn’t be where I am now, so I wouldn’t want to change much.”