Monday, December 31, 2018

Obituary - Pete Shelley

On Thursday 6 December 2018, Pete Shelley - best known as founder, singer and songwriter of British Punk band, BUZZCOCKS - passed away at his home in Tallinn, Estonia. He was 63. The cause of death was due to a heart attack.
Shelley was born Peter Campbell McNeish on 17 April 1955 in Leigh, Lancashire. His mother Margaret was a former mill worker in the town while his father, John, was a fitter at Astley Green Colliery. He was the eldest of two, with a brother named Gary John McNeish.
From an early age Shelley read BEATLES sheet music and wrote his first song in 1971. Two years on from that, he formed his first band, JETS OF AIR, whose set included early proto types of songs that would later find home in BUZZCOCKS’ set list.
By 1974, he had written and recorded a set of electronica and although virtually unlistenable, Shelley released it as ‘Sky Yen’ on his own label in 1980.
It was a January 1974 meeting with one Howard Trafford at the Bolton Institute Of Technology (where the young Shelley was Vice-President of the Student’s Union) however that would change the path of both individuals’ future. The pair rehearsed some STOOGES material but due to the two living in different towns, the project - at this stage - came to nothing.
What followed is the stuff of legend. In February 1976, they read a review of EDDIE AND THE HOT RODS at The Marquee, London. The support band was the SEX PISTOLS. With their interest piqued by the mention of an IGGY POP cover, the pair went to London to see the SEX PISTOLS for themselves. They saw two shows, which changed their musical horizon, adopting their now more familiar Punk names (Trafford became Devoto) and so the legend of BUZZCOCKS begins. This is incredibly well documented, so I’ll leave you to do your own research about the band should you wish to.
In 1981, Shelley called time on BUZZCOCKS, informing band mate Steve Diggle by post - an action which created friction between the two that lasted years. Shelley, however, scored an immediate solo hit with ‘Homosapien’ and the album of the same name released in 1981. Two years later, he released his second solo album in ‘XL1’. It was another three years before he released the ‘Heaven And The Sea’ album.
During BUZZCOCKS’ absence their influence and legend had grown to such a stage that, in 1989, they were offered a lucrative US reunion tour. The band continued from then on, with the final BUZZCOCKS album being 2014’s ‘The Way’.
2002 saw Shelley reunite with Devoto for the ‘Buzzkunst’ album while in 2005, following the death of the DJ John Peel, Shelley recorded a tribute version of the BUZZCOCKS classic ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ with a multi-star lineup including Elton John, Robert Plant, David Gilmour and Roger Daltrey.
Although Shelley was open about his bisexuality, he did marry in 1991 and had a son in 1993. In 2002, he got divorced. In 2012, he moved to Tallinn, Estonia with his second wife, Greta, to live a less hectic life than that in London. It was here, on the morning of 6 December 2018, that he suffered a heart attack and passed away.
He is survived by his wife Greta, his son from his first marriage and his brother, Gary.
In accordance with Pete Shelley's wishes, a private funeral was held in Maardu, Estonia on Thursday 13 December. It was attended by his wife and a few close family friends. As noted in his eulogy, "However we knew Pete, we will miss him sorely in all his shapes and guises, but his legacy will live on in our memories and in the ways he has touched our lives."  

I only ever got to see BUZZCOCKS the once, back around the time they got back together and released ‘Trade Test Transmissions’, at the Norwich UEA - 1994 I think and THESE ANIMAL MEN supported. Oddly, they played here in NZ a year or so ago; my thinking was I’d catch them next time - which obviously ‘next time’ now means never again.
The first time I became aware of the band was around 1982/83. I’m not sure which came first but it was either via the ‘Burning Ambitions’ comp which featured ‘Boredom’ or getting a copy of the ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ 7” from someone at school - it might even have been a freebie as it’s housed only in a plain white cardboard sleeve. I’ve still got it too (ditto for the ‘Burning Ambitions’ comp). I’m pretty sure I must have heard the band on the John Peel show, or even on Top Of The Pops prior to either of those, but they are the first definite memories of Pete Shelley’s wonderful songwriting appearing on my horizon. It didn’t take long from there to gravitate to the classic ‘Singles Going Steady’ compilation and then those first three stunning studio albums. 
I think it’s fair to say that BUZZCOCKS was a universally liked band within Punk. Be it the adrenalin rush of ‘Orgasm Addict’ and ‘What Do I Get’, the primitive yet revolutionary ‘Spiral Scratch EP’, through to the Indie-scene inspiring ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’ and onto the epic ‘Why Can’t I Touch It?’, we all have our favourites. The band’s latter work should not be ignored either as both ‘Trade Test Transmissions’ and 2003’s ‘Buzzcocks’ are both well worth a listen and  indicate that of all the 77 bands to reform, BUZZCOCKS’ reformation birthed the best new material of the lot.
R.I.P Pete and thanks for being part of the sound track to not just our youth, but of our lives.