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As Buzzcocks prepare for the Albert Hall, Steve Diggle talks Pete Shelley

As Buzzcocks prepare for the Albert Hall, Steve Diggle talks Pete Shelley
Introduced to singer Howard Devoto and guitarist Pete Shelley by Malcolm McLaren in 1976, as they were putting Buzzcocks together, Steve Diggle joined the band as bassist more by accident than design. Devoto left to form Magazine after the incendiary, self released Spiral Scratch EP, Diggle switched to guitar, Shelley moved centre stage and, with Steve Garvey and John Maher in the engine room, Buzzcocks most celebrated incarnation was born. 
 
Shelley’s stream of wry odes to relationships’ light and dark corners, Orgasm Addict, What Do I Get?, I Don’t Mind, Love You More, Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve? et al, were a consistent, adrenaline fuelled run like no other. Coupled with Diggle’s more city-focus anthems, like Harmony In My Head and Autonomy, Buzzcocks kicked a new shape into the musical landscape every bit as tellingly as the Pistols and the Clash. 
 
Certainly musicians across the generations, members of Joy Division/New Order, Duran Duran, Heavy Lungs, Pearl Jam, Everything But The Girl, The Smiths, Green Day and R.E.M. among them, paid fast tribute when Pete Shelley died suddenly in December. And Diggle has had to assume the mantle of frontman ahead of the band’s show at the Royal Albert Hall this evening. 
 
“It’s like the Ming dynasty, first Devoto, then Shelley and now Diggle.” Forty-eight hours out, Steve Diggle talks Buzzcocks present, past and future. 
 
What was the original idea behind the Royal Albert Hall show?
We hadn’t played London for a while, last time was at the Roundhouse, and the Albert Hall opportunity came up. Wherever we play though it’s a Buzzcocks gig.
 
When Pete died we cancelled shows. Everything was up in the air until we decided to make the Royal Albert Hall date a celebration of Pete Shelley. 
 
He was my brother and musical partner for 43-years. It was a long road we went on together, time in pubs, in rehearsals, travelling and on stage. It was a lot of fun. Pete had a great sense of humour and we had a great relationship, great arguments too. Intellectual fencing we used to call it. 
 
Will you be singing Pete’s songs?
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been singing everything and getting those notes, even Why Can’t I Touch It! My songs used to really complement Pete’s and visa versa though. On tour, we’d do four of his then a couple of mine and it really worked.
 
I’ve had condolences from around the world and people saying they’d love to come and do a song with us, that’s how [the show has] evolved. There will be eight guests I think, Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible, Thurston Moore, Pauline Murray, Tim Burgess and Peter Perrett to name a handful. 
 
We’ve had a couple of weeks to sort the setlist out. [The evening] will start and finish with me singing four songs with the current Buzzcocks, Chris Remington and Danny Farrant. In between, the guests have chosen what they want to do. It’s going to be a very emotional night but a positive one too I hope. Cathartic.
 
The last Buzzcocks album came out in 2014. Had Pete been working on new material since?
Pete kept saying ‘I want to retire. Carry on if you want to with my blessing’. I’d say ‘We’re not finished yet’ or words to that effect. I sent him a few bits of music just to get him thinking about song writing again but there’s nothing out there that I’m aware of. Festivals just want the singles and since The Way album Pete was happy doing that, we both were. I’ve got cassettes with demos from over the years lurking about though and if we’re going to carry on with it there has to be a new single and a new album. Of course it won’t be the same, nobody asked for this, but if we don’t do something it means Pete’s dead and Buzzcocks is dead. 
 
Have you thought about working with Steve Garvey and John Maher again?
I’d do that, but Steve lives in New York, and he’s semi-retired from music now, John lives and works on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides, so it’s not likely.
 
What comes next?
My songs are a part of Pete and his are a part of me. I didn’t pick up a guitar for weeks after he died. It was so emotional when I did, trying to sing What Do I Get, I had to put it away again. 
 
I was in a car accident when I was 17, which killed my friend who was 21 so I know the meaning of death and I know the meaning of life, a few of my songs reflect that I think. 
 
After the Albert Hall show I’m going up to Scotland for four dates with my solo band then I’ll meet with the manager and see where we go with Buzzcocks, conscious of the fact we’ve put Pete to rest. 
 
We did 90 gigs two years ago and 80 last year, there are still a lot of people who want to see us. I was there from day one. Only me and Pete made that whole journey, from freezing in a transit somewhere outside Carlisle, waiting for the repair van, through to flying around the world. Buzzcocks has been my life and Pete’s spirit will be with me at the Albert Hall and at any Buzzcocks gig to come.
 
 
 

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