Buzzcocks Break Down Their Past
The British punk scene that epitomized rebellious London is highlighted often by groups like the Sex Pistols and The Clash. Sid Vicious and the Sex Pistols flicked their figurative middle finger up to the United Kingdom with Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. The Clash took the world by storm with their melodic punk anthems and reggae influences in London Calling. These two records have left an iconic stamp on punk rock and pop culture as a whole.
Many punk bands from this time period will list another band from England as an influence, though. Bolton’s own Buzzcocks formed in 1976 with Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley. Their first release, Spiral Scratch, is now being re-issued. Because no label wanted to produce the record at the time, Buzzcocks named their own label, New Hormones, to which the EP was formed in the span of 5 hours. This method of self-production has led to Buzzcocks becoming major architects of the independent record labels that soon followed.
The classic punk songs on Spiral Scratch have aged like a fine wine. Howard Devoto’s work on this EP is reminiscent of the classic punk vocals featured in groups like the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. They relay a grungy, in-your-face shouting that makes Devoto sound as if he is losing his mind. This is shown not only through the vocals, but also through the lyrics of songs like “Breakdown.” Devoto sings, “I feel me brain like porridge coming out of me ears / and I was anticipating reverie / I’ve taken leave of me senses — and I’m in arrears / my legs buckle over — I’m living on my knees,” showing the inner breakdown of his senses and mental state. The track “Boredom” is iconic in that it shows the clear state of punk to Devoto. He comments on the staleness and repetition of the British punk scene, as the guitar blares a surf rock-esque riff. Looking back at this song is interesting, as Devoto would leave Buzzcocks immediately after this EP to pursue his pioneering post-punk band Magazine. The four songs on Spiral Scratch are short, sweet and to the point. They hold up particularly well in this time period and their lyrics are poetic for an early punk band.
Not only is Spiral Scratch being re-issued, but so is Buzzcocks’ live album from 1976, Times Up. This is known by punk fans as an extremely rare live record where Devoto is still in the band. The live aspect of this album gives its songs a garage rock, almost lo-fi, vibe that differs from the self-produced Spiral Scratch. The live guitars from Shelley ring in strong, punk power chords, while Devoto’s lyrics add to the classic Buzzcocks sound. Songs like “Orgasm Addict” and “Love Battery” show the ridiculous raunchiness of ’70s punk, where lyrics crack one-liners that find a laugh in dark subject manners. Even the love songs on this record, such as “I Can’t Control Myself,” cannot help but be lackadaisical and without seriousness. Do not let these songs fool you, though: a track like “Don’t Mess Me Round” reminds us of the aggressive and threatening tone that early Buzzcocks boasted.
Ultimately, these two releases are enjoyable for any true punk fan looking to step into the origins of a genre still prominent today. Early Buzzcocks mix the sound surf rock’s swinging guitar style with the gritty, kick-your-teeth-in attitude of early punk rockers like the Ramones or the Sex Pistols. The duo of Shelley and Devoto that led Buzzcocks have influenced punk bands for decades now and these reissues are sure to do that tenfold in the future.