BUZZCOCKS – Love Bites
BUZZCOCKS – Love Bites – Kris Needs
With the Buzzcocks currently operating as the most consistently-gigging of the Class of '76, I thought I'd resurrect a slice of how they were covered back in the day. The group actually made their Zigzag debut in April 1977, in the magazine's first full Clash feature (based around their gig at Harlesden's Colluseum Cinema). Here the Buzzcocks made their first appearance fronted by Pete Shelley [appearing after a debuting Slits and Subway Sect]. I wrote this....
The reorganised Buzzcocks went down well. Pete Shelley, the bloke with only half a guitar, is centre-stage front man now. He wore black, while the rest of the group sported hand-painted Mondrian shirts [ie. they had squares on 'em, if you're not arty]. With Pete loosening up [he played some weird guitar solos!] the 'Cocks have certainly got a lot of potential: 'What Do I Get', 'Orgasm Addict', practically all of 'Another Music In A Different Kitchen', a string of fun gigs on the White Riot tour, further fun at the Roxy, Vortex and sundry other venues . . . now spring forward to Zigzag 87:
Blondie are on the front page beating me up outside the BBC [Debbie in her Zigzag t-shirt], while inside we have Bryan James' new group Tanz Der Youth, the Weirdos, Cabaret Voltaire, the Stones - reggae with Culture, Merger, the Abyssinians and the Readymades - and Tony Parsons reviewing the singles. The Buzzcocks piece was supposed to be an exclusive peek at the new album, 'Love Bites' [Gawd, don't they look young?!, etc]...
LOVE BITES can be: the vice-like heart-grasp of new love; Embarassing marks on the neck; Romance with a sting in the tail; THE NEW BUZZCOCKS ALBUM.
Olympic Studio One is dimly lit by moving naked ladies projected on the far wall. I walk in slap-bang where a head-phoned Pete Shelley is completing his vocal for '16 Again', one of the tracks which should appear on 'Love Bites', the next Buzzcocks album. Oops, wrong door! So I make for the control room, where assorted Buzzcocks watch quietly as producer Martin Rushent prods Pete till he gets it right [which didn't take long at all].
I'm here to see the Buzzcocks at work and find out about their new album. Three singles and one LP into '78 - but the Buzzcocks will probably double that by the end of the year. Starting on 22 September with 'Love Bites'.
Buzzcocks entered the studio on 27 July and spent a day getting a sound. 'We wanted it to sound different to the first album.' Within a week backing tracks and most of the vocals were done. By Sunday 6 August, it was about ready for mixing. Fast work. Pete Shelley prefers 'efficient':
'Guitar solos and riffs and things like that have just been made up on the spur of the moment in the studio,' says Steve Diggle.
'It makes it so exciting for us,' adds Pete Shelley. 'There was room for expansion on the first LP but we've perfected the technique to get the sound so now we can go beyond that album. It's much more interesting.'
Next job is to put backing vocals on a track called 'Lipstick'. Deep-throat Buzzcocks unison guitars and a more floor-smashing drum sound than I recall pummel out of the speakers and...I know that riff! That striking film-theme guitar figure uncurling under Shelley's yearning vocals...'Shot by Both Sides’. It is. The Magazine wonder's one hit back in its original incarnation.
'That was the original song which became "Shot By Both Sides’, Pete tells me later. 'I was just playing it one day and I did a bit of work on it. Then we did the demos for the album. We spent two days in the studio in Manchester just getting down the songs so we could hear them at home and get to know them - and we did "Lipstick".'
Does Mr Devoto know? Some'll wonder...
'Well, he does "Boredom" in his set!'
I gotta say that 'Lipstick' beats the faster Mag-numb opus down to a Boomtown Rats song. It's a great riff, right? The Buzzcocks make it magnificent...and topped with the icing Pete Shelley and Martin Rushent are now applying in Studio one it transcends even that! The pair are adding a soaring falsetto which, once tracked and harmonised, becomes a muted church choir which sends shivers down the spine.
'That's the fun of doing records. You get a chance to do these little things,' says Pete gleefully.
The between-take behavior of Martin and Pete is totally at odds with the mournful opus they're creating. To keep in good high-pitched voice they pretend to be gnomes ['You haven't got a fishing rod!']. The track is canned and I'm stunned. Then it's up to the pub to soothe strained gnome-throats.
Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle sit opposite me nursing pints. It's hard to equate the diminutive, softly-spoken Shelley with the ferocious creativity of the Buzzcocks and his press-fostered status of modern world romantic hero. He theorises a lot about himself, seems genuinely bewildered about all the fuss and apologies because he thinks he sounds too contrived, but above all Pete Shelley comes over with a quiet, natural strength.
So tell us about the album, Pete...
‘Some songs are fairly recent and some are still being written! [The vocal on 'Promises' has to wait until tomorrow while Pete finishes the words]. There are a couple which are pre-Buzzcocks, the ones that I had written before I teamed up with Howard - "16 Again", "Nostalgia", and there's a mutant track called “ESP”, which is an old tune, an old ditty, with new lyrics.'
How does it go with the first album?
'It's like a mixture. It SURROUNDS the first album. It isn't in a time scale. The Next Step. I mean, some of it is ahead, some of it is behind. It's hard to say which is which! It's just a progression. It all starts with "Real World", because in the last few months I've come to terms with the things I've been writing. I've been doing some research into the philosophies in me own songs, and I've been finding out some little things which are almost like recurring themes. There's certain things which I sing about - and I never plan what I sing about. I just have the tune and make up words, and if the words sound nice that's it. But these recurring themes which must be in my subconscious...[recites]
“I'm in love with the real world It's mutual also it seems Cos only in the real world do things happen like they do in my dreams? Somewhere the rules may be different but maybe they'll stay the same, In the real world, in the real world We'll both win if we play the same game” – “Real World”
‘So you see I've got this game theory, because a lot of my songs have got "game" in them. Actually, what I'm trying to get across is, it's always a strange thing when you've got to interpret yourself so you know what you're saying! It's all tied up in there somehow.'
I mention that, before Pete told me it was a "pre-Buzzcocks song", I'd thought '16 Again' was a sort of son of '16' from the last album.
'There's all these things that tie in. I mean, the first time we played "16" it was called "16 Again" because of "I wish I was 16 again". I've got this obsession about "16 again". I wonder why. I think maybe it's to do with the thing that when you're 16 you're supposed to be entering a new phase of your life and if you could only get back to being that with all you know now then you’ll not make all the same mistakes. I know half the fun is making the mistakes, but you'll be able to get more fun. I've probably got a vain hope of reaching 16 years olds!'
'It'll either be portrayed in such a way that it can either be one word or two words. So the thing is that anybody will know what it means. It's either "love bites" - the capacity of it to injure – or love-bites, like Steve...' Diggle smiles secretively as Pete indicates several red suck marks on his shirt-shielded neck.
Other tracks for consideration - 'as many as will fit nicely into the optimum time for an album' - include: 'Just Lust', 'Promises', 'Love Is Lies', 'Operator's Manual' [a deranged waltz], 'Ever Fallen In Love When You Shouldn't Have' [sic], 'Walking Distance' and 'Late For The Train'. The last two are instrumentals [more later].
The group take all this current activity calmly and without any self-importance. They know that all eyes and ears are waiting for this record and even expect a Buzzcocks Backlash from the press. But the lofty stature of the group's popularity doesn't phase Pete any.
'It's a shame that I'm not thinking about it. If I could actually get myself completely together, and if I actually saw this album as a do-or-die thing, I could put all into it, but on this album it's just been music. It amazes me always but sometimes it frightens me that things are so random. It's just that things happen, so it's a lot more exciting for us as musicians.'
Pete leans over to my microphone and makes like an overwhelmed, pseudy self-effacing film award winner to thank Zigzag readers for placing the Buzzcocks so healthily high in the recent readers' poll. But then genuine disbelief at the band's popularity takes over.
'I can't see why. Why us? It's either that we are something or that we've got the ability to con people into thinking that we are. I mean, Buzzcocks is just Buzzcocks. That's how we see it. Everything else is just other things to boost us up when we feel down. If somebody actually made a definitive study of the Buzzcocks they'd find that nobody, even the people that buy the records, know exactly what's there. It's just their own interpretation. The way I see the songs, the way the rest of the group sees the songs, the way you see the songs, are all individual things. It's just a point of focus. It's almost like staring into a crystal ball.'
'Another Music...' consisted of a lot of the set the Buzzcocks had been thrilling audiences with since they debuted Devoto-less at The Clash Harlesden gig in March '77. By the time they got in the studio for the first album sessions at the end of last year they knew the songs inside-out. It's the classic pattern where you then have to come up with another barrel of corkers for the follow-up. FAST. Doesn't seem to have bothered the Buzzcocks - though I did wonder if it was any strain writing to order like the lyrics needed for the next day's session.
'It's not writing to order,' says Pete. 'I've got it all in here [points to cranium]. I've got all the ideas and rough lyrics. It's basically coming up with the idea and seeing if I can live with it. As far as I'm concerned we've only had one failure and that was "I Need". Other people like it. There's something there. It's a song, but it just doesn't add up. It's hard to get through to myself that other people find my songs good. Probably an inferiority complex - but I can't quite see what all the fuss is about because it's like a natural process writing songs. Our music isn't hard work.'
The Buzzcocks now have a repertoire of about 40 songs from which to choose the live set they'll play on the 35-date tour which starts on 1 October. A few old faves will be 'put to rest' for the time being but don't worry about a thing. Wait until you hear the new stuff!
Just one pint and Martin's calling time to get back in the studio, as precious seconds are ticking away. Pete signs off:
'The book of the month is “The Art Of Loving” by Erich Fromm. Amazing book. It's opened my eyes a lot.'
Thank you, Pete. While the others return to the studio, I make a detour to the burger joint round the corner. Fifteen minutes later I stroll into the control room, takeaway in hand....
CHUGGA CHUG-CHUG CHUGGA CHUG-CHUG
AAAAAAAAHHHH-AAAHHH-AAAAHHHH!! EEEEEEEEE!! EEEEEEEEEE!!!!
Steve and drummer John Mayer are laying wailing whistle banshee voices to 'Late For The Train', the album's Epic and most unusual track. A highlight of the instrumental session they did for the John Peel show, it's now honed to an aural breakthrough. The track is basically a nightmare train ride given momentum by relentless train drone guitar-chugging and triple-echo drums. Over it multi-voices sigh and scream. Leaves the BBC sound effects records in Woollies! Hot rails to Hell, indeed.
And that ain't all. If the idea-germ in the Buzzcocks' mind takes form successfully then you better hold on to your speakers and get your ears reinforced...
'We're trying to get actual movement into it so that when you sit there the whole room seems to be whizzing past!'
Sensurround sound in a twelve-inch disc.
'It's trying to get the effect of going under bridges and everything,' continues Pete. 'There's certain extremely subtle but striking things that happen when you go under a bridge on a train. You actually know you're going under and we're trying to try and get that so you can almost see the bridge going over. We've already got the train going, but it's going to be a hard mixing job.'
Pete thinks the Buzzcocks may 'invent a few things with this album'. Meanwhile, Steve is trying to hit and hold an extra long note.
'Somebody come and squeeze me balls!' he requests.
Martin goes in to assist [with hitting the note!] and messes about with the controls to help. It strikes me that the producer who's notched successes with the Stranglers and Generation X has a close sympathy with the Buzzcocks and what they wanna achieve.
Pete agrees: 'There's an empathy between us. He'll try anything once, twice if he likes it. It's a condition where we almost read each other's minds. It's a strange thing. It's almost going into witchcraft!'
'Love Bites' will put the cap on 1978 - the Year of the Buzzcocks. Love you more...and it'll be a long time before the razor cuts!
Those were the days of innocent fun and fascination - watching a group with its creative juices on overload. Bet Pete and Steve would never have dreamed that 30-years on from the Buzzcock’s inception they'd be getting ‘Inspiration’ awards from top magazines, trotting out their unique songs to enraptured new generations and – indeed - be the only group left standing from that gig in Harlesden!
Kris Needs – tMx 27 – 11/06
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