Strolling from the Railway Tavern, where we’d be enjoying a few pre-gig drinks, across the square to collect our passes for tonight’s show gives us some indication of how good it has the potential to be. Buzzcocks don’t do quiet, and when the venue is actually a marquee set up for the festive season, their soundcheck rings loud and clear for anyone outside to hear.
Inside and as soon as ‘doors’ open there’s a sizeable crowd making their way in. By the time Ed Tattersall, support for the night, takes his place behind a piano the place is humming and a great atmosphere is beginning to build. By all accounts Tattersall only found out he had this gig a few days previously and, to anyone who has listened to his output, you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s an odd choice to support an iconic punk band from the first wave of 1976/77. There’s just him and a piano or an acoustic guitar, a powerful, soulful voice and songs dealing with mental health and the emotional aspects of modern life.
Punk rock it isn’t but it’s certainly packed with feeling and energy of a different kind and the crowd is won over almost immediately. Only one person heckles with a “Play something faster” remark. At first it’s ignored but three songs later Tattersall tackles the issue, and person, not by playing something faster but by calling the guy out with some well deserved vicious comments that gain a deserved round of applause from everyone else. It takes guts to play an emotional, solo, acoustic set of songs in front of an audience such as this. Ed Tattersall does it brilliantly.
It’s now 3 years since the untimely passing of Pete Shelley, writer of so many iconic songs that supported our angst fuelled emotions for such a long time. A run of gigs in late 2019 saw a post – Shelley Buzzcocks dealing with a social media full of comments along the lines of “Without Pete there can be no Buzzcocks”. But those gigs were a triumph. Steve Diggle paid his respects to Shelley both verbally and in his delivery of the ‘classic’ tunes whilst also stating quite clearly that Buzzcocks were not only here to stay but were moving on. And let’s not forget that Diggle has, in fact, penned over 50 Buzzcocks songs. As soon as the band walk on stage tonight one thing is certain, this is going to be a great gig. Whether it’s the Christmas spirit in people, whether it’s alcohol induced or whether it’s just the excitement of seeing one of the greatest bands from the earliest beginnings of UK punk the atmosphere in the venue is electric. As the opening drum beat, guitar and bass from Danny Farrant, Mani Perazzoli and Chris Remington begin Steve Diggle walks on stage, promising a full on Christmas punk rock party, makes final adjustments to his guitar and everything blends into ‘What Do I Get’. There’s a roar of approval and a sway of bodies as the jumping around begins. ‘Fast Cars’ follows, the unmistakeable bass riff, courtesy of Remington, immediately transporting us back 40+ years to our youth and ‘Another Music In A Different Kitchen’. Steve Diggle is enjoying every second as he slashes at his guitar, theatrical posing with every move whilst at the same time giving anyone and everyone that knowing look and grin.
But it isn’t all a trip down the lane of nostalgia. Diggle’s ‘People Are Strange Machines’ from 2014 album ‘The Way’ goes down just as well as the old stuff and there’s no let up in the crowds enthusiasm to have a good time. Of course the old classic Buzzcocks songs are played. ‘I Don’t Mind’, ‘Boredom’, ‘Autonomy’, ‘Fiction Romance’, the perfect onslaught of rolling drums and head filling guitars of ‘Moving Away From The Pulsebeat’, the lighter but no less powerful bass driven ‘Why Can’t I Touch It?’, together with the ubiquitous ‘Orgasm Addict’. These are the songs everyone here will know and love. But whilst a Buzzcocks set was once predictable (open with ‘Boredom’, ‘Orgasm Addict’ as part of the encore etc) this is no longer the case. Quite rightly things have moved on and the main set now features a greater number of superb songs penned by Diggle. ‘Sick City Sometime’ is a highlight of any Buzzcocks concert but more recent Steve Diggle compositions such as 2019 single ‘Gotta Get Better’/’Destination Zero’ also fit perfectly with their classic buzzsaw guitars backing vocals tackling 21st Century issues. This is not a band happy to simply tour their ‘greatest hits’. Buzzcocks play like they’re fresh off the starting blocks, eager to deliver a set rammed full of energy. Diggle doesn’t play like someone who has just gone past the middle year of his 60’s. He’s there, centre stage, pacing around, leaping up and down, slicing riffs out of his guitar with more gusto than the front person in bands half his age. Danny Farrant and Chris Remington, the driving rhythm section of Buzzcocks, have been a part of this band for over 13 years meaning every song is tight. Die-hard fans, eager to hear new material, are treated to two brand new songs. ‘Senses Out Of Control’ comes towards the end of the main set whilst ‘Don’t Mess With My Brain’ slots nicely into what should have been a seven song encore. Both unmistakeably Buzzcocks with the rawer edge of Diggle compositions.
By the time the band leave the stage at the end of the main set there’s such a positive, feel-good atmosphere about the place it’s likely that given the chance this concert could have continued for hours with no loss of enthusiasm from either band or crowd. Alas, that’s not to be and time constraints together with a broken acoustic guitar mean that a planned seven song encore becomes five. Even here Steve Diggle has moved on, refusing to go down the expected route of just a run of classic singles to finish the night. The knackered acoustic means the wonderful ‘Love Is Lies’ can’t open proceedings. The perfect punk pop of ‘Promises’ and ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ must surely always be included in any set Buzcocks play and it’s a fair bet that it’ll be a while before ‘Harmony In My Head’ isn’t the night’s closing song. But to include a new song that no-one will have heard before – the already mentioned ‘Don’t Mess with My Brain’, together with some that only fairly dedicated fans will know – ‘Chasing Rainbows’ and ‘Isolation’(the latter sadly dropped due to a lack of time) – shows a determination not to rest on past glories. Buzzcocks today are as great a live band as they’ve ever been and there’s no sign of this letting up.
In 2019 the loss of Pete Shelley was still incredibly raw. Steve Diggle was clearly still devastated by the death of his musical partner of more than 40 years and Buzzcocks live set was, quite rightly, full of comments acknowledging the pain felt by everyone. That feeling of loss is still there but now it, together with the love and respect felt for Shelley, is shown simply by the passionate delivery of some of his most loved songs. But Steve Diggle also lives and breathes rock n roll and is driven by the need to write new songs, step forward and leave the past behind. The so called ‘classics’ will remain but with a new album coming in 2022 and a tour in March likely showcasing a whole bunch of new songs we can still look forward to the excitement, energy and eagerness of a band unafraid of the future.
Review and Photos by Steve White