Buzzcocks: Late For The Train – Live & In Session 1989-2016

Blistering renditions of the songs many of us grew up on, together with versions of newer material that easily match what came before.

Obviously, this is a band that need no introduction. Simply, Buzzcocks are one of the most important bands. Highly influential, incorporating the likes of Kurt Cobain in their fanbase, they provided the world with the best melodic punk ever committed to tape. Fact.

In Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle, the band contained a dynamic writing duo par excellence. Pete’s untimely death in 2018 hit the music world hard, and in truth is something many have not really come to terms with the loss.

What is often overlooked is the quality of their output after the 1989 reunion. For example, Trade Test Transmissions and All Set rank alongside Love Bites and Another Music In A Different Kitchen in terms of vibrancy and calibre. Talk about the sound of a band moving forward, supremely confident in its skin. The recent Cherry Red Records collection, Sell You Everything, comprehensively covered this period (1989-2014) and a review, together with background on the band (as if it’s really required…) can be found here.

Late For The Train is its companion piece. It covers live performance and session work during the time, from 1989 in Birmingham to the 2016 6Music Festival. There are six discs in the collection, five of which are predominantly live shows, including a slot supporting the Sex Pistols at Finsbury Park in 1996. The sixth disc showcases Buzzcocks’ session work recorded for the BBC. There are 137 tracks, 83 of which are unreleased. So even for a Buzzcocks aficionado, there is interest a-plenty.

It is a beautifully presented item by Cherry Red Records, resplendent in bright yellow packaging and complete with sleeve notes from Steve Diggle as well as reminiscences from fans. Not much further information, but there was stacks of it in the Sell Everything package. Plenty of photographs here, too.

Let’s check it out.

Many of us would have experienced the buzz-saw attack of the band’s melodic punk rock live in concert over and over post-1989. The period saw the band build up an ever-increasing catalogue of work after the 1993 release of Trade Test Transmissions. Their live performance always, for me, hit the mark. Buzzcocks did not solely have to rely on classic cuts from their ’76-’79 heyday and therefore, the shows were always fresh.

First up is a recording of the band’s Birmingham Hippodrome show of 1989. Obviously, this was one of the early shows following the reunion and is an official bootleg. Pete and Steve were joined by original drummer John Maher and bassist Steve Garvey. Being the first live disc chronologically, it does draw on the band’s early releases, the nineteen numbers largely spread between Another Music In A Different Kitchen, Love Bites and A Different Kind Of Tension, plus the Spiral Scratch EP and 7-inch issues.

The bootleg captures the feeling of being at the show more than any purposely recorded and mixed live release ever would. Crowd noise, the sound quality – complete with the occasional mistake and tuning issue – are all evident. Check the bass in Fast Cars. When Pete states ‘there’s a prize for guessing what the next song is’ before Noise Annoys, a nearby punter yells Oh Shit! as if he had just supped from his plastic pint glass, spilling half of it down his t-shirt. You don’t tend to get that sort of detail on a tailored live album. Whether that is for the good depends on your personal preference (no prizes for guessing mine).

Incidentally, Oh Shit! itself crops up much later in the show. And I’m sure the punter was only trying to meet Pete’s challenge, really.

Performance-wise the band are as tight as ever. Plenty of banter with the crowd, who are joyous throughout. The hits are here, with the rampant Why She’s A Girl From The Chainstore and Promises in early and sounding top level. Ending with an electric one-two-three punch of Orgasm Addict, Oh Shit! and Boredom, complete with ‘gobbing’ incident during Orgasm Addict, causing the band to stop and start again. Bootlegs are very real, you know.

Disc two is another official bootleg, this time recorded at the Northwick Theatre in Worcester in 1993. The sonics, though different to the joyous mayhem on the first disc, are unquestionably bootleg quality. A sense of the crowd’s slight unfamiliarity with the new material is present. Pete even jokes whether the audience is paying attention since he may ‘set a test’ for them!

New recruits Tony Barber and Phil Barker had replaced Garvey and Maher, respectively. By this time Trade Test Transmissions (TTT) had been released and the new band were up for showcasing its material, and thus over half the tracks on TTT get an airing. Furthermore, Alive Tonight and Who’ll Help Me Forget from the unreleased 1991 Demo Album are present.

The urgent, heavier sound is instant on opener TTT, as it is on Steve Diggle’s superb Energy. Pete mentions the new album and ‘what happens next may be a bit of a surprise’. His new tunes like the spunky Last To Know, Do It and Innocent sound as if they’d been played alongside classics such as I Don’t Mind for years, such is the quality of the material on TTT.

It is a feature of any successful touring band that certain tracks are virtually always played at a live show. Buzzcocks are no exception. It is to the credit of this collection that each disc is varied, and not just a collection of the same songs repeated over and over. Less than a quarter of this set in Worcester were played at Hippodrome gig on disc, for instance.

 

Disc three has been released before – ten of the live cuts taken from this live performance from April 1995 made up French or Encore Du Pain (Live In Paris), issued in September of that year on Dojo Records. Therefore, the sound quality is vastly improved from the first two discs, it being a properly mixed live release.

The band rip into the set following a brief word from Pete. What we are getting here are complete shows. Twenty-six tracks in this case. And the set list here contains more huge tracks, with Ever Fallen In Love, Orgasm Addict and What Do I Get all performed, together with a nice spread from the 1970s (great Running Free is here). Numbers from TTT were by 1995 becoming trademark entries at a Buzzcocks show – Energy, TTT, Last To Know, Innocent and Do It. The band sound right on it, on top of their game.

23 June 1996. Euro ’96. Britpop – Buzzcocks fitted right in with the spirit of the times with their melodic pop punk and sartorial stylings. They had a slot on the bill in front of 30,000 fans supporting the Sex Pistols, alongside Iggy Pop, Skunk Anansie, The Wildhearts and 3 Colours Red. Reports of the proceedings on that chaotic sunny day will vary but many would agree on one point: Buzzcocks were the best band that day, despite Pop’s best efforts and a ‘legendary’ performance by the Pistols.

Nostalgia ‘ain’t what it used to be but I for one was glad to wrap my ears round this recording of Buzzcocks set from that day. The recording quality is somewhere between the bootlegs and official live releases and is good enough to enjoy. By this point the band had released their second classic record of the nineties in All Set. Such was their justifiable confidence, the band, match fit and lean (in contrast to the Pistols), played a set half dominated by the new album. A risk considering most of the crowd were there for day spent wallowing in the sun, drowning in beer and wanting to hear songs from their youth. Me included. Buzzcocks blew us away.

The fourth disc also contains a Maida Vale 2003 live set for the BBC.  Sound quality is good, naturally, courtesy of Auntie’s technicians. Two more albums had been released by this point, the experimental Modern and the favourably received Buzzcocks. Two thirds of the are from the latter, including two versions of Steve’s cracking Certain Move, and Jerk. It is sown up by three classics from the early years, Breakdown, Orgasm Addict and Harmony In My Head. As you’d expect, the recordings are punchy, full of gusto and are the right side of raw. Breakdown, in particular.

Jump forward three years to December 2006 and we’re at the Forum, London – the location for the 30 live album. Danny Farrant had replaced Phil Barker on drumming duty by this point. Issued in 2007 on Cooking Vinyl, 30 will be familiar to many. So, it’s a little puzzling why it’s included here. 1999’s Modern is well represented for the first time in this collection, but curiously there is only one cut from 2006’s Flat-Pack Philosophy in Reconciliation. There are, however, twenty-eight thumping slices of pop punk beauty including plenty of the big hitters, as well as the likes of You Tear Me Up and Whatever Happened To? from the seventies. Throw in more from TTT, Buzzcocks and All Set and the Forum show becomes an exhaustive, balanced live reflection of the band at that point.

The final disc is made up of BBC recordings. These are spread between 1993 and 2016, and thus span most of the band’s reformation period. The tracks are always vibrant and start with a stunning live pairing from TTT recorded at the 1993 National Music Day – Do It and Isolation.

Both tracks reappear in a session for Radio One’s Jakki Brambles later the same year, together with Pete’s masturbation ode Palm Of Your Hand and Steve’s Unthinkable. Ever Fallen In Love completes the session – a corking version, too. The cuts jumped from the radio speakers in 1993 to remind the nation exactly which band still owned the pop punk crown, despite the emergence of several young pretenders around that time. The presence of a small audience gives the broadcast even more exuberance.

Mark Radcliffe’s Radio One session of 1994 showcased a brand new 45, the hidden gem Libertine Angel, together with its pumping, rocking flip side, Roll It Over. Tracks familiar to fans nowadays following subsequent inclusions on live albums and compilations. The pulsating duo Energy and Last To Know from TTT complete the session.

2006 saw Buzzcocks doing a further session for Mark, this time on BBC 6Music. Flat Pack Philosophy had just been released and the juggernaut of a title track, humour very much intact, and Soul Survivor are here. About time – wouldn’t have minded more from this cracking album. Mark’s former breakfast show co-host, Marc Riley, had the band back in 2015 on 6Music. Bassist Chris Remmington had replaced Tony Barber in 2008. Two cuts from 2014’s The Way, In The Back and the title track, are played alongside seven-incher It’s Not You. Pertinent as these were among the last clutch of new releases with Pete. A barnstorming Promises completed the quartet of cuts for Riley, all performed without an audience in traditional session format.

The collection ends with a trio of live numbers recorded in 2016 for the 6Music Festival. The three tracks selected underline the approach to the band’s live work post-reformation. Two bona fide classic tunes sandwich a belting new number. Ever Fallen In Love and Boredom are the bread, 2014’s People Are Strange Machines the filling.  Buzzcocks live performances were always fresh and choc-full of top-level quality choons, largely down to this approach.

For fans of the best in pop music, not just pop punk music, then Late For The Train would be a fantastic purchase. Blistering renditions of the songs many of us grew up on, together with versions of newer material which at very least match what came before. The collection is not just a companion piece or the Sell Everything package but a document representing the second phase of the live career of one of the most important, influential and best acts ever to grace modern culture..


❉ ‘Buzzcocks: Late For The Train – Live & In Session 1989-2016’ (6CD Box Set CRCDBOX103) is released January 22, 2021 by Physical/Cherry Red Records, RRP £24.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.

❉ Cherry Red Records have been releasing and reissuing the most innovative and independent thinking music since 1978. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

❉ Paul Matts is a writer from Leicester, England. His first novella, ‘Donny Jackal’, a kitchen-sink coming of age drama set in English punk rock suburbia in 1978, is out now both in paperback and as an E-book. His fiction has been featured in Punk Noir Magazine, Brit Grit Alley and Unlawful Acts. Paul also writes articles on music, in particular on the punk and new wave movement, and is a regular contributor for We Are Cult, Punkglobe, Razur Cuts and Something Else magazines. See https://paulmatts101.wordpress.com/ for more details, and to subscribe for updates.

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