Pete Shelley (1955 – 2018)

Pete Shelley’s importance in British music cannot be overstated, writes Ange Chan.

Pete Shelley was born Peter Campbell McNeish in Leigh, Lancashire and was a singer, songwriter and guitarist, best known as the lead singer of Buzzcocks, and passed away after a supected heart attack on 6 December 2018, aged 63.

Taking his surname from the Romantic poet, Shelley formed the band with Howard Devoto after the two met at the Bolton Institute of Technology in 1975. Buzzcocks debuted the following year in Manchester, opening for the Sex Pistols at the infamous Lesser Free Trade Hall gig, taking their name from a review of Rock Follies.

In 1977, Buzzcocks released their first EP, Spiral Scratch, on their own independent label, New Hormones. When Devoto left the group shortly afterwards, Shelley took over as the lead vocalist and songwriter.

Working with the producer Martin Rushent, the band went on to create the punk/new wave singles Orgasm Addict, What Do I Get?, and the song they’re probably best known for, Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve), along with three LPs: Another Music in a Different Kitchen (1978), Love Bites (1978), and A Different Kind of Tension (1979).

Difficulties with their record label and a dispute with Virgin Publishing over the UK release of their greatest hits record, Singles Going Steady, brought the band to a halt in 1981.

That same year Shelley returned to his electronic roots and released his first solo single. The song Homosapien, was produced by Martin Rushent. The synth programming on this single laid the groundwork for Rushent’s next production, the chart-topping album Dare! by The Human League.

Homosapien was banned by the BBC for “explicit reference to gay sex”, but this didn’t stop it from becoming enormously popular in clubs across Europe and America.

It was also at this time that Pete Shelley talked openly about his bisexuality, which had been implicit in many of the Buzzcocks songs he had written but now came to the public’s attention, due to Homosapien and the BBC ban.

In addition to the minor hit Telephone Operator, the album included a computer program for the ZX Spectrum which featured lyrics and graphics which displayed in time with the music, an innovative precursor to the visuals of today’s media players. XL1 was produced by Martin Rushent and Shelley.

June 1986 saw Shelley release the darker, edgier Heaven and the Sea, an album that drew comparisons to Gary Numan and late period Ultravox.  In 1987 he followed the album with a new song, Do Anything, for the Brat-pack film Some Kind of Wonderful.

In 1989 Shelley recorded a new version of Homosapien entitled Homosapien II. The single featured four mixes of the new recording. In 1989, Buzzcocks reunited, and in 1993 released a new full-length recording, Trade Test Transmissions. They continued to tour and record, their most recent release being The Way in 2014.

In 2005, Shelley re-recorded Ever Fallen in Love with an all-star supergroup, including Roger Daltrey, David Gilmour, Peter Hook, Elton John, Robert Plant as a tribute to John Peel. Proceeds went to Amnesty International.

The importance of Pete Shelley in British music cannot be overstated. He was a forward thinking pioneer and a thoroughly decent bloke. He will be sadly missed but his legacy will live on through his music. RIP Legend.

❉ Ange Chan is a poet, author and writer for We Are Cult.  Her latest volume of poetry ‘ Songs of Sorrow and Heartbreak’ was published in October 2017.  Her third novel ‘Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots’ is currently an on-going work in progress.

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