I was delighted to be able attend a celebration of Pete Shelley’s life on the evening of Friday 21st June 2019 at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The concert featured Buzzcocks (and an array of special guest singers) with support from The Skids and Penetration.
It would dismissive and rude of me not to squeeze in references to High Wycombe in this article. Buzzcocks may never had played High Wycombe but that was the place, back in February 1976, that Shelley (then named Peter McGleish) first witnessed The Sex Pistols. The rest is history.
Meanwhile, support acts, The Skids and Penetration both did make it to play live in High Wycombe – Richard Jobson and his merry Scottish band treading The Nag’s Head stage in June 1978 for their first appearance outside of Scotland and London. Penetration also sampled the delights of High Wycombe Town in June 1978 as they took a break from supporting Buzzcocks on their UK tour.
So, fast forward more than 40 years to the Royal Albert Hall in 2019 and it seemed almost surreal to witness all three of these acts on the same night and on the same stage.
It was perhaps apt that Penetration kicked off with their Buzzcocks cover, ‘Nostalgia’. It set the tone for an evening that proved that Shelley will be remembered as one of the greatest pop song writers of his era.
Penetration – set list
Come Into the Open
Shout Above the Noise
Beat Goes On
Richard Jobson is a great frontman and the latest version of The Skids he has assembled is able to do admirable justice to the impressive back catalogue of classics from the late 70’s and early 80’s. We even got a run through of, according to Jobson, the ‘worse ever Skids song’ in the form of ‘TV Stars’.
Skids – set list
Of One Skin
Kings of the New World Order
The Saints Are Coming
Working for the Yankee Dollar
Scared to Dance
Hurry On Boys
A Woman In Winter
TV Stars/Pretty Vacant /What Do I Get?
Into The Valley
Buzzcocks came on stage to an ever-rotating backdrop of band and Shelley memorabilia – just in case you got bored with the music. However, from the opening guitar riff of ‘Fast Cars’, sung by Buzzcocks original Steve Diggle, there was little chance to draw breath.
The guests started to take stage from the fifth number in – The Damned’s Captain Sensible attempting to the take on Boredom with the assistance of an oversize lyric sheet!
Former Buzzcocks John Maher and Steve Garvey joined the line-up for the short and sweet ‘Love You More’, with vocals coming from Penetration’s Pauline Murray.
You can see from the set-list below how the remainder of the evening panned out – all the guests adding their own unique style to the songs. The versions may not have been perfect but this was more about the remembering the songs rather than the performances.
Buzzcocks – set list
A Girl From the Chain store
Boredom (featuring Captain Sensible)
Love You More (featuring Pauline Murray))
Why Can’t I Touch it (featuring Peter Perrett)
Fiction Romance (featuring Richard Jobson)
What Do I Get? (featuring Dave Vanian)
Something’s Gone Wrong Again (featuring Dave Vanian)
Time’s Up (featuring Thurston Moore)
Noise Annoys (featuring Thurston Moore)
Sixteen Again (featuring Tim Burgess)
You Say You Don’t Love Me (featuring Tim Burgess)
Harmony in My Head
I Don’t Mind
Ever Fallen In Love (featuring all the guest vocalists)
In this article we fondly remember Pete Shelley, founder member of ‘punk’ band Buzzcocks, who died on 6th December 2018 at the age of 63. Shelley’s legacy includes a memorable list of classic pop songs, as well as his part in evolving the ‘punk’ music around his home-land of Manchester. As a 20-year-old he travelled with two friends to see a Sex Pistols gig at High Wycombe College. What they saw that evening provided the catalyst for what would become two iconic gigs at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in June and July 1976 and pave the way for the likes of Factory Records, Joy Division, The Fall, The Smiths and of course Buzzcocks, to help shape the future of British music.
Shelley (real name Pete McNeish) had tentatively formed a band in late 1975 with 23-year-old fellow Bolton student Howard Trafford (later to become Howard Devoto). On Wednesday 18th February 1976 they saw a first ever live review of a Sex Pistols gig in the New Musical Express and it inspired them to travel to London to track down the Pistols’ next gig.
It was also while they were down south that they would pick up a copy of Time Out magazine where the headline for the review of TV programme Rock Follies, ‘FEELING A BUZZ, COCKS’, gave them the idea for the name for their yet to be seen band –. After seeing the Pistols in High Wycombe they would return to Manchester to form Buzzcocks and promote the famous gigs at The Lesser Free Trade Hall.
Buzzcocks would play one of their first ever gigs at the latter of these two dates. Devoto took on lead vocals, while Shelley played guitar, aided by Steve Diggle on bass and John Maher on drums. In January 1977 they would release their debut EP, ‘Spiral Scratch’, on their self-funded New Hormones label – one of the first truly independent record releases in the UK. The EP included the now iconic ‘Boredom’ but the other three tracks, ‘Breakdown’, Time’s Up’ and ‘Friends of Mine’ had the same fresh sound and catch riffs.
soon after the release of ‘Spiral Scratch’, leaving founder member Shelley with decisions to make. Rather than recruit a new singer, Shelley bravely took on the front man role himself and the distinctive Buzzcocks sound was cemented with Steve Diggle moving to second guitar and Steve Garvey eventually becoming the permanent bass player.
With song-writing duties firmly on his shoulders, Shelley developed a way with lyrics that was virtually unique amongst his punk counterparts. Back in those formative years of punk rock, rather than tap into what was fast becoming clichéd lyrics referencing such topics as hate, war, crime, anarchy and violence, Shelley wasn’t afraid to mention love and write songs that included backing vocals of grown-men going ‘ooh, ooh’.
Also, unlike some of the other early London ‘punk’ bands who morphed out of the ‘pub-rock’ scene, Buzzcocks genuinely struggled to play their instruments during their early outings on the live circuit. Their early gigs would see the band muddling their way through primitive incarnations of their hits in the making – Shelley, in particular, with his sawn-off cheap guitar. However, the sound quickly developed into something unique and one that was enhanced to a new level in the studio.
Buzzcocks would eventually sign for United Artists in August 1977 – releasing their debut album, Another Music in a Different Kitchen in March 1978 – their rise to success would be fuelled by a series of consecutive pure punk pop singles – ‘Orgasm Addict’, ‘What Do I Get?’, ‘I Don’t’ Mind’, ‘Love You More’, ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve Fallen in Love With)’, ‘Promises’, ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’, the list goes on and on.
It is relatively sad to look back to see that while many of the other original iconic British ‘punk’ bands played High Wycombe – including, Sex Pistols, Damned, Clash, Stranglers, Jam, Siouxsie and The Banshees and Generation X – Buzzcocks were never to perform on a High Wycombe stage – perhaps they weren’t ‘punk’ enough in the eyes of the promoters of the time? The nearest they came were appearances at Aylesbury Friars – first on 6th May 1978 and then on 28th March 1979.
It was at the latter of these two appearances, while still at school, that I was lucky enough to see them for the first time. I’d been captivated since seeing their Top of the Pops appearance of ‘I Don’t Mind’ in April 1978. I remember being amazed that it was possible to write a song that included the lyric ‘pathetic clown’. A couple of months later I heard their follow-up single ‘Love You More’ for the first time – lasting less than 2 minutes, I had to hear it again as soon as possible – hence a trip to town to buy the single in, by this time, its easily recognisable Buzzcocks style graphics.
I took the cover to the Friars gig in March 1979 in the hope of an autograph. At the end of the gig those with similar thoughts patiently waited to the left-hand side of the stage for the band to return. There was not much of a delay before Pete Shelley and fellow band member Steve Diggle emerged and happily signed autographs and chatted with their fans. At this point some random meathead security man decided he wanted to clear the hall and claimed the band had ‘gone home’ and there was no point in waiting. At which point Pete Shelley said in his distinctive high-pitched voice, ‘I’m still here!’. The intellectually challenged security man then repeated his claim that the band had ‘gone home’. Shelley responded with a slightly louder, ‘I’m still here!’ I can still hear his voice in my head saying those words.
In my youthful craze to hear more, I began accumulating live and early demo recordings of the band and soon discovered that Shelley’s pop songs were not limited to singles, or just three-minute songs. ‘Fast Cars’, ‘Moving Away From The Pulsebeat’, ‘Fiction Romance’, ‘E.S.P.’, ‘I Believe’, to name just four.
The band split in 1981 leaving a hole for many of their followers. The records and tapes were stored away and we all moved on (for a while). Then in 1989 they re-formed and we were reminded what an incredible back catalogue of songs they could call on. The live shows were more powerful than ever. They recorded new music and also gigged until the point of Pete’s death and had arranged a 40 year anniversary gig at The Albert Hall in June 2019. I’d already got tickets and was in the process of going through the Buzzcocks archives when the tragic news arrived.
‘Oh Sh*t!’ was my one of my first reactions on the evening of Thursday 6th December 2018. Shelley had a song title for almost every emotion and in this case, the ‘B’ side of the 1977 Shelley penned classic ‘What Do I Get?’, seemed the most apt.
If by chance any family or friends of Pete read this, I send them my sincere best wishes and thanks for Pete’s life.
Love You More – from Paul
For your listening and viewing pleasure
Breakdown – Buzzcocks – Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall – July 1976
I Swear I Was There – Granada TV documentary 2001
Listen from 3:16 for Devotto and Shelley recalling the trip down south in February 1976
Buzzcocks in their own words – interview at British Library – 9 June 2016
Listen from 13:50 for comments from Shelley and Boon about Sex Pistols gig at High Wycombe February 1976
I Don’t Mind – Buzzcocks – Oxford Zodiac – March 2006 – first published December 2018
The passing of The Fall frontman Mark E Smith on Wednesday 24th January 2018 cannot be left without comment on this website. If I don’t write something, I fear my mind will literally explode with all the thoughts and memories of the Fall in the preceeding 40 years.
The Fall have played a huge part in my discovery of music and sadly (for me and many other Fall fans in the area), despite a live career spanning more than 40 years, The Fall never made a live appearance in High Wycombe – hence I offer them up as the greatest band NEVER to have performed in a town where so many other iconic names in the music industry have graced the likes of The Nag’s Head and Town Hall stages.
Firstly, I would like to pass on my sincere condolences to Mark’s family and friends. Plus, my heart goes out to the many Fall fanatics who will see Mark’s loss as potentially leaving a significant void in their lives.
In the days following Mark’s passing I have read numerous tributes and it is perhaps ironic (but not surprising to Fall fans), that he and The Fall will now gain wider recognition for their 40 years of constant output.
It was as recent as 12th January 2018 that I was able to ‘joke’ on Wycombe Sound’s Punkarolla radio show for suggesting a two hour Fall special. I was therefore grateful to host Andy Chalk for allowing me to indulge in The Fall on his show and on that particular occasion, send my best wishes to Mark, before playing the title track off the ‘New Facts Emerge’ album, released in the summer of 2017
Most Fall articles will pretty much write themselves. The check list/The Fall bingo, will read something like:
One constant name
X number of band members in Y number of years
Z number of albums
One of John Peel’s favourite bands, always different, etc
Girlfriends/Wives in the band
Punch-ups and knob twiddling on stage
So, bearing that in mind, I don’t intend to write a tribute as such. There are trained journalists who will be able to collate the necessary words and pictures and I’ll give some links at the foot of this article to a few of the many that I read in the first few days since Mark’s passing.
I discovered The Fall in 1978, via John Peel of course, (oops, one off the Bingo list) but despite keeping an eye out for local gigs involving the Manchester band, it wasn’t until the early 1980’s that I managed a trip to The Hammersmith Palais to witness them in person for the first time. I travelled up from the Wycombe area with my friend Martin. It was the first gig I drove to having passed by driving test a few days before.
For Fall fanatics (and I know there are plenty), they will appreciate this was their ‘Hex Enduction Hour’ period. However, I soon learnt that The Fall, unlike the majority of the other bands, didn’t ‘tour’ an album with a ‘standard’ set-list. They would also throw in unreleased songs – with many still a work in progress.
Fascinated by their Palais appearance, a month later I drove to some weird nightclub venue in Oxford – getting there around 7pm to give me more chance of getting in without a ticket but then had to wait for more than a hour before the doors opened and then until about 11pm before the band came on stage. The set at Oxford included at least three songs that were completely new to me. I particularly remember the mesmerising bass lines. I wanted to hear these songs again. I had to wait a few months before they were back in area for another gig (a marathon four or five bander Sunday night at The Lyceum) but needless to say the set-list had changed dramatically again and it was Monday morning before I got home.
The non-conformist set list, the random stage times and as I had now realised, an introduction at literally every gig by Mark E Smith during their opening number with his iconic slur – ‘Good Evening WE ARE THE FALL’, would become a trademark.
I was pretty much hooked from those first few gigs. All so different – The Palais gig seeing them able to sell out a major London venue and then a month later playing a dingy nightclub where you could, if you chose, stand as close to the stage as you dared. It is a quality to be proud of and one that lasted throughout their career.
So, how many time have I seen The Fall? A question that I’ve been asked a few times over the years and several times since we lost MES. I’ve actually lost count but from an old list I found while writing this article, the figure was well in excess of 50 by the mid 1990’s. Yet, even that figure would not get me into ‘Fall nutter’ category. Fall fans embraced the internet right from the early days and the lovingly created and maintained website http://thefall.org/ is a remarkable archive and ongoing discussion place for all things The Fall. Prior to this, the Fallnet mailing list proceeded all the Facebook and Twitter malarkey. It was still going strong at the time of this post, close to 25 years after it was first set-up.
So, back to my point about The Fall being the greatest band NEVER to have played High Wycombe. The nearest venues to High Wycombe The Fall played at were in Slough (birthplace of famous Wycombe promoter Ron Watts). The rather unassuming Slough Centre on the Farnham Road in the summer of 1986 was the first chance. I recall being quite disappointed with the set and crowd reaction but went to The Town and County Club in Kentish Town the next night and they played seven encores!
The Fall returned to Slough for a festival in July 1992 and it wasn’t until 1996 that they finally made it to Aylesbury to play the Civic Centre – the same venue as used by Friars but a venue, for whatever reason, they had never previously played.
Slightly further field from High Wycombe, Reading was a regular location for Fall gigs – ranging from various appearances in front of 1,000’s at Reading Festival, to gigs in front of a few hundred-people crammed in at venues such as The Alleycat and The Fez Club. It was during a 1998 gig at one of those latter venues that I witnessed the shear tenacity of MES to carry on regardless. Unfamiliar, at that stage, with what had gone on a few days earlier in the USA, the gig was played out with a completely unfamiliar line-up and when the songs fell apart, a guitar was handed around the front row to help out.
I have to confess, the chaos of that night, temporally put my fascination of The Fall on hold. I attended a few gigs in London in the next couple of years but like watching a football team I came away thinking that I didn’t really enjoy it that much but I’ll just go along to the next game and hope things got better.
It was after travelling to see Wycombe Wanderers play their final game of the 2001/2 season at Swindon that myself and a few friends decided that seeing The Fall could be a perfect antidote for seeing our team enter that ‘difficult period’. We arrived in London from Swindon by train and made our way to The Garage venue at Highbury Corner. Approaching the doors sometime around 7.30pm, it was obvious the gig was in high demand. The problem was we had no tickets and The Fall, by this stage, were not the band to attract the usual low life London ticket touts – although I would have appreciated them at this stage. I joked to the others that I had attended Fall gigs previously and the band had gone for drinks in a bar close to the venue. They might have spare tickets. We randomly selected a fairly awful pub/wine bar just across the road from the venue. It was relatively quiet – most gig punters were now in the venue. We ordered our drinks and then realised that Mark E Smith was sitting across the room with a non-band member. I can’t say I was star-stuck to say something but perhaps more shy or afraid of a negative reaction. A friend in our group, better known to us as ‘Oily Sailor’, was less shy. Being considerably younger, he was less of a Fall fan and wasn’t bothered what response he would get from MES. The next thing we know is that ‘Oily’ is having a conversation with MES, explaining that the two ‘old gits’ at the bar are massive Fall fans but don’t have tickets. Almost without hesitation, MES pulled out two photo passes for the gig and handed them over. It made the two ‘old gits’ very happy and I felt it only fair that I took a few photos of a gig that completely restored my loving of the band.
It was the beginning of another period of amazing creativity for The Fall and one where MES would eventually settle on a fairly stable line-up (by Fall standards) for his band. Fall fans will argue forever about what their favourite album or track is but from that period the ‘Fall Heads Roll’ long player is generally regarded as a classic. I never tire of seeing and hearing the version of ‘Blindness’ on Jools Holland in 2005 and wondering what on earth Mr Holland is thinking about the sound emanating from the keyboard.
The Fall may not have been everyone’s cup of tea and of course musical tastes are very much subjective. I once ‘treated’ my partner Jane (pregnant with our daughter) to a Fall performance at Cricklewood. For me it was right at a high point of The Fall’s musical output. I have to confess the sound that night was loud. The bass was thudding away so much it vibrated right through your stomach. Jane had to leave some of the gig because she said she ‘felt sick’. Her post-gig review was that it was, ‘just a noise’. Pretty accurate and perhaps a complement? I didn’t admit that I had seen other Fall gigs that had made me feel sick.
I recall MES describing Fall fans as ‘Salt of the Earth’ and it is Fall fans who will be best placed to attempt to explain the diverse range of output of the past 40 years. However, remember, if you are a non-Fall fan then don’t consider criticising The Fall – only Fall fans have that option. We will defend the band to the very end – and returning the football analogy, that’s exactly what we often do with the football team you support.
However, it always seems strange to me that The Fall sometimes were on the end of criticism from those that confessed to be lovers of ‘punk’ and other diverse musical genres. Perhaps it was the characteristic of Mark E Smith never to be drawn into the importance of style or image? MES and The Fall were very much anti-fashion. It is certainly a credit to MES that The Fall never became a lame tribute to themselves, playing ‘greatest hits’ set-lists or following the usual rock conventions. He performed, created and evolved constantly in the 40 plus years since he formed The Fall. The Fall influence has been and will be felt for years to come – for Fall fans we know that already, for others you have that to come.
Goodbye Mark. It was an absolute pleasure to have been a small part of witnessing The Fall journey.
Sad to hear the news of the passing of High Wycombe musician Les Payne on Monday 1st May 2017 at the age of 74.
Les had been an institution in the local live music scene for close on the past 50 years. His fans will remember him as the man who always had time for a chat. It’s estimated that he played over 6,000 gigs, making him one of the most prolific live acts in Britain and prompting an award and a number of TV appearances in the early 1990’s.
Speaking to the press in 2012 he said “I have been gigging for over 50 years. It is kind of sad in a way as the way pubs used to be has almost disappeared.
“The whole thing has gone a bit pear shaped. It is very hard to make any money being a musician unless you are really famous.”
Les grew up on the Isle of Wight and he did his first gig when he was only 14, in 1956. He moved to Thame in 1963 and was most recently living in Chairborough Road in High Wycombe, where he ran his Dreamcatcher studio.
In 1991 he picked up an award for his gigging exploits – taking the Harp Beat Rock Plaque for representing musicians who played music for a living but hadn’t become a household name.
He dubbed himself ‘The Nearly Man’ in a mini documentary made in 2015.
One of his claim to fame is that he recorded David Bowie’s ‘Star’ before it appeared on the Ziggy Stardust album.
He supported many acts during his long career, including Genesis, Mott the Hoople and Skid Row (featuring Gary Moore). He also played in late 1970’s band Mainland who released records on the Christy Records label. His solo career also stretched across five decades.
In 1981 he produced Marillion’s first demo cassette release featuring early versions of ‘He Knows You Know’, ‘Garden Party’ and ‘Charting The Single’.
In 1982 Les gained publicity from DJ Kenny Everett for his single ‘Who Would Be The Winner’. It was an anti-war song in protest at the Falklands War. It was promptly dropped by Les’s own record label and banned from almost every radio station because of the message it conveyed.
Commenting on the current music scene back in 2012, he said: “X-Factor is a bit annoying in some ways because it is so about TV. It is not about a career in music. I feel sorry for a lot of the people on The Voice too. Tom Jones said at least we know they will be ok, but they are not. It is not easy. It is a really tough business. I think it has become even tougher.”
He has three sons- Crispin, 50 and Elliot, 36.- His third son, Ritchie, passed away in 2010 aged 28. He also had two step children, Libbie, 34, and Josh, 31 with his wife, Pennie.
The Nearly Man – (Story of Les Payne) – documentary 2015
TV appearance 2006
Playing Gentle Man
You are welcome to post your memories and tributes to Les in the comments section or send an email.
It would be fair to say if it wasn’t for Ron Watts, the live music scene in High Wycombe during the late 1960’s, through the 1970’s and the into the 1980’s, would have been a much duller place.
Watts first promoted gigs in High Wycombe in 1968, with some of those early names including: John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Jethro Tull, Status Quo, Thin Lizzy and Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Then, having taken a break from promoting gigs in High Wycombe, it was a chance viewing of the Sex Pistols at High Wycombe College in February 1976 that led to him giving them a series of shows at Oxford Street’s 100 Club venue. In September 1976 he would bring the Pistols back to The Nag’s Head just a couple of weeks before appeared at the famous 100 Club Punk Festival and less than three months before they hit national notoriety via the ‘Bill Grundy’ episode.
Watt’s would go on to bring the up and coming ‘punk’ and ‘new wave’ to High Wycombe during the remainder of the 1970’s and early 1980’s. The most well-known names include The Stranglers, The Clash, The Damned, The Jam, Generation X, The Jam, Siouxsie and The Banshees, XTC, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, Tom Robinson Band, The Psychedelic Furs and U2.
Ron sadly passed away during the initial research for this website and, in the absence of a working version of wycombegigs.co.uk, I wrote an obituary that was published on chairboys.co.uk on 16th July 2016.
I introduced the piece thus:
Watts is best known for his involvement in the rise of the punk scene in 1976 and 1977, promoting gigs at the famous Nag’s Head venue in High Wycombe in addition to the legendary 100 Club venue in Oxford Street, London. However, it would be an insult to his legacy to leave unmentioned his part in bringing top Blues acts to venues in the UK during the late 1960’s and beyond, plus his front man role in legendary Cajun Blues band, Brewer’s Droop.
Ron’s name will pop up time and time again on this website and it would be great to hear your memories and tributes to the man responsible for so many gigs in High Wycombe, many of which provided the inspiration for future bands to form, or in my case, a leading figure in inspiring the creation of this website.