Pete Shelley – 17 April 1955 – 6 December 2018

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.

Hence, with the help of a borrowed car, the pair, plus to-be band Manager Richard Boon, would travel the 180 miles south and learn that the Sex Pistols were due to play support to Lord Sutch in High Wycombe at the Buckinghamshire College of Further Education on Friday 20th February 1976.

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.

Spiral Scratch EP – released January 1977

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.

My Buzzcocks memorabilia.
Including song book, badges, bootleg tapes and flyer from Aylesbury gig, March 1979

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

My signed ‘Love you More’ cover, ‘To Paul’ from gig at Aylesbury, March 1979

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

4 April 2018 – Talking punk on Emperor’s Bits for Wycombe Sound

Not put off by my guest appearance on 21st February 2018, Andy Aliffe invited me back on to his ‘Emperor’s Bits’ show on Wycombe Sound on 4th April 2018 – this time talking about the early days of the ‘punk’ scene in High Wycombe.

The Emperor’s Bits – Wycombe Sound radio show featuring Andy Aliffe (right) and Stevyn Colgan (left).

This was another hugely enjoyable hour were I was joined and helped out by friend and Wycombe Sound’s Punkarolla host, Andy Chalk.

We got a chance to remind listeners that the likes of The Sex Pistols, Damned, Clash, and Stranglers all played the legendary Nag’s Head back in 1976 – while the following year the same venue hosted artists including The Jam, XTC and Elvis Costello.

Of course, we couldn’t leave without a mention for ex-High Wycombe Grammar school boy Ian Dury, who played High Wycombe during his early career with Kilburn and The Highroads, before returning with his Blockheads on the Bunch of Stiffs tour at The Town Hall in October 1977.

Highlight of the show for me was hearing former Bucks Free Press junior reporter Janice Raycroft talking about the iconic Sex Pistols at High Wycombe college in February 1976. Janice, now editor of Buckinghamshire Life magazine, recalled in vivid detail her interview with Johnny Rotten, seeing Sid Vicious wielding a knife and the mixed reaction of the audience.

The show also briefly touched on the 50th anniversary of the first ever ‘Blues Loft’ gig at The Nag’s Head and it’s hoped a further edition of The Emperor’s Bits will be dedicated to the history of this sadly lost venue.

As a means of historical record I’ve included the audio of the interview with Janice Raycroft below.

Emperor’s Bits line-up 4th April 2018 – Stevyn Colgan, Andy Aliffe (nice hair), Andy Chalk and Paul Lewis

14 October 1976 – The Damned/Jack The Hat – Nag’s Head

Three months into their career, The Damned stepped on stage at The Nag’s Head on Thursday 14th October 1976 to make their first headline appearance at any venue.  By all accounts they didn’t fill themselves with glory as they subjected a rapidly diminishing audience to a torrent of abuse and then Manager Ron Watts threatened to get his shotgun if they didn’t behave.

The Damned plus Jack The Hat
Nag’s Head High Wycombe
Thursday 14th October 1976
Advert from Bucks Free Press Midweek
enhanced for

Nag’s Head promoter Ron Watts had been impressed with The Damned after seeing them support The Vibrators at The Nag’s Head just a few weeks earlier. It prompted Watts to take on the management of the band.  Watts recalls the decision to take on band management in his autobiography – 100 Watts – A Life in Music – “I managed the Damned for a while, right back when they first got started.  Management wasn’t something I ever enjoyed but I did it as an occasional favour so I agreed to help the band out.”

However, after the band ended up in jail following a gig in Luton, their return to the Nag’s Head in October 1976 proved the catalyst for Watts and The Damned to go their separate ways.  Watts was unimpressed with the attitude of his new band towards a sparse audience mixed between new punks and the Nag’s Head regulars.  The bitching by the bands eventually drove the remaining numbers in the audience down to around 30.

Watts recalls the evening: “Brian James was trying to antagonise the crowd, shouting, “Call yourselves punks?” I’d had enough of this so I shouted back, “Keep it up and I’ll fetch me shotgun. We’ll see how much of a punk you are then.”

The events of that infamous evening were also reviewed by Jonh Ingham writing for Sounds magazine. His review was titled ‘High Wycombe – Village of The Damned’, where he said: “The Damned never do something simply if it can be accomplished with a grand gesture. They don’t ask for a beer, they scream for a blanket-blank beer.  They don’t tell the beard ‘n’ denim set they’re antiquated or silly looking, they scream the most abusive sewage they can dredge up”.  But Ingham was impressed with their musical output, commenting: “Musically, though, there’s no stopping them. Starting where ‘Search and Destroy’ leaves off, they smashed and stormed through an inferno of blazing numbers, ‘Neat, Neat, Neat’, ‘Born to Kill’, ‘So Messed Up, ‘Fish’, the energy level was phenomenal.”

Luckily for The Damned, Watts didn’t get out his shotgun at The Nag’s Head but by the next morning the two sides had agreed a parting with Jake Riviera of Stiff Records the new man assigned to try and control Captain and Co.

A week later The Damned released their debut single ‘New Rose’ the following week on Stiff Records – regarded now as the first ever ‘punk’ single in the UK.

It would be a while before The Damned returned to High Wycombe.

Is she really going out with him?

18 March 1976 – 101ers – Nag’s Head

Thursday 18th March 1976 – 101’ers – Nag’s Head

London pub rockers, The 101’ers, led by a 23 year old Joe Strummer played The Nag’s Head in what would turn out to be one of their final live outings before Strummer ‘saw the light’ and joined The Clash.

Formed in May 1974, The 101’ers  progressed to be one of the top London ‘Pub Rock’ bands of the time, along with Dr Feelgood and Kiburn & The High Roads.

The trip to High Wycombe appears to be a rare venture outside of the capital – with their regular jaunts usually taking place in West London pubs.

The 101’ers, with Joe Strummer, at The Elgin pub, Ladbroke Grove – photo from

Their recorded output was limited too. A few days after their Nag’s Head appearance they put the final touches on their debut single – ‘Keys to Your Heart’.  By the time the single was released a couple of months later, The 101’ers had split.

It was at a 101’ers gig a couple of weeks after their Nag’s Head appearance that Strummer saw the band that changed his life.  The support band for their appearance at The Nashville on 3rd April 1976 were The Sex Pistols.  When the audience didn’t respond to the output from The Sex Pistols, the Pistols’ followers in the audience, including Sid Viscious, started a fight.  Strummer was suitably impressed with both their attitude and their music.  The 101’ers would see The Sex Pistols support them again at The Nashville on 23rd April 1976.

Commenting later, Strummer said:

“When I saw [The Sex Pistols] I realised you couldn’t compare them to any other group on the island, they were so far ahead.  And I knew we were finished. Five seconds into the first song, I knew we were like yesterday’s papers. I mean we were over!”.

In the audience the night Strummer first saw The Sex Pistols were Mick Jones and Paul Simonon (both 20 years old).  A few weeks later Strummer was invited to join The Clash.  Strummer would replace High Wycombe’s Billy Watts in a pre-gigging version of the band.  The Clash would make their live debut in July 1976 and Strummer would return to High Wycombe to play with his fast rising new band in November 1976.  Exactly one year after The 101’ers appearance at The Nag’s Head, The Clash would release their first single, ‘White Riot’.

Here’s a YouTube audio of ‘Keys To Your Heart’.

February 1976 – Rag Week preview

February 1976 – Rag Week preview

Just after the 41st anniversary of The Sex Pistols appearance at High Wycombe College on 20th February 1976, I discovered a preview of The Rag Week published in the Bucks Free Press Midweek on 10th February 1976.  The preview lists the event for the forthcoming week and leads off:

High Wycombe Rag Week 1976 kicks off on Friday morning with a Conga through the town. What follows is the now almost traditional week of pub crawls, races and dances in aid of charity.

The event is run by students at the Buckinghamshire College of Further Education – the former College of Technology and Art – and follows much the same line as in previous years.

Friday 13th February 1976 -Kilburn and The High Roads –Main College Hall

“Pre-Rag Ball where the Rag Queen will be chosen”

You can’t mention Kilburn & The High Roads on a High Wycombe related publication without recalling the fact that lead singer Ian Dury was a former pupil at Wycombe Grammar School.  The then 33 year old Dury had formed K&TH back in 1971. There line-up included guitarist Keith Lucas (later to become Nick Cash, lead signer for punk band 999).  Dury would go on to form Ian Dury & The Blockheads in 1977.

Monday 16th February 1976 – Kokomo – Town Hall

“A popular funky soul band led by the three Arrival vocalists will appear with supporting groups”

A quick internet search reveals Kokomo released their debut album in 1976. At the time of this post, they were about to embark on a March 2017 tour.


Wednesday 18th February 1976 – Brewer’s Droop – Student Union Bar

“Local and favourite band, Brewers Droop are performing at the Student Union bar”

Ron Watts’ band make an appearance two days before Watts return to bump into The Sex Pistols.

 Friday 20th February 1976 – Screaming Lord Sutch and Kites – Main College Hall

“The Rag Week climaxes in The Rag Ball at the college main hall.”

This gig infamously including an early appearance for The Sex Pistols. It is often referred to as being the ‘Valentine Ball’ and in some cases a ‘Ron Watts promotion’.  Neither is true.  By Watts’ own admission, he was there to book a stripper. Valentine’s Day was the previous Saturday.

Another myth is that the Sex Pistols turned up announced; gate crashed and pretended to be the support act.  In fact, The Sex Pistols were a late addition to the line-up – arranged with full knowledge of the Student Union Social team who had agreed a half crate of Carlsberg as the payment for their appearance.

Read more on the 20th February 1976 gig….



18 November 1976 – The Clash – Nag’s Head

18 November 1976 – The Clash – Nag’s Head

Punk originals The Clash played The Nag’s Head for the only time on Thursday 18th November 1976 with support from Clayson & The Argonauts.

‘Punk’ was still waiting to happen in High Wycombe, so it was a half-full venue who were lucky enough to witness a 30 minute electrify set, filled with anger and hate.  But for some who stood among the A&R men that night in The Nag’s Head loft, it would prove another milestone in the catalyst for a change in the local music scene.

Eight months before this gig Clash lead singer Joe Strummer had played The Nag’s Head with pub rockers The 101’ers.  A month later in April 1976 The 101’ers had played The Nashville, London with The Sex Pistols and Strummer realised there and then that his band were old hat, or ‘crud’ in Strummer’s words.

Shortly afterwards, a then 23 year old Strummer was recruited as guitarist and singer for The Clash – a band consisting of 20 year olds, Mick Jones (guitar), Paul Simonon (bass) and Topper Headon (drums).  An early (pre-gigging) version of the band included High Wycombe based Billy Watts.

The Clash played their first gig on 4th July 1976 supporting The Sex Pistols at a pub in Sheffield.

Advert from the Bucks Free Press for The Clash gig on 18th November 1976 at The Nag’s Head – High Wycombe – the following evening you could have seen Alvin Stardust in Slough

By the time The Clash appeared at The Nag’s Head on Thursday 18th November 1976 (their 16th proper gig) they had become the most talked about punk band behind The Sex Pistols.  The Wycombe appearance, arranged by Ron Watts, was still fairly low key and a chance to see the West London based boys away from their familiar London territory.  The gig, on the same night as The Miss World competition broadcast live on BBC from the Albert Hall, has such little interest that Watt’s took the unusual step to advertise the gig in the local press – 50p gaining you entry (or 70p for non-members).

In the audience that night was Zig-Zag editor Kris Needs.  He wrote a review of the gig for Sounds that said:

“The Clash are now firing with more compressed energy than a flamethrower at full blast. They play with almost frightening conviction and intensity, each number a rapid-fire statement delivered like a knockout blow”.

Needs had first seen The Clash on 9 October 1976 in his home town of Leighton Buzzard.  They had blown him away.

The Clash entered the stage that evening with Strummer sporting freshly dyed blonde hair and a bolier suit with the words ‘Hate and War’ daubed on the back with a paint brush.  The set included ‘White Riot’, ‘London’s Burning’, ’48 Hours’, ‘Janie Jones’, ‘I’m So Bored With You [The USA]’, ‘Protex Blue’, ‘Hate And War’, ‘Career Opportunities’, ‘What’s My Name’, ‘Deny’ and ‘1-2 Crush on You’.

His description of Strummer at the High Wycombe gig said:

“Strummer was magnificent, screaming his words and punching the silly low ceiling in front of the stage with rage. With his yellow hair he looks like a paint-spattered Greek God”.

Needs’ review also touched on the subject of why The Clash had yet to be signed.

“The Clash seem forced to take a back seat on the new wave recording front while groups like the Damned, Pistols and Vibrators shove singles out. Why isn’t it that the hottest group this country has got hasn’t yet had the chance to get themselves on vinyl? Dunno, but going on last Thursday’s set, it won’t be too long before some record company wakes up.”

Needs continued with further praise for the band

“I firmly believe The Clash are the most important band to emerge in this country for years. They’re certainly the most exciting. They may be bottom of the bill on the forthcoming Sex Pistols tour but make sure you get there really early — even if it means ducking out to wash your hair during the Damned.”

They were definitely hot property and the gig is also recalled by promoter Ron Watt’s as one where much of the half-full venue was made up of record company A&R men, writing in his autobiography “You could tell tell that [the A&R men] didn’t understand the music because they kept asking me what I thought of the band.”

Eventually they did understand and The Clash would get their deal in January 1977 – signing for CBS for a reported £100,000.

This article was first inspired for a piece I wrote for on the 40th anniversary of the gig.

Strummerville to Waterlooville – November 1976


1 December 1976 – I swear I was there

Wednesday 1st December 1976

Less than three months after attracting virtually no publicity for their gig at The Nag’s Head, The Sex Pistols went the 1976 equivalent of ‘viral’ when they said f**k and s**t on early evening TV in the UK.

Those in the High Wycombe area at the time would have been able to tune into Thames TV ‘Today‘ programme, hosted by Bill ‘as drunk as I am’ Grundy.  Broadcast at 6pm, by the time the programme had closed 30 minutes later, Grundy’s now infamous run in with The Sex Pistols and their entourage had shot the punk rockers to the front pages of the tabloids.

Wycombe would take a little more waking up though.  Later on in the evening of 1st December 1976, the lovely Anita Harris would perform at Desborough Road’s Chiltern Rooms.

Anita Harris at The Chiltern Rooms - advert from The Bucks Free Press

£2 would have gained you entry, including a buffet supper. Or you could have pushed the boat out and spent £5.50 to include a ‘Four Course Dinner’.

Here’s the footage of the Today programme from 1st December 1976.
(Obviously contains swearing).

From that day on everything changed.

A few days later at the close by Desborough Hall, Wycombe’s Deathwish took to the stage as they became the first local band to grasp the punk scene.


23 September 1976 – Vibrators/Damned – Nag’s Head

Thursday 23rd September 1976 – Vibrators and Damned – Nag’s Head

This ‘punk’ double header featuring The Damned and The Vibrators came just two days after the infamous 100 Club Punk Festival in London and was arranged by Ron Watts who was now back as the main promoter at The Nag’s Head in High Wycombe.

The Damned with The Vibrators at The Nag’s Head, High Wycombe
23rd September 1976
Advert from the Bucks Free Press – including other local events

The Vibrators had been formed earlier in 1976 by 31 year Ian ‘Knox’ Carnochan.  They had converted to ‘punks’ (essentially cutting their hair) on the lead up to the 100 Club Punk Festival where they also backed guitarist and producer Chris Spedding.  It’s unclear if Spedding also took the stage for their appearance at The Nag’s Head.  Spedding had produced the first ever Sex Pistols demos (recorded in May 1976) and had a playing career that included playing with The Wombles.  The Vibrators were signed to RCA records on Spedding’s recommendation and released their first ever single ‘We Vibrate’ in November 1976.

The Damned were playing what is believed to be their 8th ever gig.  They had formally debuted at The 100 Club on 6 July 1976 as support to The Sex Pistols.  There are also unconfirmed stories that they also played at The Nag’s Head a few days later but this either didn’t take place or could have been a practice session/gig arranged with the help of Ron Watts who had taken on the brave decision to manage the band during the summer heatwave of 1976 as a replacement for Andrew Czezowski.

The Damned signing with Stiff Records and with Ron Watts as Manager – photo credit unknown

The line-up of The Damned that took the stage at The Nag’s Head for their September 1976 appearance was Dave Vanian (19 years old, vocals), Brian James (26, guitar), Captain Sensible (Ray Burns) (22, bass) and Rat Scabies (Chris Miller) (21, drums).  They ripped through a set that was likely to have included ‘1 of the 2, New Rose, Comfort, Help, Fan Club, I Feel Alright and So Messed Up.

The performance of The Damned that evening would help inspire a few in the audience to form their own ‘punk’ bands. The Damned themselves would return to the venue the following month for a chaotic evening that would lead to Ron Watts quitting as their Manager.