Punk fans are well aware of the Buzzcocks' significance. Have been for years — ever since the band released its monumental singles collection, Singles Going Steady, in 1979. But unlike fellow punk icons the Ramones, Sex Pistols, and the Clash, they're not Rock and Roll Hall of Fame famous. Though they're getting there.
"We played a festival in California in February, and it was quite a shock because people were really in awe of us," says frontman Pete Shelley. "I was looking behind me to see if [someone famous like] Brad Pitt was standing there."
Most of the Buzzcocks' peers can't or won't reunite these days because of death, indifference, or just plain acrimony. Not only are the Buzzcocks back together and on tour, they've managed to record and release new albums over the years (the latest is Flat-Pack Philosophy, which came out in 2006). Their core catalog of the three albums they made at the end of the '70s — Another Music in a Different Kitchen, Love Bites, and A Different Kind of Tension — has just been remastered and reissued for the third and final time.
"This is the definitive set — there'll be no more after this," says Shelley. "It's a fantastic package now. That's something that's lacking these days. Most times you buy CDs, you just want to put it on your iPod. I'm nostalgic about the visuals being tied into the music, because people have lost the joy of owning a work of art."
The reissues almost didn't happen, because, shockingly, the record company didn't want to go through the trouble of pressing the discs and printing the artwork. The albums were supposed to be just straight-up digital downloads. "This has been far from a quick cashing-in to make a fast buck," says Shelley. The CD reissues were supposed to coincide with a stateside tour, but no discs meant no concerts. "It took basically a year for us to find [a different record company that was] willing to make a CD for people to buy. It's been a hard battle."
On their current tour, the Buzzcocks — Shelley, original singer-guitarist Steve Diggle, new bassist Chris Remmington, and new drummer Danny Farrant — are performing Another Music in a Different Kitchen and Love Bites, both from 1978, in their entirety, fleshing out sets with various non-album singles.
Shelley confesses that more than a few band rehearsals were required before they hit the road. In fact, he says, most of their songs had to be relearned. "It had been a long time since me and Steve had played [some of] them," says Shelley. "We had to go back and listen to the records. Trying to remember ten things is hard. We've got so many songs now, there's only so many things we can retain at the same time."
In essence, Shelley and Diggle are now performing the very same songs they wrote when they were angry young men blasting middle-class and middle-age values. The irony isn't lost on them, but at the same time, they recognize the lasting relevance of those classics.
"The fact is, they still work," says Shelley. "When we recorded a song back then, we had best hope for it. We thought it would turn good, and now we have the chance to do it better. It's like the guy who invented pizza. He probably thought, 'Well, if I put the cheese on after the tomato, maybe it'll be better.'
"It's that constant refinement," he concludes. "We come to the music as different people than we were back then, but it's something that anchors you and gives you space to roam."
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