Buzzcocks + Shanghai Treason
Gorilla, 54-56 Whitworth St, Manchester M1 5WW
Sunday 15th December 2019
41 years ago, at the age of just 13, my life took a completely new direction when sitting at a friends party an older sibling walked in, took the pop song off the turntable, replaced it with ‘What Do I Get’ and started jumping around the room with his mates. I’ve followed Buzzcocks ever since. Obsessed say my friends and family. Then, on Thursday December 6th 2018, I was watching the support band before The Skids played a gig in Stockton when the awful news filtered through. Pete Shelley had died. To say I was gutted is an understatement. Pete and Buzzcocks had not only helped shape my life in so many ways I’d got to know him and the band. Not only a great songwriter, Pete was a kind, supportive person with a wicked sense of humour. Following the Albert Hall gig in June many had assumed that would be it. Buzzcocks would be no more. Indeed, many hoped this would be the case. So when Steve Diggle announced that together with Chris Remington and Danny Farrant Buzzcocks would continue the social media debates raged. “Buzzcocks without Pete isn’t Buzzcocks” said many. Initially I had my own doubts. “I’ll still go and see them if they play locally.” “I’m not going to continue to travel thousands of miles to watch them.” But those doubts were kicked out by a sense of loyalty to a band who have given me so much, and not just music, over the years. Initially I said one gig. I’m writing this after the 2nd of 4 I’ll see this week.
Tonight’s openers are Shanghai Treason who rip through a super set of folk tinged punk rock. Punk with a banjo, an accordian. It works. Their set is fast, powerful, melodic and catchy. It’s too short but then they say this is their first gig so it’s understandable they don’t have a huge back catalogue. It’s hard to believe this is their debut considering how tight, how professional this bunch of youngsters from South Yorkshire prove to be. Make a note of the name – Shanghai Treason – and make the effort to go and see them. Well worth a slice of your time.
By the time the theme tune to Rocky starts up and the lights dim Gorilla is full. And as Buzzcocks walk on stage they’re greeted by those here as the returning heroes some must have thought they’d never see play live again. Steve Diggle might now be the only original member but original member he is and, along with Danny Farrant on drums, Chris Remington on bass (both of whom have been part of Buzzcocks for over a decade) and new recruit Mani Perazzoli on extra guitar/backing vocal duties delivers a Buzzcocks set of perfect pop punk songs that’s possibly one of the finest this reviewer has seen for a few years. Diggle’s well know theatrics – the Townsend guitar moves, the leaping around – are still here but toned down. Plenty of grinning, pointing when he recognises people in the crowd, guitar held aloft as he smashes out those unique buzzsaw riffs. But look closely and it’s his eyes that ooze confidence. Whilst there’s bound to be a few anxieties going out for the first time without Shelley Steve Diggle is enjoying himself. Backed by the longstanding rhythm section of Farrant and Remington and the mix of lead and rhythm guitar from Perazzoli this isn’t Buzzcocks doing the “same old, same old”. Buzzcocks smash out a set that, quite rightly, certainly does include plenty of classics but the 22 song set also features songs not played for years.
Opening with ‘What Do I Get’ Buzzcocks have the Manchester crowd in the palms of their hands from the word go. ‘Fast Cars’, ‘Boredom’, ‘I Don’t Mind’, those driving, rumbling drums of ‘Pulsebeat’, ‘Why Can’t I Touch It?’ have been the backbone of Buzzcocks main set for years. But tonight eleven of the twenty two songs are Diggle compositions. Some go back to the beginning – ‘Autonomy’, ‘Chainstore’, ‘Harmony In My Head’ but there’s the welcome inclusion of ‘Speed Of Life’ from 1999’s Modern, ‘People Are Strange Machines’, ‘Chasing Rainbows’ and ‘Third Dimension’ from 2014’s The Way. Both sides of the new single – ‘Gotta Get Better’ and ‘Destination Zero’ show clearly that Diggle and Buzzcocks will not sink into the pit of nostalgia but are looking forward to a new beginning. It’s all a reminder of just how much input Steve Diggle had to the Buzzcocks catalogue of great songs over the years.
The main set finishes with a blistering ‘Times Up’ before they return for a seven song encore that opens with ‘Love Is Lies’. I’d not heard that played live for 10 years. This rolls into the classic Shelley/Diggle composition ‘Promises’ by which time the crowd is wild. A glance around shows just a mass of people jumping, singing, smiling. There’s also no doubt that, as well as me, there were others with lumps in throats as memories of past gigs with Pete Shelley come flooding back. Of course the whole thing closes with those timeless tunes from our youth. ‘Orgasm Addict’, ‘Harmony..’ and ‘Ever Fallen In Love…’.
Pete Shelley will go down in music history as someone who wrote, and sang, perfect punk pop 3 minute gems that tugged at the heartstrings of thousands. Pete will never be forgotten, his songs forever in our hearts and on our turntables. But Buzzcocks move onwards. To all those who say there can be no Buzzcocks without Pete we urge you to go and see them. Twelve months ago I had my doubts about the wisdom of them continuing as Buzzcocks. Tonight those doubts were smashed out of the window.
Words + Pictures: Steve White