The 40th anniversary of punk tours continue and after a barnstormer from The Undertones, the O2 Academy played host to seminal Manchester outfit Buzzcocks. Early doors / early curfew meant the first support were on stage as people were arriving but Disruptive Influence did a fine job of cajoling the punters down to the front. They are a local four piece outfit and so local they were heckled from the barrier by the singer’s dad. They played a damn good set with a batch of originals showing great promise and delivered them with verve and (occasionally wobbly) confidence. Their sound is reminiscent of the classic ’76 bands but these lads clearly know more than three chords as they displayed some fine musicianship bundled up in a snotty aggressive set of spiky songs. Although clearly in thrall to all things punk there were quasi-metal riffs and the solos wouldn’t sound out of place on your typical thrash metal tune. A great start to the evening, and extra points for singer Ollie’s “Kick Out the Tories” t-shirt as pertinent now as when the Newtown Neurotics first recorded the tune. Scratch that, even more pertinent now.
UK’s Lowest started out sounding kinda Bay Area pop punk but then got a bit UK punk; there was some ska in the mix and a sprinkling of radio friendly pop nous, all of which they managed to coalesce in an enticing melange of modern punk rock. A more assured presence on stage, the band had the crowd involved from the start and even managed a singalong (for oldie Radio, a proper new wave ear worm), no mean feat for a support act on a damp Friday night. Callum Archer (guitar / vocals) is an engaging frontman, giving it some cheeky geezer and achieving an easy rapport with the crowd. The band have plenty of other memorable tunes in their repertoire – Arrest Me catchy enough to have the audience singing along by the second chorus – and the new material was sounding strong too. Will Squier (drums / backing vocals) and Ben Bishop (bass guitar / flat cap) are a supple rhythm section, melodic bass runs shadowing the leads and riffs; with tight, powerful drumming driving the songs. Both bands deserve your support, proof that forty years down the line there are still bands willing to make an aggressive yet catchy racket and kick down the statues.
Buzzcocks were tremendously important participants in the birth of punk. Their tunes took the tired format of the love song and delivered an alternative view of (fiction) romance, affairs full of gender confusion; love unrequited and (oft) disappointingly requited, all laced with acid wit and laconic affection. They did this by marrying incredibly catchy melodies & choruses with aggressive riffs but were also capable of unexpectedly complex and disconcerting time changes and song structure. Oh, and with the Spiral Scratch EP they invented the do-it yourself release. Even better, they were the first band break the London punk hegemony, opening the flood gates for dozens and dozens of bands to sally forth from the provinces and shake up the charts and venues across our fair Isles.
Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle remain at the heart of the band, and both were on fine form throughout the set – sharing vocals and sharing leads. Shelley’s lead work devoid of flamboyance and excess (totally succinct) and he plays tight, tight rhythm guitar. His vocals now a little rougher, a little deeper but he still hits the notes and retains the yearning that launched a dozen songs of romantic longing and unresolved angst that lit up the late seventies. Diggle is far more the guitar hero (albeit more Townsend than Van Halen in both his playing and shape throwing); he managed to wrangle meaty riffs out of his instrument throughout the set, coupled with stinging solos and at times somehow made the damn thing sound like a Theramin. Arguably the best, or at least most inventive, guitar player of his generation he’s certainly the best guitar player out of Manchester bar none. It was great to see the rapport between the two throughout the set too, plenty of eye contact and body language suggesting the pair are thoroughly enjoying being Buzzcocks in this century.
It’s easy to get lost in the nostalgia and focus on Shelley & Diggle but Chris Remington (bass) & Danny Farrant (drums) are long established members now and the rhythm section played a blinder. Remington’s bass was forceful and he’s a brooding presence on stage, animated and singing along to all the tunes whether new and old; whilst Farrant is a driving thunderous engine propelling the songs economically but with dexterity and more than a few cheeky fills & rolls. Moving Away from the Pulsebeat is always an opportunity for Diggle to excel (and oh boy did he excel) but it’s built on a foundation of relentless tribal drumming: Farrant absolutely nailed it with a machine tooled killer performance.
The song selection was pretty damn fine – openers Boredom and Fast Cars had the crowd singing and bouncing from the instantly recognisable opening chords, whilst the rest of the set saw old and new material alike received with audible and visual pleasure from a raucous constantly moving, singing crowd. The expected singles and album favourites were present and the later material blended well; albeit with more heft and less pop than some of the tunes from the band’s first incarnation. But that’s a good thing as it gave the set breadth and depth, fleshing out the Buzzcocks sound with hard earned maturity. Sick City was a banger and Autonomy kicked up a racket; the hat trick of Promises, Noise Annoys & You Say You Don’t Love Me left the crowd hoarse and spent.
The encore was never in doubt and the four tunes played were worth the price of admission alone: What Do I Get? a rampaging singalong; Orgasm Addict rambunctious, infectious & seedy; Ever Fallen in Love gloriously celebratory with more roof raising singing from the crowd and finally Harmony in My Head, which wrung ever last drop of sweat out of band and crowd alike as a triumphant swaggering set closer. Nostalgia for an age yet to come? Hardly, Buzzcocks are a vibrant going concern, their back catalogue still sounding fresh & vital and the new material more than its match. A night far from humdrum and totally lacking in boredom. B’dum B’dum.
All pix John Morgan