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BUZZCOCKS: ‘BACK TO FRONT’ SHOW @ MANCHESTER APOLLO 25/05/12 – REVIEW BY MELANIE SMITH

ONE BAND, THREE CLASSIC LINE UPS

One thing about being at a Buzzcocks gig is the fact that it is almost like a big melting pot of friends, many of the ‘Secret Public’ were out in force and it was like a party atmosphere. However I should state that this show caused more of a discussion on cyberspace than any other show I have reported about so far and it now leaves me with the pleasure or not, of trying to find a balance and do Buzzcocks some justice, because from what I have read many out there thought it was a fiasco.

Buzzcocks were the first punk bands to come out of Manchester in 1976, and it is well documented that they brought the Sex Pistols over to play a gig in the town, and consequently it spurred many of those who ‘swore they were there’ to form bands. One of those bands was of course the legendary Joy Division. For me tonight was almost like the old times, Buzzcocks back where I remember them the most, shaking the rafters of the Apollo theatre, and I admit to feeling… almost 16 again. I saw them a number of times back in the late 70’s, and again in 2007 with the current line up. Tonight was to be a special show, featuring the three different line ups since forming the band, starting with the current line up of Shelley, Diggle, Farrant and Remington. Marc Riley [The Fall/Music 6] introduced the band as “one of the best live bands ever”, and who could dispute that? I clocked the bottles of Champers being lined up at Diggles England flagged amp, and sensed we were in for an interesting evening. The packed hall cheered and the Buzzers took to the stage. The set mainly consisted of their newer material, and the first song ‘What Am I Supposed To Do Now’ started out really well, but then the set went on and on, for far too long, it was also very loud, for a while, and sometimes you could hardly hear the lyrics. As the show got into full swing, there is a marked tension between Diggle and Shelly, where at times he appears to play with his back to Diggle, and glance over more than once with a “what the hell are you playing at” glare, they are the light and dark of this band, and makes it all the more dynamic. In between the newer stuff we had songs from the album ‘Flat Pack Philosophy’ - ‘Reconciliation’, ‘Sell You Everything’, Wish I’d Never Loved You’, and ‘Mad Mad Judy’, Girl From The Chain Store, [which my sister amusing thought was called ‘Girl With The Chainsaw’].

 

The second set, this was the diamond in the rough, and the one I and others were most looking forward to, as we had back on the stage after 20 years the classic line up of Shelley, Diggle, Garvey, and Maher. Steve Garvey, flying all the way from Pennsylvania, and John Maher, taking a break from his fast cars to hit drums once more. The original Buzzcocks are now heading into their late fifties, could they pull it off? I believe they hadn’t even rehearsed much, but it was hardly noticeable as Garvey was right on clue, the glint in his eye, the old bass swagger, and his whole demeanour said he was loving it and playing brilliantly, Maher looked a bit disgruntled one or two times, but played like he’d never been away. The band were belting out the hits one after the other, ‘Fast Cars’, ‘Autonomy’, Moving Away From The Pulsebeat’, ‘I Don’t Mind’ ‘Love You More’, ‘Fiction Romance, Promises, ‘What Do I Get’, ‘Everybodys Happy Nowadays’ and they kept on coming, each one a heady mixture of youth and fond memories.

Whilst Diggle managed to annoy a lot of people personally we found it highly entertaining, from his ‘gobbing’ and his OTT Townsend moves, to his quite perfect guitar hero stance and I am sure there is no disputing his immense guitar playing. Diggle shouted out in his exuberant tones “we’ve been to Los Angeles, Argentina but the real deal is right now in Manchester”! ‘Ever Fallen In Love’, my favourite Buzzcocks track, preceded the last song of this set ‘Orgasm Addict’, which my sister reminded me she taught her school friends the lyrics at ten years old. An immense and greatly entertaining set.

The third and final set, was a bit of a mixed bag, nonetheless still entertaining. Introduced once more by Marc Riley as “Another reunion this week, for a Manchester band, but I have to say this is the one that really whet my whistle, my journey with Buzzcocks began on the 31st July 1976 and it continues, please welcome to the stage, Pete Shelley, Steve Diggle, John Maher, Howard Devoto the original Buzzcocks” and with that on walked the band, Diggle takes over the bass duties, Shelley shouts out “we’re Buzzcocks, 1,2 3, 4” and Howard rushes on singing ‘Breakdown’, all the time Maher keeping that constant drumming beat, now this is something quite extraordinary.

 

Devoto is a showman, he enjoys spicing it up a bit, wide eyed, menacing and theatrics thrown into the arena, but quite what the mirror and the sunglasses script was meant to be I don’t know? However we had the complete Spiral Scratch EP, albeit it with a few missed words and mistakes, but Howard brought back to life ‘Times Up’, ‘Boredom’, and for that he is forgiven. It was quite obvious Diggle wasn’t happy to be ousted back on bass, as he spent some of his time sat on the drum riser, with no eye contact with Devoto”. The band knew they’d made some cock ups, Devoto smiled to himself a few times and Shelley lightened the mood by joking “You can tell its live”….whilst Devoto calming asked the crowd before launching into the last song but his 2nd attempt at ‘I Can’t Control Myself’ “Can I have my coco now?”, Pete’s response was “Your slippers are ready”.  The set closed and Diggle grabbed the mic announcing “Keep the fucking attitude and keep the fucking faith” and with that he walked off stage, waving and blowing kisses to the crowd.

Whether you thought Devoto was karaoke, or Diggle was off his face, and the whole event was shambolic, what you have to remember is that music is subjective, and without an aspect of controversy where would we be? Probably sat watching X Factor or some other manufactured rubbish and I know which show I’d rather be watching, one which is real and flawed. No one is perfect and who would want them to be!

To round off the evening it was delightful to meet Steve Garvey, after such a long time, surrounded by his close family, and he was positively brimming with excitement as he chatted to me and some of the ‘Secret Public’, telling us that he felt like he had been playing a rock star in a playstation game. And for this moment alone I knew the show had been worth it! …but I want to know where was Garth?

www.buzzcocks.com 

Review and photos by Melanie Smith