I was too young for Punk. It feels a bit odd saying that when I’m now in my fifties. There weren’t any Punks in Norwood in 1977. None daft enough to advertise themselves anyway. Back when I was eleven all I knew of Punk was Kenny Everett`s Sid Viscous caricature, Sid Snot – which in hindsight was more like a member of Village People – and then, the day that Adrian Thomas turned up to school in his brother`s Vivian Westwood T-shirt. The one that ripped off Wally Wood`s Disneyland Memorial Orgy, and had the seven dwarves violating Snow White on the front. He`d lasted about five minutes before he was marched off for a caning, and then sent home to change. Later, there were mohawks and motorcycle jackets, into Crass, Killing Joke, and The Exploited. But none of that was really Punk was it. Me and Dave “rinsed” The Clash`s London Calling. Memorised it word-for-word. But that wasn’t really Punk either.
I discovered The Buzzcocks through Orange Juice. The lyrics to Rip It Up.
“You know this scene is very humdrum, and my favourite song`s entitled Boredom.”
Through reading an NME interview with Edwyn Collins, learning that this was a reference to the Spiral Scratch E.P. Pre-internet, Boredom went on a “wants list” for years, until I found a copy in Croydon`s Beanos.
But it wasn’t until Dave got his driving license, and the two of us started to make those mixtapes – competing for car stereo supremacy – that I became aware of the songs of Pete Shelley. We got into Punk, and Post-Punk, retrospectively, as we searched for music. There was a South Bank Show focused on Factory Records, and Anthony H. Wilson, which we videoed. The clips from Wilson`s late night arts program, So It Goes, were re-watched, over and over, and the audio re-recorded for the car. Iggy Pop doing The Passenger. Joy Divison`s Shadow Play. Penetration`s Don’t Dictate. The Buzzcocks` What Do I Get?
We both went out and bought Singles Going Steady. Which collected The Buzzcocks` 45s, and their b-sides. All finding themselves played, loud, next to the likes of The Jam, and The Cure. The soundtrack to pre-night-out sing-alongs, accompanied by tennis racket shredding, in Dave`s bedroom. Listened to back-to-back The Buzzcocks were a breathless rush. The biro that wrote “Marry Me” on Morrissey`s chest. The guitar strings that rapt The Wedding Present. Shelley, not gobbing, and pogo-ing, but bouncing around heart on his sleeve, like a jilted Johnny Rotten.
But three minute, or less, orgasms of three-chord thrash, two-note solos, and teen angst were only part of what Pete Shelley was about. For the liner of Can`s Cannibalism, he wrote a eulogy to the Kosmische epic Yoo Doo Right. I danced to the funky electronics of his Witness The Change, care of its inclusion on Daniele Baldelli`s Cosmic Club mixes. A Martin Rushent co-produced, drum-machined, gated, synthesized symphony. Pre-Human League`s Dare. Not “New”, just plain Romantic.
When I saw Carol Morley`s affecting Manchester memoir, The Alcohol Years, heard her relationship with Shelley described, I wondered if she`d been the muse behind the Pop hits. One of the reasons why Pete had shouted the question,
“Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t`ve fallen in love with?”
The answer to which is, of course, pretty much always.