Over the past couple of years, an increasing number of veteran acts have opted to perform their classic albums in full. The Human League toured Dare in 2007, Gary Numan toured Replicas in 2008 – and this year, Manchester’s original punk pioneers have taken the concept a step further, playing their first two albums in their entirety.
Released in March and September of 1978, Another Music in a Different Kitchen and Love Bites caught the Buzzcocks riding an extraordinary wave of creative energy. As the initial head-rush of hardcore punk idealism faded away, they broke ranks with the herd and forged a fresh, clean sound that blended classic songcraft with cutting edge modernism. Over thirty years later, the material sounds as timeless as ever.
To the delight of any purists in the audience, both albums were played back to back, in their original track sequence, without any interruption. It was a bold move, which required a certain patience from the eager moshers down the front. The band’s biggest and best loved hit Ever Fallen in Love was buried in the middle of the set, rather than being saved for the climax. It was one of just two singles to be aired, the other being the equally lovelorn and transcendent I Don’t Mind.
For the thirty minute encore, our patience was rewarded. One by one, all the remaining classic Buzzcocks singles – and their accompanying B-sides – were wheeled out, again in fastidiously chronological order, ending with a gloriously messy thrash through Steve Diggle’s Harmony In My Head.
Photo by Nemone.
Let’s start with a banal but necessary question. On paper, you’re always billed as “Buzzcocks”, but most people refer to you as “The Buzzcocks”. Which is correct? I’ve always been confused.
It’s still confusing internally! Pete Shelley [lead singer] likes to think it’s “Buzzcocks”. I personally don’t mind “The Buzzcocks” – because grammatically, putting “the” in front of something means “the one and only”, “the definitive”.
So would Pete have preferred it if they’d called the quiz show Never Mind Buzzcocks? Would that have been more correct?
Well, he comes from a place called Leigh and they talk a bit funny there anyway. (Laughs) I think he’s wrong, you know? I don’t mind “The Buzzcocks”.
I’m sitting here looking at these rather handsomely packaged re-issues of your first three albums. [Another Music In A Different Kitchen (1978), Love Bites (1978), A Different Kind Of Tension (1979)] They also include a lot of bonus material. Do they contain everything you recorded, from signing up with United Artists in 1977 until you first split up in 1981?
There might be something left in the can here and there, but it’s more or less everything. It’s enough, you know? It’s a good comprehensive history of the band. And seeing them all like that, with all those demos and John Peel sessions and things, it all makes broader sense.
You’ve got a couple of live shows on there, that have never been released before. Where did they come from?
They’ve been in the archives at EMI. Shows were recorded, and just put in the vaults. During that period, I think we had a single out every two months and then an album out pretty quickly after that. So there wasn’t really time to put that kind of stuff out. But a lot of it was recorded, and mobile studios would be there, probably for a rainy day like this.
They sound clean and fresh; someone’s done a good job of remastering them.
That’s the whole thing with the Buzzcocks sound: it sounds like it was all recorded yesterday. There’s something about the music and the spirit in all the songs, that just sounds current and contemporary all the time. It was like our own Buzzcocks world. You’d put a record on, and you’d go into the Buzzcocks world.
It’s interesting that one of the shows was in the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall, as the Pistols legendarily appeared there a couple of times in the summer of 1976. Did those gigs really kick-start the whole Manchester scene as we know it?
Yes, I suppose so, because we put them on. We sorted that out. I met Pete at the first one, and then at the second one we opened up for them.
Did you see the Joy Division biopic, Control? They used the Albert Hall in Nottingham as the exterior for the Lesser Free Trade Hall show.
I haven’t seen the movie, but I do remember being there. I remember Ian Curtis telling me he’d got a girlfriend in France, and he was married, you know? And I think he hung himself a few days after. Ha! So that’s all I needed to know.
But being there at that time, and having the Pistols on, and opening up for them, it did kick-start a lot of things off. All the journalists had come up from London to review the Pistols, and they were amazed that there was a local band, doing this new thing called punk rock.
You were the first Manchester punk band off the blocks. Did you feel like part of a wider movement, and were you happy that it was being called punk rock?
Well, there was an attitude and an excitement. It was almost like putting two fingers up to the world – and to the music business in general, who wouldn’t give anybody a deal unless you went on your hands and knees, and you got told what to do, and you weren’t allowed to do anything that was real. And also the landscape was barren musically in Manchester, and everywhere else. So we were the first on the block in Manchester, and a lot of people looked to us. We also started two days before the Clash, in fact.
I’ve always thought of Spiral Scratch [the Buzzcocks debut EP from 1977] as the first ever indie record. Are you happy to take credit for inventing indie?
We’d done some shows in Manchester after the Pistols one, and we thought we’d go and record ourselves, to see what we sounded like. Then we thought: well, if we go to London to a big record company, they’re just going to throw it out of the window. So we got £500 together and made a thousand singles. And after that, we had about six of the major record companies all coming up to Manchester every other week, trying to sign us up.
You must have gone with the right label, because a lot of the early punk bands got really angry with theirs. The Clash always seemed to be fighting with CBS, for example. Yet with yourselves and United Artists, it seemed that you got a lot of artistic control. All your sleeve designs were exactly what you wanted, and there was always a complete package. Was it a good relationship?
It was. Because we had Spiral Scratch out, I remember Malcom McLaren saying: oh, you should sign a major deal quick, before it all disappears. But we just took our time, because we wanted artistic control.
At United Artists there was a guy called Andrew Lauder, who agreed to all of that. He came down to a lot of shows, and he knew what we were about to a certain extent. There was an empathy with what we were doing, rather than just going: oh, let’s sign them up to make a load of money out of them.
So he said we could have artistic control, and that’s why we put the woman with the iron on her head on the cover [of the first single, Orgasm Addict]. And at the pressing plants, they went on strike. They said no, we’re not pressing this filthy stuff!
What, because of filthy things like orgasms?
Yeah, I know! (Laughs) It’s not like nobody’s ever heard of one!
They were giving themselves away.
It was that time, you know? It was quite outrageous. So it was delayed three weeks because of that. Then we followed it up with a B-side called Oh Shit, which caused another problem! (Laughs)
But going back to the point of artistic control, at least we were allowed to do that. And we’ve met a lot of people who say: yeah, I took that record home and put Orgasm Addict on and my parents went crazy. “What’s this filth you’re listening to?” It was a bit like Lady Chatterley’s Lover. That’s not far from you, is it?
And then there was your incredible work rate. Your first two albums both came out in 1978, along with five singles in the same year, most of which weren’t on the albums. Was there a feeling that you were surfing a creative high?
It’s strange how suddenly you’re in the right space and time in the universe, and with your own mind. I personally felt like I’d found what I wanted to do. It was the same with Pete and the rest of us, and we just gelled. We got together, and this sort of magic was created. We didn’t have to rehearse it too much. It just seemed to take off, like it had a world of its own.
And from that, we were doing universities, and then we started doing theatres, and then we were travelling to America. So it just seemed like you’ve jumped on this plane, and we’ve gone on this massive journey.
But that kind of work rate is not something you can sustain forever. Did it begin to take its toll? Did you push yourselves too hard?
We started going to America a lot, and there were a lot of crazy, wild parties in America – and over here, and everywhere else where we played. But it’s a lot to keep up, for any band. Many bands come crashing down because of that, particularly when they start travelling to America. Because it’s such a wild, crazy place when you’re in a rock and roll band.
So we’d done this massive work rate, and we were constantly on tour, and there were a lot of drink, drugs, and girls involved. You know, it was that classic thing.
But when you’re 20 and 21 and all that takes off, you’ve got to embrace it, you know? It’s like Byron and Shelley, when they wrote the poetry and they went crazy, or like Turner tying himself to a mast. You’ve got to see and experience all this stuff. It’s all part of it.
Creatively, we did quite well to keep that going for all that time. But we stopped in the Eighties for a while, because it came crashing down for a bit, and suddenly there was all that New Romantic stuff, you know?
Maybe they were inspired by some of the romanticism of the Buzzcocks’ work? You were the band that re-introduced the love song, in some respects.
I don’t think they’re all love songs. We had a couple of hits with love songs, and we are tagged with that, but when you listen to those albums you’ll see that there aren’t just love songs on there. We sang about the whole human condition.
I mean, Harmony In My Head was in the Top 30 and that wasn’t a love song. Everybody’s Happy Nowadays, Autonomy, Fast Cars… but obviously you’ve got the Ever Fallen In Love song, and Love You More. So we’re kind of known for a bit of that, but I think there was a lot more to it.
Were you aware of the Magazine reunion that’s coming along? Does that spark any interest?
Yeah, I’m hoping to get to that if I can. That’s good; they’ve taken quite a while to get back. But yeah, I was always a Magazine fan as well. Obviously Howard [Devoto, original Buzzcocks singer who founded Magazine] was with us at the beginning; he did about six shows. But then you got two bands for the price of one.
And you share the same riff, in Lipstick [a 1978 Buzzcocks B-side] and in Shot By Both Sides [Magazine’s debut single, also released in 1978]. Which came first?
(Laughs) He did just as good a job with it. It’s kind of bizarre, isn’t it? I do remember him coming in when we were rehearsing – he’d just left [the band] – and he said “Do you mind if I borrow that riff?”
Oh, so he warned you in advance? That’s good. I thought you might have heard Shot By Both Sides and thought “Well, that’s a bit cheeky…”
No, it was the other way round!
You’ve set yourselves quite a challenge, in that you’ll be playing the first two albums in full on the new tour. What inspired you to do that?
There’s a lot of stuff [on those albums] that we haven’t played for a long time. So it seemed a good idea, since they’re all out again, in lovely packages with all the bits and pieces and demos and stuff. I’m going to have to start learning some of them again, as I’ve forgotten some of them! (Laughs)
It’s going to be a long set. You’ve got 22 songs on the albums to start with.
Well, we usually do about an hour and a half. I don’t know how long those albums are, but it will be quite a long set.
Are you literally going to play both albums back to back in their original sequence, or are you going to mix it up?
We’ll have to see how it flows. There were a lot of singles that weren’t on those albums, so maybe we might have to sprinkle a couple of singles in between the albums.
But the whole strength [of that time] was the great songwriting. You can see that every song’s a classic. It was always hard to choose A and B-sides. And the standard of songwriting on those albums has seen us through the thirty years, really.
Nottingham’s star beatmakers: Mike Atkinson meets the P Brothers, the unlikely new kings of hip-hop.
Few saw the P Brothers coming last year, when the attention of hip-hop fans was fixed upon the likes of Lil’ Wayne and Young Jeezy rather than on a pair of fortysomethings from Nottinghamshire. But the P Brothers’ debut album, The Gas, was voted the second best rap album of 2008 by Hip Hop Connection magazine – nine places ahead of Lil’ Wayne and 12 ahead of Young Jeezy. Not that they are exactly stars: if you’ve heard of the P Brothers at all, perhaps you’ve heard the received wisdom that they only work with US rappers; they think hip-hop died in the mid-1990s; they’re a pair of mithering old grumps, locked into a perpetual 1988. The first is demonstrably false; the second and third require further qualification.
In the flesh, Paul S and DJ Ivory present themselves as affable, thoughtful and disarmingly sincere. They’re quick to claim kinship with John Peel, acknowledging his early influence and later support. Indeed, their whole ethos – fiercely independent, determinedly purist – is recognisably Peelite. It sets them worlds apart from the self-glorifying materialism which informs popular perceptions of commercial hip-hop – and they take pride in maintaining that distance.
Recorded in Nottingham and New York, and released on the duo’s own Heavy Bronx label, The Gas has been a long time coming. Paul and Ivory have been hip-hop DJs since the mid-80s, and they’ve been producers, label bosses and 12-inch recording artists since the turn of the decade – but only last year was the time right for a full-blown P Brothers album.
“Everything we’ve done business-wise has been bad timing,” says Ivory. “We started putting out records when people weren’t buying records, and we’ve put out our first CD album at a time when no one’s buying CDs. We just operate in a weird kind of way, that feels right to us.”
The Gas is vocalised wholly by New York MCs. Their rhymes roll at an even, measured pace, the deftly layered, lovingly sourced breaks and beats rising up to meet them. The brooding soulfulness of the music matches well with the gritty subject matter – but when it comes to lyrical content, the P Brothers maintain a non-interventionist stance. “You can’t tell people what to say,” says Paul. “Politicians might do that, but rappers? No; it’s their life and their angle.”
“They’re in a social situation where they’re not living a life of luxury”, adds Ivory. “So you hear them rap in a certain kind of way. It’s heartfelt, and it’s because of their circumstances.”
With its street-based lyrical flow and its emphasis on 1970s analogue samples, The Gas consciously adheres to the rules laid down by hip-hop’s forefathers. “We’ve been into this since 1983, so that real important rule book of hip-hop is within you,” Ivory says. “It’s part of your everyday rules. The way in which you behave with people is defined by hip-hop. It has to be.” He feels the quality of hip-hop has been diluted in recent years, and that too many people are trying to force hip-hop away from its old precepts. “Good stuff’s coming out all the time,” he says. “But when you went into an import shop back in the day, there were probably only three new hip-hop records out, and they were all good. Whereas now there’s 300 hip-hop records out, and there’s probably still three good ones in there.”
The prevalence of so much “absolute garbage” is what led the P Brothers to steer their own creative course. “It’s the only reason we’ve put out records,” Ivory admits. Their journey took them to the Bronx, attracting the attention of old-school stalwart Sadat X of Brand Nubian. Word of mouth spread, tapes were passed around, and the collaborations started flowing. As for the recent critical acclaim, the Brothers appear largely unmoved – “In terms of what we do, it doesn’t really mean anything,” Ivory says. But when pushed, he agrees it might help steer their work towards “the right people, that can’t find those three good hip-hop records that we were talking about.”
Including Guardian readers? “Perhaps they can put it next to their Massive Attack albums,” suggests Paul.
A few weeks before the court case which eventually led to his imprisonment, a cheerful and upbeat Boy George spoke to me about his return to the gigging circuit, his most recent single, and his prospective (and subsequently cancelled) headline slot on the next Here and Now tour.
Insofar as any Boy George interview can be called “standard” (as before, he was articulate, witty, waspish, and utterly charming), it was all fairly standard stuff – but in the light of subsequent events, some of George’s observations do feel especially poignant.
What follows are the edited highlights of our conversation, which took place in early November 2008.
Photo by Facundisimo veneno
You’ve just finished a fairly massive tour of the UK – your second in twelve months. Are you enjoying your return to the live stage?
Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve done it. At the moment, it’s really enjoyable. A lot of people seem to be going out more to gigs. I know I am, and I think there’s been a bit more of an interest in it. My audience is really across the board, from 80-year old women to kids, and it’s great to go out and really get to see them. I love that.
It must have been great to sing your latest single [the Barack Obama-sampling Yes We Can] during the build-up to the US presidential election.
It’s funny, but when I talked about Barack Obama on stage, people were really weird. Like, quite hostile. I don’t know whether it’s because people aren’t into politics, or because my fans are secretly Tories…! (Laughs)
Maybe they assumed it was a straightforward “Vote for Obama” campaigning song, which would have been a bit weird. But when you look at the verses, it’s saying something quite different. There’s one line which goes “Please forgive me for these crimes against myself” – and then there’s a real sting in the next line, when you sing “And I’ll forgive your lack of faith”.
It was interesting doing that on tour, because the hostile audience made it a bit more defiant. So I was actually really enjoying singing it. But when [Obama] was elected, we saw a kind of great goodwill. And when I first heard him talk a long time ago, that’s what I saw: optimism, and a fresh look at things, which is what I think people want.
It’s a total sea change. It reminds me of 1997, when Tony Blair stormed into power and everyone seemed incredibly optimistic.
But I think he’s even more eloquent than Tony Blair. And he’s got much more charisma. The only thing that comes across as a little bit nauseating is all that stuff about America being the greatest country in the world. It’s not, you know. They throw people out of ambulances who can’t afford them! (Laughs)
Have you ever been approached for any political endorsements?
Well, I’m not really the sort of person they would ask! (Laughs) Maybe in the future, but I’ve had so much negative press that I’d probably be the last person that they’d ask!
You’ve spent a lot of time in the USA, but you seem to be concentrating back on this country now. Has the love affair with America soured?
I think Great Britain is the best place to live. I love it here. I could never live anywhere else. America is a place you should visit, but it’s not somewhere you’d live.
You’ll be headlining the next Here and Now tour in May. Is this another sign of your increased confidence in touring?
Well, we kind of started this whole thing, because about 12 years ago Culture Club did a tour with the Human League and Howard Jones. So it’s something that we’ve done already. It’s kind of an easy gig, because everyone’s doing their hits, and everyone’s just on for a certain amount of time. So it’s not like doing a normal tour. It’s fun, you know?
How well do you know the other acts on the bill?
I know Kim Wilde pretty well, and I know Hazel O’Connor because she was a Hare Krishna. A lot of them are people that I’ve bumped into, if you know what I mean. But what’s nice about these kinds of tours is that you get to work with these people when you’re older and more settled. When you’re nineteen or twenty, you think everything’s a competition. But we all make assumptions, and when you meet people they’re nothing like you think they’re going to be.
Looking back on that first flush of 1980s pop, do you think that Band Aid and Live Aid killed the party off, or was it in its death throes already?
I think it came to a natural end. Although now you can see that people are trying to recreate it. Like the Tings Tings: that record [That’s Not My Name] is basically Money by the Flying Lizards [a Top Five hit from 1979]. Somebody should do a little cut-up of those two, because it’s the same record. You can literally sing the same thing. “That’s what I want!” “That’s not my name!”
What I find perplexing is that we seem to be in the throes of yet another Sixties revival. Amy Winehouse came and did her stuff, and then we had the Duffys of this world, and now we’ve got Girls Aloud and the Sugababes doing Sixties pastiches.
I think the only one who gets away with it is Amy, because she lives it. I’ve recently been listening a lot to Frank, her first album. She really uses her voice on that album, and it’s amazing. I remember buying it and liking it, but now I really love it.
Of all those people, she stands out. No offence to any of those bands, but you know they’re just trying to have hits. What’s trendy, what’s the flavour – let’s do that. With Amy, it just feels very natural. You don’t think she’s doing a pastiche. There’s a marked difference.
You’ve got a DJ-ing date coming up in Dubai, and I’m curious to know more about the place.
I love Dubai; I go there a lot.
Is it not all just a bit sanitised?
It’s very different there; you can’t do lots of the things that you can do here. You can’t kiss men in public. The last time I was there, somebody said that you’re not allowed to be gay. I said, it’s a bit late for that! (Laughs) You can’t drink in the DJ box, and so on. But people love music, and there’s a really great audience there.
So there are club kids there, who will connect with it all? It’s not just the children of the rich?
There was a big club that was shut down, where I used to play. I looked up at the balcony, and there were all these Arabs, dressed in all their gear! But that’s the great thing about dance music; it’s kind of universal. Because a lot of it is instrumental, the language barrier is not important. I first went to Dubai ten years ago, and I thought: oh, what’s it going to be like? And it was great, and every time I’ve been there I’ve always had good shows.
Just don’t ask the cocktail waiter for a Sex On The Beach. That’s off the menu.
Or a Slow Screw! (Laughs)
I sense that there’s been a real upswing this year for you. It feels like you’re in a particularly happy place right now.
I definitely am, and that’s a choice. It’s not that anything happened; it’s more my thinking. I’ve kind of accepted that I do what I do, and I love what I do, and I’ve spent a lot of time making things into a drama that didn’t need to be a drama.
And so I’ve reached the point where I realised I had choices: you can either make things great, or make them hard work. I try to do less of that now. I did a lot of that in the past, and I think it’s really unhealthy and disruptive.
He’s still only in his teens, but R&B’s latest and hottest superstar has already come a long way since making his UK chart debut, almost exactly three years ago. And on the second night of his first ever overseas stadium tour, this small town boy made good couldn’t afford to be complacent as he faced the challenge of building a live reputation here from scratch.
On the evidence of last night’s hugely entertaining show, he won’t have much to worry about. Deafening pyrotechnic bangs and equally ear-shredding squeals greeted his entrance – strapped to a wire cable, and slowly descending head-first towards the stage.
As the opening song Wall To Wall got underway, and the ten-strong dance troupe began to strut their stuff, it became clear that this would be more of a visual spectacle than a conventional concert. Apart from the drummer and the DJ, all of the music was pre-recorded – including all of the backing vocals, and even some of Brown’s lead vocals (although in fairness, his lip-synching was kept to a tolerable minimum). If a song contained a guest vocal, such as Lil’ Wayne’s rap on Gimme That or Jordin Sparks’ verses on No Air, then the vocal was simply played from tape.
If Chris had been any less of a performer, we could have been looking at an embarrassing flop. Thankfully, he possessed enough charisma and energy to carry the show virtually single-handedly.
Just as the corny audience participation stunts threatened to take over, Chris brought on his secret weapon. To gasps of astonished delight, his girlfriend Rihanna casually strolled onto to the stage, dressed in a simple top and jeans, singing the opening lines to Umbrella. The couple performed it as a duet, with Chris adding some new lines and even his own chorus: “You can be my Cinderella, ella, ella…”
Rihanna stayed around just long enough to treat us to a full vocal version of Live Your Life, before wandering back into the wings with a smile and a wave – leaving Chris to face his newly jealous female fanbase. “I apologise for bringing a lady on stage”, he simpered. “You know I love you.”
The surprises didn’t stop there. A few minutes later, Brown and two of his male dancers re-appeared at the back of the main floor, hidden under a tarpaulin. This was whipped away to reveal a flimsy disc-shaped performing area, which was then winched halfway up to the roof, as fireworks fizzed beneath it. Ropes were used to tilt the disc at varying angles, allowing Chris to mime a couple of sexy “slow jams” directly to the back rows of the venue, or back out towards the main arena. And if this wasn’t quite enough excitement, he ripped his vest off for good measure, hurling it into the clawing throng below.
From then on, it was a straightforward home sprint to the end. Having changed into some fetching beige leisure wear, Chris belted out a sequence of his biggest hits: Run It, With You, No Air and Kiss Kiss. His biggest hit Forever was saved for the encore, its live vocals filtered to produce the required machine-like effect.
This may not have been one of the most musically authentic shows that the Arena has ever seen, but it was certainly one of its more entertaining displays of crowd-pleasing showmanship.