Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady

I was perhaps a little too young when punk came along for it to work its full effect (as some of my later choices will attest), but its energy and iconoclasm did manage to reach beyond its urban heartlands and into my pre-teen consciousness. Aged I suppose nine or ten, I began to tag along to a Christian youth fellowship my sister Jill was involved with (weirdly, in retrospect, it was called ‘Snuff’, which really does sound punk, but actually stood for ‘Sunday Night United Friendly Fellowship’). There I developed one of those brief infatuations with someone older that is entirely platonic, but nevertheless life-changing. At the same time that I was being lured onto the shoals of God-bothering by newly written ‘choruses’ by the likes of Graham Kendrick that have since become staples of bland mainstream worship, I was being tossed in the turbulent waters of a pre-pubescent identity crisis to the soundtrack of The Members, The Membranes, The Stranglers, The Sex Pistols and — most importantly both at the time and for my eventual preferences — The Buzzcocks. My mentor was a guy called Andy Brennan. He was a lot older, and already working, I think. I copied as many of his affectations as I could: wearing no socks, and having my housekey and wallet strung on a shoelace tied to my belt loop. I couldn’t procure any velcro fastening trousers (“Much easier for taking a leak,” he told me in the public toilets of a Lake District car-park on a Snuff hiking trip), but (on the photo that is currently my Facebook profile pic) I did wear a tartan shirt emblazoned with a Buzzcocks button-badge and a nappy pin.

At first I was oblivious to the significance of the cultural rupture that punk (supposedly?) represented, but I started to get the hang of it when I proudly showed Andy the blue vinyl 12” of Mike Oldfield’s disco-influenced ‘Guilty’ that I’d bought, and he laughed right in my face. Soon I was buying punk singles from the racks in Slater’s, alongside the kettles and radios and vacuum cleaner spares, attracting reprimands from my sister for having the Pistols’ ‘God Save the Queen’ (‘she ain’t no human being’) cover on display (“What will mum and dad say? That’s just disrespectful”) and tittering with schoolmates over lewd and crude Stranglers’ lyrics — “Shiiiit, there goes the charabanc. Looks like we’re gonna be here all summer, well what a bummer” — though at the time I’d no idea what a ‘clit-OR-is’ was. At a Kelbrook Village Hall disco, I even won a punk dancing contest: while everyone else merely pogoed, I added ‘dead ratting’ to the repertoire, (as taught, of course, by Andy) falling to the floorboards and thrashing epilectically. I won a mug with a smiley face on it, which wasn’t really very punk, but then nor was I, and I’m sure the award was more of a joke than a tribute.

It is The Buzzcocks that find their place in this list, not only because they were my favourites at the time, but because their mix of playful irony and serious anger, brash racket and perfectly crafted pop polish are strands I’m still attracted to. Howard Devoto, who sang on their debut ‘Spiral Scratch’ EP would go on to form ‘Magazine’ – an important band in my later return to post-punk and Indie, and the ‘Cocks influenced many of the artists I would come to adore later, in one case coming full circle when Mike Joyce of ‘The Smiths’ played drums when I got to see The Buzzcocks for the one and only time after one of their many reformations. I also got to see Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto share a stage at the weirdest gig I’ve ever been to, along with other (anti)heroes, Mark E Smith and John Cooper Clarke, at a chaotic ‘celebration’ of punk at Manchester’s Bridegwater Hall in 2004.

Most of my punk and new wave records were 7” singles. It would have been quite a collection but I sold most of them when I had a regression to prog in my mid-teens. I have a particular memory of buying ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’ b/w ‘Why Can’t I Touch It?’ on a trip to Scarborough, when I also annoyed dad by buying a job lot of empty 7” picture sleeves that I covered a wall of my bedroom with, along with a huge poster of Debbie Harry. When we got home I spent an evening playing the two songs repeatedly, back to back. The Buzzcocks were very much a singles band, so the record that represents the initiation of the punk strand of my musical taste has to be their 1979 compilation, ‘Singles: Going Steady.’

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