"The doubters have all gone now": Steve Diggle on continuing Buzzcocks without Pete Shelley

Steve Diggle onstage
(Image credit: Mark Wilkinson)

Formed in Manchester in 1976, Buzzcocks notched an impressive run of his singles and albums, and even had their name used for the title of a TV quiz show. The passing of singer, guitarist and writer Pete Shelley in 2018 threatened to end it all, but co-guitarist Steve Diggle had other ideas.


Six years into what we must term the post-Shelley era of Buzzcocks, what would a school report say of the band’s progress? 

That it’s going incredibly well. The band has a new spirit. It’s the right thing for these times and every gig has been incredible. You have to move on, and that’s what we’ve done. I don’t know whether people realise that we have introduced some more of my songs [to the live shows], and we also had an album out a year ago, so that moves us away from being a heritage act. 

That album, Sonics In The Soul, received some good reviews. 

We did, yeah. There must have been a bad one somewhere, but I didn’t see it. When we play those songs live, a lot of young kids come to see us now and those are the ones they jump up and down to. That blows me away. It has changed the dynamic, I would say for the better. 

Are there still people who believe the band shouldn’t continue without Pete Shelley? 

No. The doubters have all gone now. That’s why the set is now three quarters the songs that I wrote. And the ones Pete and I wrote together, things like Fast Cars and Promises, were usually mine anyway. Obviously Falling In Love and a few others are in there, but I don’t do many of Pete’s songs any more. 

Why did you feel it was important for Buzzcocks to not simply fold? 

Well, of course I was heartbroken and for a while there things were in disarray, but we did the Royal Albert Hall gig to do a memorial gig for Pete, and we made a single, Gotta Get Better, and it felt like we had a whole new lease of life. 

Did losing your bandmate of forty-three years make you to consider your own mortality? 

Absolutely. When you spend that amount of time together it’s devastating. I didn’t realise how ill Pete was. We’d just finished a tour when he said he was thinking of leaving the band – retiring. He said: “You carry on without me.” He went home [to Tallinn, Estonia] at Christmas, and I was shocked to receive a call saying he’d gone. It hasn’t been easy, but you pick yourself up and carry on.

How have you found the challenge of taking on lead vocals?

Well, I used to semi-front the band anyway. Sometimes I fronted it even more than Pete did, chucking my guitar about and communicating with the audience.

But doing it alone at the mic brings added responsibility. Does it require a different mind-set? 

Not really. After so many years of touring, all I’ve done is move to the middle [laughs]. The only real difference is that singing for so long, I kinda need a break. It was easier when there were two of us. 

You have a bunch dates in the UK and Europe coming up, the first one being on March 22 at Koko in London

At Koko we are going to be doffing our cap at the Singles Going Steady album [a compilation from 1979]. We’re doing that once and once only. But we’ll be doing new stuff as well. We’re also going to America, including the Riot Fest in Las Vegas. In fact we’re going to America twice. 

Talking of the United States, you’ve been dismissive of that nation’s so-called punk bands, such as Green Day? 

Um, yeah. It’s a different mentality, isn’t it. That’s the difference. I call it ‘plastic punk’, because there’s no resonance. I’ve probably been a bit unkind. It’s punk in its own way, I suppose. It’s not like the Buzzcocks; those bands do things their own way, a lighter way. 

They make a ton of money, too

Yeah, but that’s always the way, isn’t it [laughs]. It took Iggy Pop a long time to get recognised for what he did with those Stooges albums. But fair play to those bands, they’ve just got a different type of density. I still love the Ramones. They came to see us the first time we played in New York. They told us: “We’re kind of linear but you guys take things off into all these weird angles.” We were big fans of theirs, too. 

Any news you can give us about releasing a new album any time soon? 

I’ve just written the songs for a new album. 

How far into that process are you? 

I’ve got more or less got enough – around ten songs. Now it’s a case of getting into the studio. Maybe we can get the album done before March and release it as soon as possible. I hope so.

Buzzcocks play US dates this month, with UK and European shows to follow. For dates and ticket links, visit the Buzzcocks web site.

Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.