Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



New wave/punk combo formed in Manchester UK '75 by guitarist Pete Shelley (b Peter Campbell McNeish, 17 April 1955, Leigh, near Manchester; d 6 December 2018, Talinn, Estonia) and Howard Devoto (b Howard Trafford), who sang and wrote lyrics. They both attended the Bolton Institute of Technology. A Manchester appearance of the Sex Pistols in 1976 organized by McNeish was poorly attended, but inspired the creation of seminal Manchester bands, including Joy Division, The Fall, the Smiths, and the Buzzcocks, McNeish having changed his name to Shelley. The settled lineup incuding John Maher on drums, Steve Diggle on bass. They played late-'76 punk events, including a September festival at London's 100 Club with the Pistols, Clash, Banshees, Damned. An EP Spiral Scratch on their own New Hormones label attracted attention, selling about 16,000 copies, Shelley said years later, enabling them to buy some new equipment. But then Devoto left to form Magazine; Shelley took over the writing, Diggle moved to guitar, Garth Davies joined on bass (replaced '78 by Steve Garvey).

Their album Another Music In A Different Kitchen '77 saw Shelley's romantic/adolescent lyrics differ from the prevailing social/politicising concerns of punk, yet the songs were played at a breakneck punk pace. They worked better as singles: 'Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't Have)' (written by Shelley some years earlier) made no. 12 in the UK chart, consummate late '70s power-pop with churning guitars and keening vocals; more top 40 hits '78-9 included a reissue of Spiral Scratch. Second LP Love Bites '78 saw the songwriting shared more widely, including long, experimental 'Late For The Train', like the first LP's 'Moving Away From The Pulsebeat' reflecting Shelley's interest in avant-garde Euro rock e.g. Can (he wrote the sleeve note for Can's compilation LP '78). As Diggle took over singles composition, Shelley lost musical direction; their third LP A Different Kind Of Tension '79 disappointed fans. Despite overt commercialism and signing for Miles Copeland's IRS label in USA, two successful American tours failed to lead to a breakthrough (Singles Going Steady was a compilation for the USA); the only output was three singles '80 as the band fell foul of a record company takeover. Their impetus lost, they disbanded early in '81.

Shelley had been collaborating with Buzzcocks' producer Martin Rushent; Diggle and Maher formed Flag of Convenience; Shelley was more successful: Homosapien '81 capitalised on groundwork in the USA, a hit in Canada and made no. 1 in Australia, but the title single was banned by the BBC for a reference to gay sex: 'Homo superior/In my interior'.  'Telephone Operator' from album XL-1 '83 just missed the UK chart: the album included computer-programmed lyrics to be run on a Sinclair, theselling about 16,000 copies, Shelley said years later then-common UK home computer. Despite this ingenuity he did not equal Buzzcocks' simple appeal; the followup was Waiting For Love '86. Diggle's Flag of Convenience released Northwest Skyline '87 on their FOC label; that year Fine Young Cannibals covered 'Even Fallen In Love' for a hit, inspiring Shelley and Diggle to reform the Buzzcocks, and they stayed at it for over 25 years. Their last album was The Way 2014; they toured in 2016 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the band. 

On the death of disc jockey John Peel in 2004, 'Ever Fall in Love' was remade as a tribute single, with Shelley, Elton John, Robert Plant, Roger Daltrey and others. Having dabbled in synth-pop and 'dance' music, Shelley got together with Devoto as Shelley/Devoto for an album of electronic pop in 2002. He moved to Estonia, his wife's home country, in 2012.