Pete Shelley: The Man We All Fell in Love With
WORDS BY BENJAMIN CASSIDY
The greatest people and the art they make never stop influencing others. Those who lived whist they were in their hey day and those only just discovering it, many years after it was first released. They give a feeling that can’t be bottled and is worth any amount of money that could ever be dreamt up. Them, and their work, become details in people’s stories. Moments, that become immortal and are passed on as anecdotes years later. They cause nostalgia, which the more you think about that the more powerful the realisation is of how very special they and their innovations are.
As a global collective, fans always feel the loss of their icons. It’s astounding to think that we grieve for people we’ve never met. That’s the impact that music can have, and those that make it. Even in death, they bring people together. When a big name goes it’s always a sad day. Tributes pour in and out, with social media enabling exchanges that were never once possible. That global community of music lovers get to share sadness and perhaps it helps to soothe it; or, if not they can celebrate the lives of those they adored, at least. Sometimes though the community they plied their trade in and first gigged around is especially hard hit, when it loses one of its own.
Pete Shelley’s death is one that Manchester’s many music lovers (of all ages, tastes, and genres) were deeply grieved by; all are MCR are amongst them. It’s hard to say anything that’s not been said or try to capture how ingrained into Manchester and the music culture it’s so well known for. Him and the Buzzcocks were more than just a sound. They set trends in what people wore and somehow managed to find a middle ground between the more nihilistic aspect of Punk and the plastic pop sounds that flirted so heavily with Glam Rock. They were serious and fun, simultaneously. that showed just how much of an industry the music industry really was, always has been and still is. More than that though, the Buzzcocks did it first, paving the way for so much of what was to come out of Manchester, the surrounding area (as well as nationally and internationally). One local young musician’s Facebook tribute read, “Without the Buzzcocks, there are no Sex Pistols at the Free Trade Hall”. Put like that it’s staggering how much of an influence Shelley and the Buzzcocks are.
As a contributor for MCR, I know I talk on behalf of all here that going out to gigs, reviewing bands and interviewing them is a tremendous privilege and pleasure. Live music is the beating heart of culture. Manchester has a scene and history like no other place on the planet. Even those a few miles away, such as Joy Division and The Verve, from Macclesfield and Wigan, are firmly symbols of Madchester. The Buzzcocks are a Bolton band, but few would know it; less care. The Buzzcocks were the original group that others have so much to thank for. The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays. Later, Oasis, the Charlatans. Many, many more. So too though to those acts and artists that aren’t household names. The number of people the Buzzcocks and Pete Shelley influenced to pick a guitar up, wear a leather jacket and dare to offer the world their truth (often all at once and part of the same parcel) can never be known. What is known is the legacy he left, that was more than just brilliant music, although ultimately that’s what lasts and will always be most celebrated. Quite right too.
Almost every well-known band has a hit they become known by and not just for. They don’t pick it and at times it overshadows other work that’s also brilliant, perhaps even better. The fans pick and that’s that. Even record labels have limits on song popularity, despite heavy marketing. The fact that their most well-known song, ‘Ever Fallen in Love’ (1978) didn’t even get into the top ten proves this point. It didn’t need to. It is top of so many playlists, and, settled so many arguments of truly great songs. It was and is the anthem the band is synonymous with. This isn’t going to change and nor should it. However, it is worth using it as a way into discovering the rest of the material made by (along with his bands) this truly innovative and much-missed man, who had an impressive solo career too. He’ll long remain someone that’s energy and attitude, distilled in music, will ensure people have no doubt that they well and truly should have, and were so glad that they did fall in love with.