LIVE: Pete Shelley – The Club at Cafe Royal, London 11.03.15

I’ve never seen Buzzcocks live and, even more unfortunate, is that I was born a little too late to see them in their heyday, when they were at the front-lines of the British punk-rock revolution. And, even though it’s been nearly 40 years since the band was first formed, I have always imagined seeing them on one of their crazy tours, jumping around and playing with the same destructive energy I’ve seen on recordings from back then.

Yet, last night was a very different affair. Pete Shelley was performing a solo show hosted by Sean McLusky in the Studio bar at the Café Royal hotel, in support of the Buzzcocks’ upcoming single ‘In The Back’. An intimate close up performance, I was feeling honoured that I was going to be one of the few people that would see it, probably among Shelley’s closest friends… Yet, when I get there, I see a bar full of posh businessmen looking at their phones, with their wives gathering in groups to share the latest gossip; it seems like me and my friend are among the very few actually there for the music.

We arrive at 8pm sharp, perfectly timed for the start of the show. Sean McLusky introduces Pete Shelley and talks about his huge part in the punk-rock movement, and the band’s long history, then it’s time for some songs. The Buzzcocks man does his thing: starting with ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’, he follows with a mixture of the band’s classic numbers such as ‘What Do I Get’, and some songs from last year’s album The Way; and he performs them all with equal energy and devotion.

There are two intermissions by the host, during which Shelley is prompted to talk about the Buzzcocks’ legendary tours with Sex Pistols and Nirvana. He starts with the tale of their chance encounter with the former in their early days, telling us of their spontaneous decision to go on a tour around the country, which neither of the bands suspected would later be talked about for generations. A couple of songs later, he tells us how, 20 years later, Kurt Cobain asked them to join Nirvana’s tour, acknowledging how much they owed the Brit Punk band, style-wise. Shelley refuses to play a song from that tour, but instead sings ‘Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)’ – probably the band’s most popular and covered song.

Suddenly, Pete Shelley leaves the stage without any warning, leaving us in a state of confusion. Is he having a break? Has the gig ended, or is he coming back? We look around the room and see him chatting to a group of people that stand out from the posh crowd: a man sporting a Buzzcocks t-shirt and a teenage boy with a punk haircut, pretty much the only people that seem genuinely interested in the gig. The rest of the audience, however, seem suitably unimpressed throughout the performance, not appearing to notice its abrupt end only half an hour after its start, and continue with their high-society conversations nonchalantly.

As we make our way out of the venue, me and my friend discuss the experience… On the one hand, we’ve just seen a punk legend, a man that’s been touring for nearly 40 years both solo and with his band, and has changed the course of music history. On the other, he performed his set and told his tales to an audience that couldn’t have cared less, in a venue that was completely unsuitable for his performance and where, we were told, a DJ set would follow.

But one thing remains clear: the man has still got it. So, we swear to catch Shelley’s band at their next London show.


Mariana Nikolova