Catching up with Buzzcocks’ frontman Steve Diggle to talk about the upcoming Late For The Train collection, playing live, setlists, bandmates, songwriting and a Pete Shelley demo tape…
Cherry Red Records has kept busy through lockdown, working with Buzzcocks’ guitarist/singer/songwriter Steve Diggle to complete/compile two box sets.
The first, Sell You Everything, which was released at the end of May, is an A-Z, or Trade Test Transmissions (1993) to The Way (2016), of Buzzcocks’ second recording phase. Six albums coupled with a whole lot of extras, not least the sought after 1991 demos LP, in a sumptuous package
Due late January, down the same track, comes Buzzcocks: Late For The Train, another six CDs this time focusing on live shows – timely in the face of sterile 2020.
That journey travels from the band’s 1989 reunion tour, caught at the late, lamented Birmingham Hummingbird, through to the 6 Music Festival 27 years later via a support slot at the Sex Pistols’ Finsbury Park comeback and shows in Worcester, Paris and North London.
It’s peppered with the band’s best-known songs of course – Boredom ironically/wryly on five of the setlists – but there’s little trace here of the players tiring of those numbers.
Certainly the 1995 take on Oh Shit! – Pete Shelley’s punky, snotty kiss off – dwarfs the super tight Hummingbird version. But it’s the ‘recent’ material, songs like Last To Know, Totally From The Heart, Isolation and Soul On A Rock, that serve to keep everything/everybody fresh.
A bunch of BBC sessions and eight songs, not least two takes on the blistering 2003 single Jerk, recorded live at the Beeb’s Maida Vale studio, are also included.
“It’s been a joy to do these box sets. Some people still don’t know the newer stuff. That’s like saying to Pete Townshend, “I love My Generation. Did you do anything after that?’” Steve Diggle laughs into the telephone.
“Plenty of our gigs were recorded and never heard of again,” he tells me. “Cherry Red is great at finding this archive stuff and that’s what we’ve been doing during lockdown, bringing things up to date.” Diggle turned up an unheard Pete Shelley demo in the process, about which more later.
“I’m into the crowd when I’m playing, the vibes of the thing,” he continues. “Their reaction can make a set faster, slower, more spiritual, so there’s a different flavour to each show. But for an hour/an hour and a half we’re all sharing something, feeling alive, getting the magic.
“Doing festivals, running late, we’d be asked ‘Can you cut some songs out’? One of the reasons we stopped talking on stage, around the black album , was a time thing. It meant we could play more.
“I’ve been doing this for 44 years now and it’s good to have these recordings – a last chance saloon for the second golden era, me and Pete. Moments in time reflecting the heart and soul of Buzzcocks.”
While Shelley was the band’s primary writer there was big chunk of cross pollination between the two frontmen, Diggle mentions Moving Away From The Pulsebeat, Why Can’t I Touch It? Promises, What Do I Get? by way of examples.
Autonomy and Harmony In My Head are Diggle penned Buzzcocks classics and he wrote a greater percentage of the material as the band progressed through its second new wave.
“Pete and I complemented each other. He did the love songs, I did the others and we would meet in the middle.”
I know what to do with my life
Losing Shelley’s remarkable presence, talent and, more than anything, friendship, has left an indelible mark on Steve Diggle. The easy option would be to focus on his solo career but, after a whole lot of agonising and, he stresses, with Pete’s blessing, the Buzzcocks’ show goes on.
Diggle, drummer Danny Farrant and bassist Chris Remington hit the road with the band’s backdrop a few months after playing the Albert Hall tribute to their former frontman last summer.
“We did about eight shows up north, coming on to the music from Rocky 2; Danny first, then Chris and then me. It was brilliant build-up. We went off like a plane.
“Three quarters of the songs we did were mine actually, or [co-writes], and we had a new single out [Gotta Get Better] so we weren’t seen as a cabaret act. We gave a shout to Pete every night and it just worked. The venues were packed.”
“He’s destroyed all the doubters,” one reviewer said simply.
As well as working on the box sets, Diggle has been using lockdown time to write songs for a “third golden era”, some in the big Buzzcocks vein and others with a more futuristic feel.
“I’m not doing an impersonation of the Buzzcocks with the new album it’s more ‘where can I take it?’” Diggle says. “Chris and Danny know what to do, Chris has worked on my solo albums too so he’s absolutely in tune with it all.
“I’m very excited about these songs. Discovering Pete’s demo was a lovely surprise and, if I can find it again, I’ll definitely put that on the LP. We start recording in February, if possible.”
At the end of a great chat, which went from stage to studio to plastic punk rock personas to politics “why listen to those people, telling me all this crap?” and back again, I ask if there’s anything left in the archives beyond Late For The Train.
“We’ve reached the station and we’re going to hit the buffers,” Steve Diggle chuckles.
Buzzcocks: Late For The Train is released on January 22 –