Photo Credit: Joe Giacomet
On May 13, 2010, just two weeks after a guy named Faisal Shahzad tried to blow up Times Square with a Nissan Pathfinder, the NYPD sealed off Union Square to investigate an iffy-looking ’91 Cutlass Ciera parked outside of Con Edison’s headquarters. Apparently, there were a couple of gas cans in the backseat, and as cops moved in to investigate, the action rattled more than a few New Yorkers already on high alert. Not the ones packed inside of nearby Irving Plaza, though.
That night, Buzzcocks were in town, and even after the venue gave word of the bomb scare, fans kept calm and let the UK legends carry on. This was, after all, a rare local appearance by the greatest pop punk band of all time not called The Ramones. A line by the B-Cocks’ fellow Mancunian rocker Morrissey came to mind: “To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.”
Luckily, it didn’t come to that. The gas cans belonged to a landscaper who was actually at the show, and everyone lived to see another day. Those still breathing today have even more reason to be grateful: Nearly four decades into their career, Buzzcocks are still going strong, and on November 18, they return with an excellent album called The Way, their ninth studio LP and sixth since founders Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle reformed the band in the early 90s.
In advance of the record’s release, Diggle checked in from a pub in London to reminisce about the terrorist scare and share his thoughts on crowdsourcing, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, grunge nostalgia, and his band’s reputation as LGBT pioneers.
Noisey: Were you scared on that night of the bomb scare in 2010?
Steve Diggle: No, not really. We came off, and we wanted to do the encore. They said, “Look out the window,” and as we looked out the window of the dressing room, there was some kind of robot creeping up slowly to a car. Someone had little bags of fuel or whatever, some possible explosives, in their car. We did the encore, and then we had to get out of the place. Normally, we have a few guests after the show and have a little chat and a drink, but we had to hightail it out of there.
Have you ever played a show where you’ve feared for your life or thought, “Shit, I’m going to get hurt?”
Sometimes, when the wheels are in motion, it goes in and out of phase, in control and out of control all the time, so nothing surprises me [in terms of] what’s going on onstage. You go into that spiritual world of rock ‘n’ roll, and you’re heightened by your surroundings. You’re super aware of what’s going on, but at the same time, you’re almost immune to it as well. It’s like a defense mechanism, this heightening of all the senses. It’s an invincible kind of thing, because you’re lost in the spirit world and the physicality of doing what you’re doing, and it does send you to a different place. Things like the bomb scare, it’s almost like half dream, half reality. But when you’re empowered by rock ‘n’ roll at those moments, it seems like you can overcome anything. I think that’s the magic of being in a band or making music. It does empower you to overcome things. So that bomb scare just seems like part of a day’s work.
You guys funded the record through PledgeMusic rather than a label. At this stage, are you totally fed up with record companies?
We’ve done the PledgeMusic thing, and now, we’ve got 1-2-3-4 Go! in America, a small label. Initially, way back in 1976, we financed our own record and put it out. It was like, “Let’s try this Pledge thing. It’s a new way forward.” It’s almost like a pre-sale, like you had in the 70s. You put your money down, and it might not be out for two weeks. The fans are voting with their feet. It’s a new way to try out. Otherwise, Warner Bros. just bought EMI out. We could have gone to Warner Bros. and started up negotiations with them. Pete was like, “We can just do it this way and see what happens.” It’s more interesting and exciting, in a way. Nobody was telling us what we had to do. We went in and made this record straight from our hearts, minds, and souls.
And then a lot of people wanted it to be a physical thing, available in the shops and things, so that’s why we put it out through this label. You can feel the naturalness of the record. Even though it is a bit lighter and darker than some of the other ones, I think, it’s a great record. It’s got a lot of classic Buzzcocks things, and a lot of things of what we are now.
One of the PledgeMusic incentives was a meet-and-greet with the band after one of your shows. Were you at all worried about obsessive fans? Have you ever dealt with any?
You never know what you’re going to get sometimes. The thing is, most of the people, they came to see the music. They didn’t all want to come back. There were bunches of people after each show, particularly in Britain, that came back. We said hello to them and signed things. It worked out well. There weren’t as many people trying to get backstage as I thought. If anybody gets crazy, you just do the Keith Richards thing: grab your guitar and whack them over the head. [Laughs] To be honest, most Buzzcocks fans, even if they are a little crazy, they still have respect for the music. The music consoles the savage beast. It’s a lot of intelligence with Buzzcocks fans as well. It’s a very cool audience. They’re usually thoughtful, and they’re sometimes a bit animalistic, because of the nature of the music, like a Jackson Pollock painting, but that’s about as far as it goes. It was good to meet some of them. You’ve got to remember that they’re the ones that put the money down. They’re the hardcore people that have stuck by us all these years. They generated the album as much as we did. It’s kind of like a team effort between the band and the audience.
Speaking of hardcore fans, yours would probably come see you whether you put out new music or not. Do you feel obligated to keep making records rather than coast?
It’s taken about five years for this record to come out. We were getting off on the live thing. The Buzzcocks have become an even better band live than we were before. With this lineup, we’ve grown and developed and become richer and broader and more experienced, spiritually, and we’ve really got off on touring. We enjoy it. It was like, “OK, now it’s time to do a record,” but we didn’t feel that pressured to do one. To be honest, there were a few years I had cassettes with demos of songs for the new album, and Pete hadn’t got his shit together with his songs. It was like, “OK, we’ll do it next year. When you get your songs together, give me a call, and we’ll get down to it.” That went on for a few years.
Partially it’s that, and partially it’s because we’re asked to do so many tours. Having done one now, I wouldn’t mind doing another one pretty quick. The live thing is where it’s at for a time. Believe me, we don’t sell that many Buzzcocks albums that we can even survive on that. But having said that, it’s opened up a lot of possibilities for where we could go with another record. Things like “The Third Dimension” and “Saving Yourself,” they go of on little tangents, as well as our regular linear stuff—“Keep on Believing” and “Chasing Rainbows,” those kinds of classic pop ones. There are a lot of possibilities in terms of us recording.
What do you think about the Smiths getting a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination? Does the Hall of Fame even matter?
I went there when I went to Cleveland, and I even had to fucking pay! Many of our fans say they can’t believe other bands that have been less influential than us, or that haven’t been around as long as us, are getting in. I believe Green Day are nominated and stuff like that. In terms of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I don’t know why they’re missing out on us. Maybe it’ll come one day. We’ve survived all these years without them, so I don’t think it really matters. The main thing is we’re in people’s hearts and souls. That’s why we’re doing it. Maybe some day, they’ll wake up in that place and nominate The Buzzcocks, considering how many bands name-check us. Bono from U2 was on the television the other day saying how he loves The Buzzcocks and The Clash, and countless bands have cited how influential The Buzzcocks have been.
The Smiths are great, but it seems like if a Manchester band is going to get in, it should be you guys or Joy Division or something.
I’m a massive fan of the Smiths, but the Smiths have been influenced by the Buzzcocks, so it’s like the cart’s going before the horse. Maybe someone should write in and tell [the Hall of Fame] something. We’ve been touring the United States for 38 years. How many bands have been influenced by The Buzzcocks? Even Bruce Springsteen has got our records. I’ve met him a few times—he’s got our records!
Over the last couple years, there’s been a lot of 90s nostalgia—bands trying to sound like Nirvana in ’92. As someone who toured with them and knew Kurt Cobain personally, what do you make of it?
There were some great moments. The thing with Nirvana is [at the time] there was all this electronic music and dance music, which was great, but the guitar bands were missing. And Nirvana leapt out, and suddenly they brought the guitar back in with a lot of attitude and a lot of influence from punk rock. We did their last tour with them across Europe, that tour when he went home and shot himself after the tour. If kids can look back at that [period] and take something from it and move forward, that’s a good thing. It’s difficult now; record companies don’t seem to sign rock ‘n’ roll bands up. It’s difficult for record companies to survive, the small ones that put records out. It’s a bit of a dilemma at the moment. We’re not getting to hear, in the bigger picture, these newer bands. I guess [kids] are looking back at the golden era—things like Nirvana. And maybe Naked Raygun. Remember them, from Chicago?
That was a great band. Are there any younger ones that have caught your ear lately?
There’s still quite a few out there trying to break through. They just need developing. There’s a great little band down the road from where I live called the Box. They’re really good, a bunch of young kids. We did the Riot Fest tour, and there were quite a few bands on there that are interesting. They’re still out there. It’s just the music business—all that lowest common denominator. With the talent shows over here, like you have in the States, that’s taken over. Young kids believe that’s rock ‘n’ roll. That’s the problem. They need to know that Little Richard and Chuck Berry are rock ‘n’ roll, not fucking X Factor.
Over the years, Buzzcocks have received a lot of attention for the references to bisexuality in the early lyrics, and Pete [who’s come out as bisexual] has done some interviews with gay publications. Are you comfortable with Buzzcocks being thought of as a pioneering bisexual or gay band, or is that not on your radar?
I just think that was a little phase [Pete] was dabbling in back in the early days. Anything that was controversial in 1976 was welcome to the table. He’s been married twice with kids. It’s not really my department. I don’t care if people are gay or straight or whatever. I understand it all. I think that’s been overdone [in the press] in our band, really. It’s not something we really deal with in the songs. But the thing is that we’ve got the power and sensitivity to understand gay people or anybody. People that are into bestiality—why not, whatever! [Laughs] All comers, you know? Whatever anyone’s sexuality is, we make the records for anybody. I think it’s been overdone a little bit. Nobody’s got a problem with that. The music embraces the whole sexual carnival of the animals. [Laughs]
Kenneth Partidge is on Twitter - @kenpartridge