Pete Shelley, Buzzcocks Singer, Dead at 63

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Pete Shelley

Pete Shelley, the lead vocalist, guitarist and chief songwriter of The Buzzcocks, one of the most significant and beloved of the original British punk bands, died Dec. 6, 2018, in Estonia, where he lived. The cause was a suspected heart attack, according to published reports. Shelley was 63.

The Buzzcocks announced Shelley’s death on their social media pages, tweeting, “It’s with great sadness that we confirm the death of Pete Shelley, one of the UK’s most influential and prolific songwriters and co-founder of the seminal original punk band Buzzcocks… Pete’s music has inspired generations of musicians over a career that spanned five decades and with his band and as a solo artist, he was held in the highest regard by the music industry and by his fans around the world. A more detailed statement will follow.”

Related: See where Buzzcocks rank in our Top 10 classic punk songs

Several musicians have also tweeted their reactions to his passing, including original Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock, who said, “I am totally shocked and saddened to just hear of the untimely death of Pete Shelley. A superb songwriter, artist and a totally sweet hearted guy who was one of the very few originals of punk and even a one off within that.” (See the complete tweet below.)

Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan posted, “As a lifelong Buzzcocks fan…I so appreciate the musical influence Pete. Condolences to your family….” And singer Tracey Thorn tweeted, “Oh God but I loved Buzzcocks. And Pete Shelley was an amazing songwriter. But after all life’s only death’s recompense. RIP”

Watch the Buzzcocks perform “Ever Fallen in Love” on Top of the Pops

Along with the Sex Pistols and the Clash, the Buzzcocks, formed in 1975, were considered the vanguard of the punk movement in the U.K. The group released its first EP, Spiral Scratch, in 1977, with their debut album, Another Music in a Different Kitchen, following the year after. Shelley’s songs were highly melodic and tuneful, yet the band exhibited all of the power and ferocity that marked the most popular punk in both the U.K. and the U.S.

Watch the Buzzcocks’ video for “What Do I Get?”

Like many early punk acts, they found it difficult to get airplay in the United States—although they had some success with tracks like “Ever Fallen in Love” and “What Do I Get?”—but they built a devoted following that thronged to their live gigs.

Born Peter McNeish on April 17, 1955, in Leigh, Lancashire, in England, Shelley formed the band with Howard Devoto in Bolton, and they debuted in 1976 opening for the Sex Pistols, but Devoto soon left to form a new band, Magazine. Following the debut album, the Buzzcocks, whose lineup fluctuated during their brief tenure (although guitarist Steve Diggle was present throughout all of the key periods), released two more, Love Bites (1978), and A Different Kind of Tension (1979), and a greatest hits collection, Singles Going Steady, before things started falling apart for the band.

Shelley left the group in 1981 for a solo career. His second solo album, Homosapien, released that year, found him expanding his musical ideas beyond the punk confines into more mainstream pop and dance sounds.

The Buzzcocks reunited in 1989 and released the first of several new albums, Trade Test Transmissions, in 1993.

Watch the video for Shelley’s solo hit “Homosapien”

And here’s the video for “Orgasm Addict,” one of the band’s best known early tunes


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