Seven hours ahead of Central Standard Time, and 50-year-old Steve Diggle of the legendary punk rock band the Buzzcocks is just coming into his Manchester flat from a band rehearsal. Through a thick British accent akin to that of Keith Richards, Diggle tells me this is the first time the Buzzcocks will be touring since their world tour with Pearl Jam three years prior. The band is touring for their 13th album Flat Pack Philosophy. The 14-track album is arguably one of their best since they formed in 1975.
“With this new album we kind of put a modern twist on our old style,” Diggle told me. “We are getting a good response so far, so it’s going to be interesting to go out on tour and give the songs that live dynamic.”
For the tour, Diggle (guitar/vocals), Pete Shelley (guitar/vocals), Tony Barber (bass), and Phillip Barker (drums) are rehearsing, not only to learn the new songs, but old songs as well. They also are trying to build their stamina for the touring life of a punk rock band.
“We are going to be on the road for the rest of the year. So, we need to build our stamina. We aren’t as young as we were in 1978 you know. Our stamina for drinking and parting may be the same, but we aren’t physically,” Diggle said with a deep throaty chuckle.
Since their last tour with Pearl Jam, the Buzzcocks has added a new spark to their playing. The Pearl Jam tour broadened their audience, and their song writing is just as angst-ridden as it was when they recorded “Boredom,” “Ever Fallen in Love with Someone,” and “Orgasm Addict” back in the ‘70s.
“We’ve gotten to see a lot of things over the years,” Diggle explained. “We got to develop as people through rock ‘n’ roll. When you see more you learn more, and some of that B.S. fuels more anger into your lyrics. I think “Sound of A Gun” on the new album clearly shows that and how we feel about the world today.”
The Buzzcocks were born out of the ashes of the members failed bands in 1975 in Manchester, England. Their very first show was opening for the infamous Sex Pistols at Lesser Free Trade Hall in July of 1976. This was just the Pistols second show as a band. The two punk rockers went onto tour together around England. The music press came down from London to write about the antics of Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious and stumbled upon the Buzzcocks.
In October of 1976, they recorded their first demo tape, which remained unreleased until after the Sex Pistol tour when Shelley borrowed a couple hundred pounds from his father and the band used the money to record their debut EP, Spiral Scratch. The record was the first do-it-yourself, independently released record of the punk era.
“We put it out ourselves because we didn’t think any label would want us,” Diggle said. “The music of 1976 was very laid back and sissy. We had raw sound that just didn’t fit in. So we just did everything ourselves.”
Now, the Buzzcocks has become one of the most influential bands of all time. They helped develop the punk rock sound that thousands of bands since have incorporated into their own sound. When I asked Diggle how he felt about being in such a hallmark band, he just laughed it off with his cockney accent.
“It’s kind of weird. From that period, The Clash, The Damned, The Pistols, we all had our own identity. We don’t sit back and think about it, but you do get flashbacks. Now, to be 50 and doing this for over 30 years, it really means something.” Diggle continued: “If you think about it, when we started there were no mobile phones or computers. Hell, I still don’t know how to use e-mail. But I have a computer and it plays music. When we started, the Xerox Machine was big news.”
Diggle and the rest of the Buzzcocks are now old enough to be some of these new “punk” bands’ fathers. They’ve been a round the block… well the world, more then a few times, and they still hold their punk ethics. With the new rash of so-called punk bands, Diggle wondered how good the music really is.
“With a lot of these bands, they don’t seem to have the passion or meaning with their songs. They sure have the look down though. They look like the Clash or the Sex Pistols or even the Buzzcocks, but they don’t have that desire. It’s kind of weird, they paint elements of what we were, but they don’t have the balls. It’s a nice compliment, but I don’t think they have the nature of realness in their songs. They are monkey see monkey do.But what do I know…I’m just a fuckin’ moldy old punk rocker.”