The New European
PUNK TO THE END
Remembering my friend, the Buzzcock Pete Shelley
When Buzzcocks singer Pete Shelley died last week there was a widespread outpouring of affection. MALCOLM GARRETT, who designed the band’s striking covers (and this week’s stunning New European front page), remembers the PG Wodehouse of punk and tells the stories behind their greatest creations
If I hadn’t met Pete Shelley everything would have been completely different. When I look back on more than 40 years, I think ‘how lucky was I?’ I called him the PG Wodehouse of punk.
I met him through Linder Sterling (creator of the iron-headed woman image on Buzzcocks’ Orgasm Addict sleeve), who I was at college with. She went to see Buzzcocks towards the end of 1976 and developed a relationship with Howard Devoto (original Buzzocks singer, later in Magazine). She introduced me to Howard and to Richard Boon (Buzzocks manager) and at the start of 1977 I met Pete when they all came to a party at my flat in Rusholme.
By then they had promoted a Sex Pistols gig in Manchester and because of that people talk about Pete as a catalyst for punk. But that’s not fair. A catalyst takes no part in the chemical reaction. He precipitated the reaction and participated in it.
Buzzcocks were a one-off. The combination of punk and pop without ever losing its edginess, but still with the immense charm that Pete had. Howard was brilliant but he did not have the charm of Pete. He had that look in his eye that made you think you were both in on a secret, that he knew you knew something nobody else did.
As a writer he was extraordinary. The more I listened and paid attention, the more I admired the deep intellectual level and also the deep energy level he worked on.
When I heard Pete had passed away I was on a train from London to Manchester. It was the day of the O2 outage and you could only get little bits of connection. So you went from hearing a rumour to people trying to confirm it to the fact that it had actually happened.
I pretend to be blase about people passing away. My father passed away early, my elder brother has passed away since. It’s just a way some people deal with it.
With Pete, though, I had a powerful sense of how, just through the things he did and said and the way he went through life, he was the most direct influence on my work as a designer. I found the best band, and the best writer, the ones who happened to be a perfect match for me and my sensibility.