Pete Shel­ley showed us what small-town boys can do

The Observer - - Comment & Analysis -

Howsad to hear that Pete Shel­ley of Buz­zcocks has died of a heart at­tack, aged 63. Buz­zcocks’ legacy as witty, pithy, ef­fort­lessly catchy north­ern punkpop pi­o­neers is as­sured. How­ever, Shel­ley seemed to bring even more el­e­ments to the party: a sense of no-frills lyri­cal pas­sion and in­sight, of what could be termed magic vul­ner­a­bil­ity, that can’t be faked. Not least, Shel­ley bravely came out as bi­sex­ual – yes, Bowie had done it, but still, back then, bi­sex­u­al­ity was prob­a­bly only slightly eas­ier to de­clare than full-on ra­bies.

There was also the fac­tor of Shel­ley hail­ing from Leigh, a small town near Manch­ester. Any­one with an in­ter­est in Bri­tish mu­sic his­tory will know how many amaz­ing artists emerged from small­ish towns, face­less suburbs, yon sticks.

Cer­tainly, Shel­ley could be viewed as a ster­ling ex­am­ple of a small-town boy with gi­gan­tic ideas, about him­self, hu­man­ity, the lot. For a while, it was as though ev­ery back­wa­ter in Bri­tain seethed with peo­ple like this, and – boy – did the mu­sic scene ben­e­fit. All those out­siders and freaks (of both sexes), un­pol­ished di­a­monds, form­ing in their pro­vin­cial cru­cibles of te­dium – bored, rest­less, fizzing with as yet un­der-utilised ex­cite­ment and en­ergy.

This is what com­ing from less ob­vi­ously groovy ar­eas is all about: you end up be­com­ing very def­i­nite about your­self, be­cause, frankly, you’re all you’ve got. And then gifted peo­ple like Shel­ley end up do­ing some­thing about it – some­thing so huge it en­dures for a life­time.

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