Pete Shelley showed us what small-town boys can do
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.