Although the U.K. punk explosion of 1976 was initially a very London-centric phenomenon, Buzzcocks – from Manchester in the north of England – were actually one of the very first bands to release a single, Spiral Scratch, on their own New Hormones label. But they were pacesetters in a number of ways.
Singer Pete Shelley (who passed away in 2018) actually booked the Sex Pistols to play an early show in Manchester. The audience for that event, according to legend, included several Mancunians who went on to form significant bands, including Morrissey from the Smiths, the Cult’s Billy Duffy and members of New Order. Buzzcocks bucked the trend, eschewing bleak nihilism for melody-laden, instant pop classics that saw them score numerous chart successes.
Their debut album, 1978’s Another Music in a Different Kitchen, has long been revered as one of the seminal albums of the punk canon. Below, guitarist Steve Diggle looks back on how the band created this timeless – yet arguably lost – classic.
Buzzcocks were fantastically productive. In 1978 alone you released two albums and five singles. How did you decide what to record for the album with so much material to choose from?
“The songs seemed to automatically suggest themselves. They were the best collection of songs we had on hand. We just went in, recorded the tracks that ended up on the album, and no more. There was no unused material. We’d been playing those songs live for quite a while anyway. We’d recorded Moving Away from the Pulsebeat for a BBC John Peel session, but I hadn’t really figured out what I wanted to do with my guitar parts at that time.”
How long did it take to make the album?
“About three weeks. We recorded it at Olympic Studios, which has been the scene of numerous legendary recordings, so that was a buzz for the band. I had the Rolling Stones album High Tide and Green Grass, and there were pictures of the band in the studio on the back of the album sleeve, which really stopped me in my tracks – to think who’d been there before us, including the likes of the Who and Led Zep.”
Did you do many takes of each song?
“We just did three takes of each track – we recorded them in the same sequence that they appeared on the record – and then decided afterwards which was the best version. Then we’d put any overdubs or whatever on that version. There was no great overthinking or anything.”
What were the guitars and guitar amps that you and Pete Shelley used?
“I had a 1959 Les Paul TV Junior that used to belong to Tony Hicks from the Hollies; when I was in the studio, amazingly, Tony popped in with Kenny Lynch [writer of hits for ’60s bands including the Small Faces]. He said, ‘That’s my guitar,’ and I thought, ‘Fuck me, I’ve bought a stolen guitar!’ [Laughs] Anyway, he just meant that he’d sold it to the shop, but he really regretted that he’d sold it. [Laughs] Pete had a Gordon Smith, which was a Manchester-based independent company. Their guitars were based on Gibsons.
“We both used HH 2x12 100-watt combos. They were fantastic amps that a lot of people used in the U.K. in the late ’70s; Wilko Johnson from Dr. Feelgood was a notable user. They were transistor [amps] but had a built-in ‘valve sound’ switch that was really effective.
“I’ve still got that amp, which has survived numerous house moves. I used it on the last Buzzcocks album [2022’s Sonics in the Soul]. The main recording space was a pretty big hall, so it looked funny to see our two small combos set up in this large space. I think we had an Eventide Harmonizer on the guitar parts and also on the vocals for most of the songs.”
How did you work out the guitar parts between the two guitarists?
“It just depended on who came up with something. There was no real set formula, and often when we were both playing rhythm we’d play the same chord inversions, but something about the way they played against each other made our sound what it was. Maybe it was almost like an in and out of phase effect, as we weren’t totally locked in together.
“We came up with ideas for the overdubs once we’d got our backing track agreed on. We’d just come up with some things on the spot, even though we’d been playing a version of the song live. I always found it very easy to come up with riffs and ideas. For Autonomy, I think we played the ascending riff together, but then Pete came up with the ascending guitar solo over the riff.
“There were no egos about who’d play a riff or a solo, just who came up with what worked. It seemed like the first things we came up with were always the very things that worked perfectly. [Laughs] Something magical seemed to happen when we played together, and that was the sound of the Buzzcocks.”
Martin Rushent, who was very much in demand, produced the record. How did that process work?
“He was very easy to get on with. It really was a matter of playing the songs for him as we went along – there was no pre-production phase or anything. He seemed to like everything that we’d planned to record, and it went really smoothly. We were so tight as a band anyway that we rocketed through the songs.
“Doug Bennett was a great engineer who worked there, and he was very helpful too. It already sounded great because of what Doug had done anyway, and Martin just kind of steered the ship slightly after Doug’s initial work.”
Who were your guitar influences – and who influenced Pete?
“The Beatles, Stones, Kinks and the Who were big influences for me and Pete; he had Bowie and the Velvet Underground in there as well. Oh, and the Stooges and MC5 were big for us. Jimmy Page’s soloing and riffs were a huge influence on me, which was probably not the thing that you could really talk about too much back in 1976. [Laughs] I loved John Lennon’s guitar playing.”
A lot of your songs were under three minutes. Did you feel it was hard to get enough songs for a full set?
“It did feel like we had to play a ton of songs, and the other problem was that when we played them live, we played them a lot faster than the record, so the set would be over, and we’d be thinking we’d only just got started. [Laughs] We’d play about 18 songs in 45 minutes, but they were the length they needed to be – any longer would have ruined them.”
I Don’t Mind clearly sounds like the obvious hit single. Did it get more work to sound that way?
“I agree that it did sound like the obvious choice for a single, but in fact it didn’t receive any extra treatment or production when we recorded it. The record company picked that to be the single after we gave them the album.
“We didn’t intend for any of the tracks to be released as a single; that wasn’t what we normally did as we wanted to give our fans maximum value for money, which is why so many of our singles were stand-alone songs that didn’t feature on an album. We were writing so many songs that we didn’t feel any need to ration them out.”
I Need has a Ramones feel.
“We’d just been in the pub before we recorded that one and we were feeling like we really wanted to have something that just fucking rocked on a bit. [Laughs] We started playing it, and I didn’t have all the words with me, and Pete came up with some lines which in effect took it from being a political statement of what I needed, to a love song. [Laughs]”
Moving Away from the Pulsebeat is something of an epic, isn’t it?
“That was something that I think was uniquely us at the time. We closed our live shows with it, and I remember Mick Jones from the Clash saying that only the Buzzcocks could get away with finishing a live set with that one. There’s almost a drum solo in it, which was probably the ultimate taboo in the punk age.
“The guitar parts were very much off the cuff; I think of it as almost an avant garde punk approach. [Laughs] There was a Bo Diddley rhythm going, and I couldn’t quite hear what Pete was doing on the rhythm guitar when I was putting down the single-note lines, so that was almost a happy accident the way that it naturally evolved.”
Were you happy with how it turned out back then, and how do you view it now?
“We were very happy with everything about it, from the way that it sounded to the way it was packaged. I think it seems timeless, like it could have been recorded this year. It doesn’t have anything that dates it in terms of studio or guitar effects, and the subject material – relationships and personal politics or whatever you want to call it – remains as relevant today as it always was. The fact that so much of it was effectively recorded live is a big part of its success.”
What’s coming up?
“We’re making a new album soon, which I think might be an eye-opener for fans. It’s maybe a little more experimental than what people might expect, although there will still be a big focus on songs. That’s always been the trademark of the Buzzcocks – a great song that sticks in your head after one hearing.”
- Another Music in a Different Kitchen is out now via Domino.