Steve Diggle of Buzzcocks: “You just sort of hope someone, somewhere, will come along and shake things up a bit.”
With a vast wealth of musicians from Kurt Cobain to Morrissey citing them as a central influence, Buzzcocks should really be seen as one of the most important bands in British punk history. Forming over four decades ago, and soon after becoming one of the first bands to set up their own record label via an early form of crowdfunding, the Bolton group went on to define the scene of the late-70s with their infectious brand of lightning fast pop-punk.
The band broke up in dramatic fashion in 1981 following a dispute with their label United Artists, but they have since reformed with various line-ups. 42 years since first leading the band onstage at a Bolton University gig night, Steve Diggle continues to write new music for the band and solo projects. The latest incarnation features original members Pete Shelley and Steve alongside later additions Chris Remington and Danny Farrant and will be hitting the festival circuit this summer, arriving just a stones-throw from Sheffield at Derbyshire’s Y Not Festival next month.
Exposed’s Tom Fay gave Steve a call last month to hear about how he sees the band today, the state of British music and his recent solo work.
How are preparations going ahead of festival season?
Yeah, it’s gone really well. The band’s all tuned up and ready to go.
How much has touring changed for you as an experience since the early days?
Well, obviously we had no phones or emails back then to tell you where you needed to be, but other than that, on a band note, things keep getting better and better. We’ve got all of these classic songs that have always worked well live. The world’s changed and so have we to a point, but those songs have never changed. They still mean a lot – or maybe even a bit more – to people. I feel that when you go to a Buzzcocks gig now there’s a bit more dynamism, a bit more magic.
Do you find yourself attracting new fans to your shows?
Oh yeah, for sure. As a band, we span about three generations – so you’re seeing fourteen-year-olds alongside sixty year-olds these days. It’s a great testament to the band and to the songs that we can achieve that. The set we’ve got is very dynamic so it’s great to see all of those different people come alive together when we play.
How much of an impact do you feel Buzzcocks had on the British punk scene?
I mean, when we started we were kind of punk but then we just became Buzzcocks. What I mean is that when we started out with the Sex Pistols, The Clash, etc., we were the only bands around. No one really knew what punk was or what it was going to be. We all sort of went off and did our own thing and then you had all these other bands coming along later telling you what punk was. It’s spawned a lot of different interpretations. Punk’s been about so many things and outlooks so it becomes difficult to genuinely tell what sort of influence we’ve had.
How relevant is punk today?
It is still relevant, but in a corporate world it’s a lot more difficult. There are still those sort of bands out there and it’s great to see people voting with their feet and going out to see and support them. The thing is, if you’re a bit of a weird guy doing something cool on the guitar then a record label is going to look at you and think, “Well, they will probably only sell a few thousand. It’s no good”. They’ve got to be marketable. It’s great to see new bands continuing to keep punk alive, though, as it’s hugely important to have that counter-balance against the mainstream culture.
Are there any bands in particular that have caught your eye?
We did a show last year where Slaves were supporting us. I thought they were really good, they were really into their noise, getting the crowd going and all of that. I remember them coming up to us after the show and saying to us “You guys are the masters”, so it’s great to see that we’ve influenced people and they’ve gone on to do their own thing with bits of what we did originally.
As a large part of the Manchester band scene, how important is that city to you today?
Yeah, Manchester’s still within me even though I’ve been living in London for the last 20 years. I’ve been around the world and people are still asking me about the Manchester scene. I’m very proud of the place as I’ve been there from the start when Joy Division and Morrissey and all that were watching us – and it’s great to be some part on that big chain of music. Liam Gallagher’s just down the road from me so when we’ve gone for a few drinks, people are there thinking, “Manchester’s in the area”. The place is still very important to me and the city will always have a close relationship with the band.
What do you think of the music coming out of the city today?
It’s been a bit quiet over the last few years but you could say that about a lot of places. Sometimes you can have a bit of a drought for four to five years, but just when you think something’s going to go it comes back again so it’s difficult to tell. Even in London I’d say it’s not a particularly big scene. Obviously, you had Britpop kicking off there in the 90s, but there’s not really been a focal point for British music since then.
Would you say British music has had a bit of an identity crisis?
Definitely. It’s all a bit homogenised nowadays. There’s nothing bad about it, but at the same time there’s no one really questioning it. You just sort of hope someone, somewhere, will come along and shake things up a bit.
Finally, you’ve recently brought out your solo album Inner Space Time. What do you try to achieve with your solo work and that record in particular?
I try and do a lot of different things with it really. I’’ve got that definitive Buzzcocks sound but then you’ve got different things you want to talk about. It’s a bit of journey really but with Inner Space Time I was trying to talk more about politics, in particular the idea being your own president or politician rather than following what the government tells you. There’s a bit more of a psychedelic feel to it but it came out just before Noel Gallagher brought ‘Who Built the Moon?’. A few people have mentioned that he’s copied my sound with that one! I might need to have a word… [Laughs]