The Buzzcocks were a successful U.K. punk singles band during the late-1970s, combining Beatlesque romance and melodicism with a buzzsaw guitar attack and blistering tempos presaging the pop-punk movement of the 1990s and 2000s.
The Buzzcocks came together at Bolton Institute in 1975 and made frequent London club appearances the following year. Their first recordings, including the four-song EP Spiral Scratch (widely credited as Britain's first independent-label punk recording), were made with visionary early group leader Howard Devoto. When Devoto left the group in 1977 to form Magazine [see entry], Diggle switched from bass to guitar, and Garth Smith joined. Pete Shelley (who himself left the group in February 1981) became chief vocalist and songwriter. Singles Going Steady(1979) is a phenomenal collection of the bands singles with nary a dud to be found amongst pop-punk perfection in songs like "Harmony In My Head," "Every Fallen in Love" and "Why Can't I Touch It."
During the band's second U.S. tour in 1980, they picked up an enthusiastic coterie of followers, but record sales were disappointing. In mid-1980, displeased with its lack of international success, the group disbanded. Shelley had a British hit on his own with "Homosapien," a sharp turn from the trademark Buzzcocks sound to synth-and-sequencer dance music.
In 1989 Shelley, Diggle, Garvey, and Maher reunited for a U.S. tour. By then, the Buzzcocks were seen as a core influence on modern British pop (as illustrated by the hit remake of their "Ever Fallen in Love" by Fine Young Cannibals in 1987). Four years later, with a new rhythm section — and with Nirvana's Kurt Cobain having told the rock press they were an inspiration — the Buzzcocks recorded a well-received comeback album, Trade Test Transmissions, and toured the U.S. It was the beginning of a renewed career, followed by a 23-cut live set, French, and the studio album All Set — both released in 1996. Though the band failed to tap into the popularity of Green Day and other young acts playing in a style the Buzzcocks helped invent, the quartet returned again in 1999 withModern.
Two studio albums followed — Buzzcocks (2003) and Flat Pack Philosophy (2006) — but the band's profile increased exponentially in 2007 when "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" was licensed for a television advertisement for the American Association of Retired Persons. The band continues to tour.
Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).