Pete Shelley, Leader of the Punk-Rock Buzzcocks, Dies at 63

Mr. Shelley was born Peter Campbell McNeish on April 17, 1955, in Leigh, England, west of Manchester. He attended Bolton Institute of Technology in the town of Bolton, also near Manchester. Howard Trafford, a fellow student, posted a bulletin-board ad looking for musicians interested in playing the Velvet Underground’s relentless 17-minute two-chord churn, “Sister Ray”; Mr. McNeish answered.

They two traveled to a Sex Pistols show in early 1976 and arranged for the Sex Pistols to perform at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester, a concert that famously catalyzed Manchester’s own post-punk and dance-music scene. When the Sex Pistols returned to Manchester a few months later, Buzzcocks — with its leaders renamed Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto — were the opening act.

“I was doing philosophy and comparative European literature when Buzzcocks started,” Mr. Shelley told the website Quietus in 2009. “We found this whole other world of ideas, but tried to temper all that meaningful stuff with humor. Really, punk was about questioning things.”

Buzzcocks formed their own independent label, New Hormones, to release “Spiral Scratch,” an early example of punk’s do-it-yourself tactics. After Mr. Devoto left the band, Mr. Shelley turned out ample material; the band’s bassist, Steve Diggle, also wrote some songs. Amid tours with the Clash and other bands, Buzzcocks made three studio albums — “Another Music in a Different Kitchen,” “Love Bites” and “A Different Kind of Tension” — along with singles and EPs, before disbanding in 1981.

Mr. Shelley expanded beyond punk’s guitars-bass-drums lineup, embraced synthesizers and slowed down some tempos on his solo albums in the 1980s, moving closer to the rock mainstream. In 1987, Fine Young Cannibals had a hit with a remake of “Ever Fallen in Love?,” spurring Mr. Shelley and Mr. Diggle to reassemble Buzzcocks, joined by other musicians through the years, and return to punk’s speed and blare.

By the 1990s, the band was recording new albums — its most recent was “The Way,” in 2014 — and was widely hailed by bands in its wake. Nirvana chose Buzzcocks to open European arena shows on its last tour, in 1994. The band celebrated its 40th anniversary with a tour in 2016.


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