Pete Shelley


musical style: 

photograph of Pete Shelley

Pete Shelley (Peter Campbell McNeish, 17 April 1955 – 6 December 2018) was an English singer, songwriter and guitarist, best known as the leader of the punk band Buzzcocks.

Shelley was born to Margaret and John McNeish at 48 Milton Street, in Leigh. Margaret was an ex-mill worker in the town, while John was a fitter at the nearby Astley Green Colliery. He had a younger brother, Gary.

Shelley formed Buzzcocks with Howard Devoto after the two met at the Bolton Institute of Technology (now the University of Bolton) in 1975 and subsequently travelled to High Wycombe, near London, to see the Sex Pistols. The Buzzcocks debuted in 1976 in Manchester, opening for the Sex Pistols.

In 1977 the Buzzcocks released their first EP, Spiral Scratch, on their own independent label, New Hormones. When Devoto left the group shortly afterwards—in February 1977—Shelley took over as the lead vocalist and chief songwriter. Working with the producer Martin Rushent, the band went on to create the punk/new wave singles "Orgasm Addict", "What Do I Get?", and "Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)", along with three LPs: Another Music in a Different Kitchen (1978), Love Bites (1978), and A Different Kind of Tension (1979). Difficulties with their record company and a dispute with Virgin Publishing over the UK release of their greatest hits record, Singles Going Steady, brought the band to a halt in 1981.

Shelley's debut album Sky Yen was recorded in 1974 but remained unheard until March 1980 when it was released on 12" vinyl on Shelley's own label, Groovy Records. It was recorded as one continuous piece of music with a purpose-built oscillator and was notable for its use of layered electronics and playback speed manipulation to achieve its experimental feel. Rooted in electronic music, it has been compared with krautrock. Also released on Groovy Records was the soundtrack LP Hangahar by Sally Timms and Lindsay Lee, which included Shelley as a musician, and an album by artists Eric Random, Barry Adamson and Francis Cookson under the name Free Agents. After these releases, Groovy Records never released another album.

In 1981 Shelley released his first solo single, the song "Homosapien", again produced by Martin Rushent. On this recording he returned to his original interests in electronic music and shifted emphasis from guitar to synthesiser; Rushent's elaborate drum machine and synthesiser programming laid the groundwork for his next production, the chart-topping album Dare! by The Human League. "Homosapien" was banned by the BBC for "explicit reference to gay sex", but this didn't stop it from becoming enormously popular in dance clubs in Europe and North America: on the US dance charts, "Homosapien" peaked at number fourteen. It was also at this time that Pete Shelley talked about his bisexuality, which had been implicit in many of the Buzzcocks songs he had written but now came to attention due to "Homosapien" and the BBC ban. The next year saw the controversial single followed by an LP of the same name.

Shelley released his second LP XL1 in 1983 on Genetic Records. In addition to the minor hit "Telephone Operator," the album included a computer program for the ZX Spectrum which featured lyrics and graphics which displayed in time with the music, an innovative precursor to the visuals of today's media players. XL1 was produced by Martin Rushent and Shelley.

June 1986 saw Shelley release the darker, edgier Heaven and the Sea, an album that drew comparisons to Love and Rockets, Gary Numan and late period Ultravox. In 1987 he followed the album with a new song, "Do Anything", for the film Some Kind of Wonderful.

In 1989 Shelley recorded a new version of "Homosapien" entitled "Homosapien II". The single featured four mixes of the new recording.

Shelley has also played with various other musicians during his career, including The Invisible Girls, who backed punk poet John Cooper Clarke. Shelley also formed bands called The Tiller Boys, and Zip. He briefly reunited with Howard Devoto to make the LP Buzzkunst, released in 2002.

He also appeared on the 2005 debut EP by the Los Angeles band The Adored (who toured extensively with Buzzcocks the following year.)

A substantially sped-up club remix of "Telephone Operator" is a standard offering on the Dance Dance Revolution arcade game. He produced a single by the band Redtrack.

In 1989, Buzzcocks reunited, and released a new full-length recording, Trade Test Transmissions, in 1993. They continued to tour and record, their most recent release being the CD The Way in 2014. They toured with bands such as Nirvana, the Adored, the Strays, Lola Ray, and Images. In 2005, Shelley re-recorded "Ever Fallen in Love" with an all-star group, including Roger Daltrey, David Gilmour, Peter Hook, Elton John, Robert Plant and several contemporary bands, as a tribute to John Peel. Proceeds went to Amnesty International. Shelley also performed the song live at the 2005 UK Music Hall of Fame.

Shelley composed the theme music for the intro of the Tour de France on Channel 4, which was used from the late 1980s to mid 1990s.

Shelley died on the morning of 6 December, 2018, of a suspected heart attack, in Estonia where he was living. His brother, Gary McNeish, announced his death on Facebook.
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