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Pete Shelley, Howard Devoto, Buzzcocks and Magazine in vintage punk doc ‘B’dum B’dum’ from 1978

Punk history on the installment plan…part one

The Buzzcocks had to be quick because they didn’t know how long they would last. That’s what Pete Shelley told Tony Wilson over tea and cigarettes in this documentary B’dum B’dum from 1978.

Made as part of Granada TV’s What’s On series, B’dum B’dum follows the tale of the band Buzzcocks from formation to first split and the creation of splinter group Howard Devoto’s Magazine.

Shelley met Devoto at Bolton Institute of Technology in 1975. Shelley responded to an ad Devoto had placed on the student notice board looking for musicians to form a band. The pair clicked and started writing songs together. Then they wanted to perform their songs, so they sought out other musicians to play them (Steve Diggle, bass, and John Maher, drums), and hey presto, Buzzcocks.

Part two…

The influence had been punk and The Sex Pistols, but Devoto found punk “very limiting” as “in terms of music there was a whole gamut of other stuff”:

“...Leonard Cohen, Dylan, David Bowie. With the Pistols and Iggy Pop, it was the anger and poetry which hooked me in really…

“I think that punk rock was a new version of trouble-shooting modern forms of unhappiness, and I think that a lot of our cultural activity is concerned with the process, particularly in our more privileged world, with time on our hands—in a world, most probably after religion.

“My life changed at the point I saw the Sex Pistols, and became involved in trying to set up those concerts for them. Suddenly I was drawn into something which really engaged me. Punk was nihilistic anger, not overtly political anger. Political anger could have been the radical Sixties.”

Pete Shelley, Tony Wilson, Howard Devoto during the making of ‘B’dum B’dum’ 1978.
The Buzzcocks recorded and released the “massively influential” Spiral Scratch a four track EP, which contained the Shelley/Devoto songs “Breakdown,” “Time’s Up,” “Boredom,” and “Friends of Mine.”
Parts three to five with Shelley and Devoto, plus full Buzzcocks concert, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Anarchy in the UK (for real): British establishment’s fear of an ACTUAL punk rock revolution, 1977
07:25 am


John Peel
Pete Shelley

To get an idea of how seriously certain sections of the British Establishment feared the threat of Punk Rock, take a look at this incredible piece of archival televison from 1977. It’s an edition of the BBC’s Brass Tacks, a current affairs series in which reporter Brian Trueman (also famed for classic kids’ shows Chorlton and the Wheelies and Danger Mouse) introduced a brief film on Punk, and then hosted a live studio debate between some of the youngsters featured in the piece—along with Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley and Radio One DJ John Peel—arguing the toss with a selection of town councillors, from London, Birmingham, Newcastle and Glasgow. These councillors were out to ban Punk from various inner city venues. There was also comment from the press and Pastor John Cooper, who wanted everyone to come to Jesus. Alleluia.

Okay, this all may sound like the comic ingredients to some grand mockumentary, but these fears over the political aspect of Punk Rock and the potential for anarchy in the streets of Britain were all very real at the time. As Brian Trueman says in his introduction:

“Punk Rock is more feared than Russian Communism.”

But why? What the fuck were these people thinking? What were they scared of?

Well, to start with, 1970s Britain was in a mess. It had high unemployment, 3-day working weeks, nationwide power cuts, tax was at astronomic levels, food shortages, and strikes were commonplace, and the Labor government feared a revolution was imminent.

To explain why this all came about, let’s rewind the tape to a mass demonstration at Grosvenor Square, London, March 1968. This was where an anti-Vietnam War rally erupted into a massive pitched battle between protesters and the police. Outside of the American Embassy 200 people were arrested; 86 were injured; 50 were taken to hospital, half of which were police officers. The Labor government of the day, were stunned that a group of protestors could cause such disorder, and near anarchy, that could have led (they believed) to a mini-revolution on the streets of London.

In fear of such anarchy ever happening again, the government decided to take action. At first, ministers considered sending troops out into the streets. But after some reassuring words from Special Branch, Chief Inspector Conrad Hepworth Dixon, they were convinced that the boys in blue could handle any trouble. Dixon was allowed to set up a new police force: the Special Demonstration Squad.

This was no ordinary police operation, the SDS had permission to be literally a law unto itself, where its officers could operate under deep cover, and infiltrate left-wing, fringe organizations and youth groups, with the sole purpose of working as spies and agents provocateurs. Harold Wilson’s government agreed to pay for this operation directly out of Treasury funds.

The SDS carried on its undercover activities against any organizations that they believed threatened Britain’s social order. This include animal rights organizations, unions, and anti-Nazi, and anti-racism groups. They were also allegedly involved in the planting incendiary devices at branches of department store Debenhams in Luton, Harrow and Romford in 1987; and one member was later involved in writing the pamphlet that led to the famous “McLibel” trial of the 1990s.

The workings of the SDS were on a “need to know basis,” and only a handful of police knew exactly what this little club were up to. But their presence fueled genuine fears amongst the British Establishment that there were “Reds under the beds,” and that revolution was a literal stone’s throw away.

This was all going on behind-the-scenes, while out front, muppets like the councillors and journalists lined-up on this program, pushed the hysteria of Punk Rock riots and civil disobedience, that reflected the very genuine fears at the heart of the UK Establishment. (Note London councillor Bernard Brook-Partridge mention of “MI5 blacklists.”)

So, that’s the background to this fascinating archive of the year that politicians (and even the BBC) thought Punk Rock was a torch-bearer for bloody revolution.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment