Sunday, 30 June 2019

Buzzcocks, The Skids, Penetration & Special Guests - A Celebration of Pete Shelley's Life at The Royal Albert Hall June 21st - Feature with Photos by Steve White

Buzzcocks and guests at The Royal Albert Hall - Photo copyright by Steve White
“From the Roxy to the Royal Albert Hall..!” Penetration’s lead vocalist, Pauline Murray, sounded incredulous as she gazed out at the beautiful auditorium. I doubt many of the bands who played at the legendary Roxy club over 40 years ago would, at the time, have imagined that they would one day get to play at such a bastion of the musical establishment – home of the Proms. Penetration were the opening act of this very special event to celebrate the life and music of Pete Shelley and they were a great choice to get everyone warmed up for the evening’s entertainment. After all, they did take the unusual step of including a version of Buzzcocks “Nostalgia” on their 1978 debut album “Moving Targets” and it’s rare for someone to record a cover by one of their contemporaries and turn it into something special, but Penetration did just that. 

Penetration at The Royal Albert Hall - Photo copyright by Steve White
Penetration at The Royal Albert Hall - Photo copyright by Steve White
Penetration open the show with “Nostalgia” and tonight it sets the scene for an evening that was packed full of emotional appreciation of Pete Shelley's consummate and enduring song writing. Sadly, they only had time for a short sharp shock of a set that included just the eight songs, taking in “Come Into The Open” and “Shout Above The Noise” from their second album “Coming Up For Air” along with a pick from their debut. The double hit of “Silent Community” and the classic single “Don’t Dictate” went down a storm and lifted the good-natured enthusiasm a notch higher. The whole band really were superb, Pauline Murray particularly so, she discards her wide-brimmed hat to reveal a shock of peroxide blonde hair; she looks great and is in mighty fine voice too. They end their set with “Beat Goes On”, a song from their current must-have LP “Resolution” and the fact that it’s one of the highlights of the night speaks volumes for what a good place the band are in right now. No need for nostalgia when the age to come looks so promising.

Penetration at The Royal Albert Hall - Photo copyright by Steve White
The Skids at The Royal Albert Hall - Photo copyright by Steve White
I've never really liked the Royal Albert Hall as a venue for a Rock gig and although Penetration's sound suffered accordingly, I have to admit that The Skids suited the Royal Albert Hall down to a tee and their familiar anthemic songs filled the place perfectly. The band were passionate and heartfelt and like Penetration before them, seemed to be revelling in playing live and were bursting with energy and enthusiasm. Talking of energy, Richard Jobson in particular didn't stop moving, treating us to his whole repertoire of unique dance moves – part aerobics, part high-kicking karate and part dad-dancing - I was exhausted just watching him. At least he can laugh about it too as he mentions he saw a guy outside the venue who asked him if he was going to do some of his weird dancing tonight, “too right!” Jobbo says “and I hope he lost his ticket!” Jobson is humorous and sincere and he paid tribute to Pete Shelley before reminding us that his band had also suffered their own sad loss with the suicide of guitar genius Stuart Adamson. 

The Skids at The Royal Albert Hall - Photo copyright by Steve White
The Skids at The Royal Albert Hall - Photo copyright by Steve White
“TV Stars” may well be ‘the worse song The Skids ever wrote’, as Jobbo informs us tonight, but to see a huge crowd screaming “Albert Tatlock!” at the top of their voices is a sight and sound to behold. I reckon if you did a poll at the end of the night you might find a huge percentage voted “TV Stars” as their best song. Big Country’s Bruce Watson and his son Jamie take on the guitar duties and they are both bursting with a sheer infectious joy as they leap about the stage and throw shapes, doing justice to Stuart Adamson’s unique guitar sound, in particular on an atmospheric “Scared To Dance”. The great songs keep on coming “The Saints Are Coming”, “Of One Skin” and all those fabulous hits that wowed me on Top of The Pops when I was a kid – “Animation”, “Charade”, “Working For The Yankee Dollar” and of course “Masquerade” are all superb. Even two of my least favourite tracks, “Woman In Winter” and “Hurry On Boys” from their “Absolute Game” album are transformed into emotionally charged sing-alongs that send a shiver down my spine. Willie Simpson’s thunderous bass intro to “Into The Valley” may well be one of those iconic musical moments from any era or genre but like Penetration it’s not all about nostalgia. The Skids have an excellent new album out now called “Burning Cities” and they play a track from it tonight called “Kings of The New World Order” which shows that all those vital elements of the band that we have loved over the years are still very much alive and (high) kicking!

Buzzcocks at The Royal Albert Hall - Photo copyright by Steve White
Captain Sensible with Buzzcocks at The Royal Albert Hall - Photo copyright by Steve White
Buzzcocks had actually booked this show at The Royal Albert Hall before the unexpected and sad death of Pete Shelley last December. It was decided that the show must go on as a tribute to Pete and his legacy with the Buzzcocks. Original manager Richard Boon introduced the show and from then on, it was compèred by Paul Morley – whose first piece of music journalism was to write about the band for the NME. There is a nicely worded video message from Howard Devoto played over the big screen and he gives us an exclusive play of a rare track by Buzzkunst, the project he put together with Pete Shelley. It’s a nice touch despite the disappointment of realising that Howard would not be making an appearance. Buzzcocks appear on stage - Steve Diggle and the current bassist Chris Remington and drummer Danny Farrant along with guitarist Noko, who played in the re-formed Magazine and Luxuria with Howard Devoto, taking on Pete’s guitar parts.

Steve Garvey of Buzzcocks at The Royal Albert Hall - Photo copyright by Steve White
Dave Vanian with Buzzcocks at The Royal Albert Hall - Photo copyright by Steve White
It dawns on me just how vital Pete’s guitar parts were to Buzzcocks; it wasn’t just his instantly recognisable voice, Pete added a touch of the avant-garde that was a perfect counter balance to Steve Diggle’s more straight ahead Rock ‘n’ Roll Power chords. Shelley was an extremely underrated guitar player. “Fast Cars” is followed by “Promises” and then Diggle’s own “Why She’s a Girl From The Chainstore”. Much to everyone’s delight the ‘classic rhythm section’ of bassist Steve Garvey and drummer John Maher join in too and they were both superb and occasionally, there were times when the two drummers and two bassists were on stage together. We saw Steve Garvey and John at the Malcolm Garrett exhibition the week before where they joined Steve Diggle for a signing session. Buddy Ascott from The Chords finally managed to get John Maher to sign his bass drum skin, which he is going to auction off for the Roll out the Barrel Trust charity. You can read more about the exhibition and signing session at the Blog feature here

John Maher of Buzzcocks at The Royal Albert Hall - Photo copyright by Steve White
Tim Burgess with Buzzcocks at The Royal Albert Hall - Photo copyright by Steve White
Next up come the guest vocalists although I think it’s a bit strange as Steve Diggle stays centre stage and the singers are shunted to one side. Captain Sensible comes on and fishes a lyric sheet out of a plastic bag before singing "Boredom" in his usual audience baiting style. His colleague Dave Vanian hadn’t even learned the words to “What Do I Get?” but luckily, 5,000 people knew the words all too well. Thurston Moore added a much-needed shot of manic guitar energy to “Time’s Up” and aptly enough, “Noise Annoys” and his appearance was a real highlight. Pauline Murray and Richard Jobson returned to the stage and sang “Love You More” and “Fiction Romance” respectively but for me the highlights were Peter Perret of The Only Ones who performed “Why Can’t I Touch It?” and Tim Burgess of The Charlatans on “Sixteen Again” and “You Say You Don’t Love Me”. Maybe it was because their voices were more similar to Pete’s – but it just seemed to work and they both seemed thoroughly appreciative to be part of the show. 

Buzzcocks at The Royal Albert Hall - Photo copyright by Steve White
Thurston Moore with Buzzcocks at The Royal Albert Hall - Photo copyright by Steve White
At the end of the set, Pete’s widow Greta takes the stage to thank everybody but her appearance is overshadowed by a music journalist interrupting her with a drunken rant that leaves Greta standing there unsure of what to do next. It’s awkward and quite a few members of the crowd voice their displeasure at the situation in no uncertain words. It didn’t seem to show much respect for Greta or the occasion. Anyway, it was a small blip on an otherwise very special and emotional night and I hope that this will be the perfect opportunity to see the dignified closing of the Buzzcocks name. 
- RIP Pete Shelley 1955-2018.
Peter Perrett with Buzzcocks at The Royal Albert Hall - Photo copyright by Steve White
Buzzcocks & Friends at The Royal Albert Hall - Photo copyright by Steve White
Photos copyright and courtesy of Steve White. Thank you Steve. I hope that I will be able to include more of his excellent photography in the Blog in future and I would recommend checking out his Flickr page to see his stunning portfolio of live music photography. Some more photos (although not as good as Steve’s…) can be found at the Retro Man Blog Facebook page here and there are videos of all the bands and most of the Guest vocalists at our Retro Man Blog YouTube channel here. Fans of The Skids might like to check out our past features on the band at the archive link here. They include many superb Paul Slattery photos from 1979 and his "Scared To Dance" photo book and also from The Skids stunning 2017 reunion shows, including a trip down Dunfermline's memory lane with Richard Jobson. 

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