Pete Shelley

This musician is not to be confused with the 1970s singer Peter Shelley.

Pete Shelley (born Peter Campbell McNeish, 17 April 1955 in Leigh, Greater Manchester) is an English singer, songwriter and guitarist, best-known as the leader of Buzzcocks.



Buzzcocks were formed by Shelley and Howard Devoto shortly after the two met at an electronic music society at Bolton Institute of Technology (now the University of Bolton) in 1975.

During this time Shelley lived for a while at the college-owned house 54 Radcliffe Road, Bolton, where he was influenced by other students, wrote songs and practised playing music in the cellar. He was engaged for a time to fellow student Hilary Collins. His breakup with Hilary was highly traumatic but his emotional pain gave birth to some of his first groundbreaking work.

Devoto and Shelley travelled together to London to see The Sex Pistols. They debuted in 1976 in Manchester, opening for the Sex Pistols.

In 1977, they released their first EP, Spiral Scratch, on their own independent label, New Hormones. The song "Orgasm Addict" garnered attention in and beyond the Manchester punk scene but afterward singer Howard Devoto left the group. Shelley continued to front the band, creating such quintessential punk singles of the period as "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), until difficulties with their record company, and a dispute over the U.S. release of their greatest hits record, Singles Going Steady, brought Buzzcocks to a halt in 1981.

Solo career

Shelley's debut album Sky Yen was recorded in 1974 but remained unheard until March of 1980 when it was released on 12" vinyl in an edition of 1000 on Shelley's own label, Groovy Records. The original purpose of Sky Yen was as the soundtrack to the experimental film of the same name by Howard Devoto. 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 garnered comparisons to 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. The label was managed by Shelley cohorts Jon Savage and Linder Sterling, who also ran the Buzzcock's own label, New Hormones.

In 1981, Shelley released his first solo single, the song "Homosapien", which had originally been written for the next Buzzcocks LP. On this recording he returned to his original interests in electronic music and shifted emphasis from guitar to synthesizer. The song was banned by the BBC for "explicit reference to gay sex", which didn't stop it from becoming enormously popular in dance clubs in Europe and North America. At this time, Pete Shelley also 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 same 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 of 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" billed as "Homosapien II." The single featured four mixes of the new recording.

Shelley has also played with various other musicians during his career, including a stint with Pauline Murray of Penetration for her LP Pauline Murray and The Invisible Girls, who backed punk poet John Cooper Clarke. Shelley also collaborated with a band called Tiller Boys, which was comprised of assorted punk veterans, and Zip. He briefly reunited with Howard Devoto to make the LP Buzzkunst, released in 2002.

Shelley co-wrote music for the 2006 film, Brothers of the Head. 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.

Buzzcocks reform

In 1989, Buzzcocks reunited, and released a new full length recording, Trade Test Transmissions in 1993. They continue to tour and record, their most recent release being the CD Flat-Pack Philosophy in 2006. They toured with bands such as The Adored, The Strays, Lola Ray, and Easy Image.

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, with several of the aforementioned, at the 2005 UK Music Hall of Fame

References in popular culture

  • "Pete Shelley" is also the title of a short story by Patrick Marber contained in Speaking With the Angel, a short story collection edited by Nick Hornby. In the story, the narrator loses his virginity while listening to a Buzzcocks song.
  • Professional wrestler Patrick Martin adapted Shelley's surname into his ring name in homage to the Buzzcock's frontman.
  • Nashville, Tennessee singer/songwriter Tommy Womack has two cats, named Pete and Shelley.
  • Shelley was featured on the cover of the album Morbid Florist by Anal Cunt.





  • "Homosapien" (1981)
  • "I Don't Know What It Is" (1981)
  • "Qu'est-Ce Que C'est Que Ça" (1982)
  • "Telephone Operator" (1983) UK #66
  • "Millions Of People (No One Like You)" (1983) UK #94
  • "Never Again" (1984)
  • "Waiting For Love" (1986)
  • "On Your Own" (1986)
  • "I Surrender" (1986)
  • "Blue Eyes" (1986)
  • "Your Love" (1988)

Audio sample


External links

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