R.I.P. Pete Shelley, former frontman of the Buzzcocks and “Homosapien” hitmaker, age 63

By on December 6, 2018

We’re saddened by the news today that Pete Shelley — the legendary leader of the one of England’s great bands, the Buzzcocks, who also had hits as a solo artist including “Homosapien” — has passed away from a sudden heart attack, at age 63.

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“It’s with great sadness that we confirm the death of Pete Shelley, one of the UK’s most influential and prolific songwriters and co-founder of the seminal original punk band Buzzcocks,” his management team confirmed this sad news in a statement today (he died in Estonia on Thursday, December 6, 2018).

“Pete’s music has inspired generations of musicians over a career that spanned five decades and with his band and as a solo artist, he was held in the highest regard by the music industry and by his fans around the world.”

Above is a video we found of Shelley performing “Homosapien” on “Cue the Music” — the date listed is 1986, although the IMDB listing for the UK TV series says it aired from 1991-1995, so we’re not sure what to say about that.

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Shelley was born Peter Campbell McNeish on April 17, 1955, in Leigh (near Wigan), in Lancashire, England.

Shelley formed his first band, the Buzzcocks with former Buzzcocks singer Howard Devoto in 1976.

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The two first met at the Bolton Institute of Technology (now the University of Bolton) in 1975, and became friends, traveling to see the Sex Pistols at High Wycombe, near London. Their meeting was depicted in the film 24 Hour Party People.

The Buzzcocks debuted in Manchester, England, opening for the Sex Pistols, and issued their first EP, Spiral Scratch, on their own independent label New Hormones in 1977.

Shortly after its release, Devoto left the group, in February 1977, leaving Shelley as the de-factor leader, lead singer and chief songwriter.

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The Buzzcocks — working with the producer Martin Rushent — recorded a handful of the greatest short little punk/new wave singles that helped define some of the era’s best music, including “Orgasm Addict,” “What Do I Get?,” and “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve),” and they released three full-length releases, Another Music in a Different Kitchen (1978), Love Bites (1978), and A Different Kind of Tension (1979).

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In January 2019, their first two albums — Another Music In A Different Kitchen and Love Bites — are being re-issued for their 40th anniversary, although belatedly.

A “best of” collection — Singles Going Steady — collected the best of their recordings released as singles, but its release also signaled the end of the band, who would break up in 1981.

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Have a look at our previous Night Flight blog about the Buzzcocks appearing on the Saturday morning kids TV show Fun Factory,” lip-synching along to their not-yet-released single “Are Everything,” a track they’d reportedly recorded under the influence of LSD.

Here’s another blog we did for a two-day concert called “Cities in the Park,” which was held Manchester, England’s Heaton Park in the summer of 1991.

The Buzzcocks are seen performing “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” in concert.

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Shelley returned to his solo career, and other recording projects he’d been involved with while also with the Buzzcocks.

With John Cooper Clarke he was one of the Invisible Girls, and on his own independent label, Groovy, he released early recordings he’d made in 1980 — Sky Yen and Free Agents, the latter subtitled £3.33, which was also its original price — which were comprised primarily of improvised sounds, tape loops and feedback (much of Sky Yen had originally been recorded in 1974).

Another of his side projects was the Tiller Boys, whose recordings were released on New Hormones., the Buzzcocks’ original label.

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Shelley’s first big solo hit, however, was “Homosapien” (once again produced by Martin Rushent), but the track was banned by the BBC for what they said was an “explicit reference to gay sex.”

Nevertheless, “Homosapien” became a huge charting hit across Europe and North America, peaking at #14 on Billboard‘s U.S. dance charts.

Shelley followed up the single “Homosapien” with an album release with the same title.

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His 1983 album XL1 — again produced by Rushent — had a predominantly disco feel, and after releasing 1986’s Heaven & The Sea he formed a new band, called ZIP, with Gerrard Cookson and Mark Sanderson.

In 1989, Shelley re-formed the Buzzcocks, recording Trade Test Transmissions a few years later, in 1993, followed by All Set (1996) and Modern (1999).

Then, in October 2000, Shelley reunited with the Buzzcocks’ co-founder Howard Devoto under the name Buzzkunst, recording a well-received album.

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All total the re-formed Buzzcocks produced six more albums, with the most recent being 2014’s The Way.

Shelley — whose last solo album, Cinema Music and Wallpaper Sounds, was released in 2016 — had continued to tour with a reunited Buzzcocks, which had dates scheduled through June 2019.

R.I.P. Pete Shelley.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.