Thursday, June 30, 2011

BUZZCOCKS: Their Last US Tour (1980)

Text by Joan McNulty, 1981
Introductory text by Robert Barry Francos, 2011, © FFanzeen
Other images from the Internet

The following article about The Buzzcocks’ East Coast tour was originally published in FFanzeen magazine, issue #8, in 1981. It was conducted by Joan McNulty, who was dating Pete Shelley at the time. She also published their official fan magazine, Harmony in My Head.

When Joan did this interview, her photographer friend Gay Fast took a photo of Willie at the top of a staircase wearing one of my
FFanzeen tee-shirts, which I still have and treasure. Oh, and I also have the photo of Pete Shelley.

The only time I saw the Buzzcocks play was at the Ritz show Joan describes below, with my pal Alan Abramowitz. It was indeed packed as I knew it would be (I didn’t even bring my camera because, as I correctly figured, I couldn’t get near the stage), but my memory of it is dampened by the over-zealousness of a fan behind me who kept stepping on my heels, purposefully bonking into me, and screaming in my ear (leaning into it). I don’t remember exactly why she was out to be a nuisance, but she delivered. At one point as we were leaving, she was frustrated that she did not achieve whatever it was she was aiming for, so she tried to kick me in a sensitive spot. Fortunately, she telegraphed the move and I somehow managed to catch her foot, lift it up, and she ended up on the floor. Then Alan and I left the building.

I did get to hang out with Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle, though, when I was videographer on a shoot for Alan’s cable access show, Videowave at some New York city hotel in December 1991. They were fun to hang out with for the afternoon.

Oh, and just to be clear about something Joan says near the end, I know from experience that yes, she does give terrible directions. While I haven’t seen her since the mid-‘80s when I had a lovely dinner over her parent’s house, I do know that she still lives in the Boston area. – RBF, 2011

Sunday, 11/16/80: Day 1
It was a windy, freezing afternoon and I was headed to the TWA [airline d. 2001] terminal at Boston’s Logan Airport to pick up Buzzcocks. Their flight was to come in around 3:30, and shortly after I got there, Michael Plen from IRS Records (the group’s American label) arrived as well. Within the hour, the band, sound/light crews, and tour manager Peter Monks, had gone through customs. Peter, Michael and the crew spilt from us to go and pick up the trucks and equipment in Somerville. In the meantime, I drove everyone else back into Boston to the Bradford Hotel, where after all the luggage was dropped off, we began to get better acquainted with one another and the hotel bar. A short while later, the rest of the crew joined us, and after a few more hours of steady drinking, we decided to call it a day, keeping in mind that the reason for their early arrival was to have excess time for interviews… and tomorrow’s schedule was already quite busy.

Monday, 11/17/80: Day 2
The day started off around 11:30 with an interview on The Late Risers Club at WMBR Cambridge. Albert O. was the host, and after quite an informative interview and the preview of Part 3 in the singles series, the band was asked to answer some teenbeat questions from people in the studio and people who had phoned in. A small excerpt:

Albert: Do any of you like girls?
Pete: It has been known.
Steve: Of course we like girls
Albert: They expected you to say no because after (the written question) they wrote, “What’s wrong with girls?” in capital letters.
Pete: Well, there’s two different things, you can say you like girls, but a few people know there’s lots of things wrong with them.
Albert: How often do you do your laundry?
Pete: It depends: if I go out to buy a shirt, I’ll buy a half a dozen of them, so…
Albert: Then you wear it once and throw it away?
Pete: No, then I’ll wait and stockpile them. I’ll wear them a day at a time and then I’ll just let them air out a little bit and then wear them again. Usually it’s about once every month or so.
Albert: What’s your favorite TV show?
Pete: In America, The Price is Right.
Albert: And isn’t Boston a great place?
Pete: Uh, if you say so; the thing is that you have to live here, we don’t…

After we finished, the photographer from Boston Rock [magazine] brought the band out in front of the Walker Memorial Building at MIT to take pictures for the upcoming article, and since we were all starving, we decided to go back to the hotel for something to eat and do the interview afterwards. After lunch, photographer Gay Fast, Steve, John, Paddy and the Boston Rock crew went up to Steve’s room to start the interview while Pete and I went back to his room so he could do a phone interview with a Rhode Island magazine, which lasted about half an hour. When it was finished, we went back to Steve’s room for more BR photos and then we returned with Marc to finish Pete’s side of the interview. Pete’s infatuation with animal / wildlife shows kept Marc reeling during the interview as he proceeded to explain how aphids and lobsters mate… After an hour or so of such ramblings, we decided we needed to stop in the bar, where we ran into everyone else.

At 5:00, we left everyone in a rush to catch Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood on TV (they couldn’t believe it was a real show) while Gay, Steve, John and Paddy left in Gay’s car to drive around Boston and check out the sights. I returned home to change and Michael Plen picked me up so we could get the band to their next interview on WERS Nightclub. When we arrived at the Bradford, Pete was the only one there, and he said Gay had called and said she’d bring the rest of the band there in her car. We got to the station and host Tami Heide began her interview with Pete, which continued for quite some time, fact being that the rest had been discovering “Happy Hour” at the bars, and Gay (although she refused to admit it) had no idea how to get to the station, and since it had begun to snow steadily, made it that much worse driving anywhere. The interview was going smoothly and all of a sudden, the station went on the blink, cutting out… and finally the transmitter blew and thus the interview ended abruptly. At about that moment, the lost crew finally arrived, covered with snow and out of breath from a multiple block run. The band spent some time chatting to some fans outside the studio and we then proceeded to head to WBCN for the next interview.

Being we had some time to kill, we decided to stop off and have a few drinks in the Fenway Motel. We got to the station around 12:30 to be greeted by the famous [WBCN DJ] Oedipus who, after making sure everyone had a beer, proceeded to discuss further plans while Jimmy Mack, the station’s music director, passed the Tension LP around for all of us to autograph. When the interview was finished, we piled into an adjoining studio so the band could do some station IDs, which almost became impossible as we were all exhausted, drunk, and silly. A short while later, we said our goodbyes and dropped the band back off at the hotel to get some rest, the following day being the start of the tour.

Tuesday, 11/18/80: Day 3
The first stop on the tour was Amherst, Massachusetts (a college town – University of Mass Is located there), in a large club called the Rusty Nail, located in a remote section. It took Gay and I three and a half hours to get there (an hour and a half ride by most people’s standards) and when we arrived, we met everyone at the Howard Johnson Motor Inn where the band was just finishing up an interview with a paper. We proceeded down to the dining room to grab some dinner and discuss the night’s show. The band seemed to be a bit nervous as it had been a while since they’d played live, especially here, so some champagne was ordered so everyone could try and unwind.

When we arrived at the club, it was already pretty packed (with a typical collegiate crowd). While the band made their way backstage, I decided to set the tape recorder up and Gay went to take a look around at the layout because she was approached by a man who worked at the college newspaper and was asked if I’d give him some background on Buzzcocks and answer some questions before the show. The band took to the stage about 45 minutes later and although the first few songs were a bit shaky, they soon regained their confidence and followed through with the new parts, as well as a long string of old favorites. The crowd brought them back for two encores and, all in all, the evening turned out to be a good start.

We got into a conversation with some fans standing in the back and a short while later finally made it backstage. A reporter from a magazine (which I can’t remember) made his way back to do a short interview with the band. After having difficulty opening his beer (instead of using the opener attached to the wall, which we surmised he just didn’t see), he attempted to open it on the door handle, and then sped nervously through his questions only to realize that when he finished, he had forgotten to put batteries in the recorder. John, trying to be of help, suggested he go home and put batteries in, that way when he rewound the tape he could listen back to the interview. He quickly thanked everyone and left, while Gay and I got questioned as to whether most Americans were like him. After making numerous excuses, we got started on our long ride home.

Wednesday, 11/18/80: Day 4
Since I wasn’t organized enough to continue on the tour from the night before (I left my luggage at home) I had to take the train down to Willimantic, Connecticut, for tonight’s show. After I checked into the motel, I made my way up to Pete’s room where everyone was gathered, discussing the trip they had made earlier in the afternoon to the nearby mall, and how they got talked into staying a while at the record store there to sign autographs. A short while later a group of people from WRTC in Hartford showed up to do an interview, and we all got into a long conversation about music and radio, which went on for a couple of hours, in the middle of which Gay showed up unexpectedly, having decided at the last minute she’d rather be at the show than at work.

Shaboom was the name of the club for the night’s show, located way out in the middle of nowhere, and when we arrived it was already full. It was a strangely laid out hall, fact being that the ceiling was very low and the stage unusually high, so if you weren’t five rows up in front, you couldn’t see the band’s heads. Gay (who was on the side of the stage shooting photos) and I, after a short while, retreated to the back of the club and somewhat cooler air. The band encored two times, and after the show went backstage. There was a large gathering of fans waiting to meet the band, so after they had a chance to relax, Peter Monks told the person at the backstage door to let everyone file in, in a group at a time, so they’d have a chance to talk with them all. This lasted a couple of hours, after which we went back to the motel and watched some late night TV and tried to block out the screams coming from Paddy’s room. We decided to turn in and get some sleep.

Thursday, 11/20/80: Day 5
Having both the day and night free, after breakfast, we began our drive to New York. We arrived at the Gramercy Park Hotel mid-afternoon, and after we had checked in, we gathered in the hotel bar (to many of us a favorite place – very intimate) to talk for the remainder of the afternoon. Since it seemed like it was celebrity week in New York, in the bar along with ourselves were some of Rockpile, Captain Beefheart’s band, and the Banshees san Siouxsie… so there were plenty of people to talk with. Richard Boone, the group’s manager, had just flown over from England, so he joined us late in the afternoon.

Shortly after we moved into the adjoining dining room to have dinner, after which the group went on to catch David Bowie in the play The Elephant Man (which was sold out, but Michael had reserved tickets for them earlier) while the rest of us retired back to the bar to discuss the tour and upcoming dates.

When the band returned, we decided to go out for the night, first stop being the Ritz as the band wanted to see the size and type of place they’d be playing later in the week. For a Thursday night it had a medium crowd (the Rockats playing) and the video at least was entertaining. We stayed a while and piled back in the car (nine of us) to go to the opening night of the Peppermint Lounge where, after we arrived, we were informed we’d have to wait in line with the others (and we had personal invitations… NY doormen…), so we said the hell with it and left. Half of us went back to the hotel and the rest went to the Mudd Club to catch the Bush Tetras. Another day…
Friday, 11/21/80: Day 6
After breakfast, we split up in groups while some of us went out record buying and shopping… so by the time we started our drive to Long Island for the night’s show at My Father’s Place, we were already running late. The heavy late afternoon traffic was no help, so when we arrived, there was only a short time for a soundcheck. We all went to a nearby steak house for dinner (taking up an entire corner of the place) and the staff from MFP sent over a case of Heinekens. We stalled through dinner as we were waiting for the arrival of Michael from IRS, who was to take the band to a radio station interview, and who was delayed a few hours, knocking us back off schedule for the night. The band did the interview, even getting to play their own personal favorites, and then we rushed back to make it in time for the show. Michael (not the world’s best driver), nearly smashed the car into a stone wall and were lucky to get back alive. The place was sold out when we arrived and Buzzcocks put on a great show, including three encores, the funniest of which during “Times Up,” the lines were changed to:

I was smoking in the smoking room
I was living in the living room
Now I’m dying in the dining room
Waiting for Mike Plen’s like waiting
For the man on the moon…

The backstage room was as small as a closet and it was crammed with fans and well-wishers, which took hours before we could leave. We drove back to the Gramercy late that night and went straight to bed.

Saturday, 11/22/80: Day 7
We checked out of the Gramercy and began our drive to [Cherry Hill,] New Jersey for the show at Emerald City [Now the corporate headquarters of Subaru America – RBF, 2011]. A stop for a late breakfast at Howard Johnson got us sidetracked at a computer Biorhythm machine (where we learned that Peter Monks’ sex life was a total wreck) and that, coupled with terrible directions, got us there late. We checked into the Rickshaw Inn (interesting place [demolished in 2002 – RBF, 2011]) and rushed over to the soundcheck. When we returned to the Inn about an hour later, a chauffeur-driven limousine was waiting to take the band to the Rock Ages Flea Market (a type of record collectors convention) where they were expected for an interview with a station transmitting live from there. Arriving some three hours late (someone gave us the wrong time schedule), we were greeted by the promoters and a gathering of fans. The interview went smoothly and the band spent time talking with fans and signing autographs before deciding to shop around. Paddy got his hands of some Cream LPs to complete his collection, Steve picked up some pretty groovy sunglasses, and Pete got some multi-designed prism paper which, upon arrival back at the hotel, he sat up under the fluorescent light in the bathroom to create a rainbow effect.

We went down to dinner, accompanied by numerous bottles of champagne and then we went pack to Pete’s room with three people from Newsound magazine for an interview. All three were very nice and we engaged in conversation and photo-taking up until it was time to leave for the show. We arrived at Emerald City, dropped our belongings backstage, and went out to the floor to have a look around. The fans seemed to be extremely friendly (possibly because I can’t be objective as the EC is a personal favorite of mine), and the lighting and sound is incredibly precise. It’s a huge place, but well set up for viewing from any corner – and it was packed full of Buzzcock fanatics. No fan was to be disappointed as the gig clicked with razor-tight precision. From the second they took the stage they whipped the huge crowd into a frenzy. When it was all over, I’m sure there was no one who didn’t believe. We went backstage, and talked with fans for a short while and proceeded back to the hotel exhausted. Steve, Paddy and John were interviewed until the early morning hours by a magazine, while the rest of us turned in to catch up on lost sleep.

Sunday, 11/23/80: Day 8
After a huge breakfast, we split up into two cars and began our drive back to New York and the Gramercy. We arrived mid-afternoon and shortly thereafter were met by some people from New York Rocker for an interview. A while later we gathered in the hotel bar with some friends to chat, and an interviewer from Relix magazine joined us to ask some questions. Before dinner, we made our way to the Ritz for the soundcheck (on time!) and were informed that Human Sexual Response from Boston were replacing the Rattlers – the support band for this tour – as they were banned from playing there.

When the soundcheck was finished, Steve, Gay, John and a friend left for Benihana’s [restaurant] where they discovered they had a great liking for sake. Pete and I headed to the hotel restaurant for steaks and we all met back later in the lobby to start out for the show. When we arrived, the Ritz was jammed with an over-sold crowd and the heat was close to unbearable. After the usual hassling by the Ritz staff concerning our wanting to tape the show (permission and all – we were denied), Richard, Michael and I attempted to find somewhere to stand in the back where it was a little cooler, but it was impossible as we were packed in like sardines. From the start of the show to the finish, the crowd went crazy. Despite the conditions, everyone was jumping around (it was hard to actually dance) and “I Believe” found us all screaming, “There is no love in this world anymore…” as the crowd had joined in on every chorus from the first song on. By the end of the show (including four encores, one of them dedicated to us) the fans looked to be exhausted, sweaty and happy.

By the time we made our way through the crowd to get backstage upstairs (half hour later), it was packed with fans waiting to get in to meet the band. Every time the door was opened, everyone crushed forward to try and squeeze in, and Richard actually had to grab me by the arm and pull me in through the sea of bodies. After everyone had a chance to rest awhile, the doorman started to let groups of fans through, and it wasn’t until after two hours that we finally emerged.

We were met by some students of a video school (I think) who had cameras set up in another room and wanted to shoot a short interview with the band, who obliged, and the rest of us sat down to chat while we waited. They were out about an hour later and we headed back to the hotel. We gathered in Peter Monk’s room for an after-show party, along with some fans and friends, and the drummer from Captain Beefheart’s band (a really nice guy with some fascinating inside stories about the Captain). Early morning we crawled back to our rooms to grab a few hours sleep.

Monday, 11/24/80: Day 9
After packing and a quick breakfast, we collected ourselves in the lobby to check out. Realizing that we were down to one car (since the next stop was Rhode Island and not everyone from the previous stops were joining us – including the person with the second car) and we had more people than would fit, Pete, Richard and I decided to take the 1:30 Amtrak there and the rest would drive. We ate lunch on the train, and numerous comic books later, we arrived in Providence, in the pouring rain. We grabbed a cab to the Holiday Inn and checked in (we arrived first as the others had done a bit of record buying in the Village before departing) and we decided to get some rest while waiting for the others. After they arrived, we made our way to the Brown University auditorium for the soundcheck and were greeted by a number of young fans and some early arriving friends (real fanatics) from Boston. Some sandwiches were brought up (which served in place of dinner) and we went back to the hotel to relax before the show. When we returned, a large gathering of people were there (some quite young, in fact), anxious for the start of the show. The auditorium had no seats and was medium size; therefore the acoustics were quite good. The show went really well and the fans seemed to really enjoy themselves (even the kids knew the words) and so did the band. A group of friends came backstage and we sat around for an hour or so discussing previous shows and the very important end-of-the-tour show the next night: Boston. Exhausted, we returned to the hotel to try to get a night’s sleep.

Tuesday, 11/25/80: Day 10
The wake-up call came around 11:00, and we gathered in the hallway with our luggage to make our way downstairs to check out. As we were heading towards the elevator, we were approached by two fans who had spent the night there in hopes of having a chance to meet the band, so we stopped to talk for a short while. We asked at the desk for the closest place to grab some breakfast and were given directions to a nearby Howard Johnson (is there really any other place to eat?) where we stopped, and after eating, began our drive to Boston. We arrived back at the Bradford mid-afternoon (this time it was my bad directions – you’d never know I was a native) and after we got settled, we went to the bar for a drink. It was election night [Ronald Reagan chosen for president – RBF, 2011], the place was jammed with people, so a short while later, we retired back upstairs to talk. A few hours later, we decided to go downstairs where the ballroom was located, to take a look around before the soundcheck. Large groups of people were already in line waiting and we made our way through to find a very large size hall with a totally unobstructed view and a good size stage.

When the band finally took to the stage for the check, shocks were coming through some of the instruments so, after checking out the wires to no avail, an electrician was sent for. The wait began. Hours passed and cancellation of the concert was discussed as it was getting late and the gathering of fans in the hallway outside were banging on the doors and getting a bit anxious. A short while later, the problem was solved and after a rushed check, we decided to go to the hotel restaurant for dinner.

Everyone was a little nervous because the night’s show was very important for many reasons: the last time Buzzcocks were scheduled to play Boston, they cancelled, which meant it had been two years since the last time they played. In the meanwhile, we had started the newsletter (Harmony In My Head) and done assorted radio specials… only to realize there was a huge fan following there and that, coupled with a lot of promotion concentrated on this show, made it extremely important that it turn out well. Although everyone was confident, watching the people file into the hall from where we were sitting did make things a little uneasy, so we went back upstairs to have a few drinks. The night being a three band bill, joining the Rattlers as support was La Peste from Boston, so we didn’t proceed downstairs until around 11:30, via the freight elevator. The band went backstage and Gay and I went wading through the immense crowd (including kids because it was an all-age show) to talk to some friends. The moment Buzzcocks took to the stage, our nervousness dissipated. Within seconds they had the crowd in a frenzy as they seared through both new and old favorites. The song list was as follows:

What Do I Get
Fast Cars
Fiction Romance
(dedicated to Oedipus at WBCN)
Everybody’s Happy
Ever Fallen in Love
Something’s Gone Wrong
Airwaves Dream
Strange Thing
Noise Annoys
What Do You Know
I Believe
Love You More
Times Up
Oh Shit

Again, during the chorus of “I Believe,” the audience joined in as it had every stop previous, making it a magic moment.

Another highlight came after the final encore when John knocked over his drumset and instruments were bashed around, and he then pulled the American flag from its stand and threw it on top of the wreckage. It couldn’t have been more perfect as it was the last night of the tour. Fans and friends jammed backstage for a champagne celebration and Michelle Kirsh from Take-It magazine was doing an interview with Pete in the corner of the room. We stayed backstage and chatted about the show for a while. Pete even gave some romantic advice to the editor of Take-It, who had recently split up with his girlfriend, and then went back upstairs with a group of friends to carry on for most of the night.

Wednesday, 11/26/80: Day 11 – Last Day
Michael came and rushed us out of bed around 11:30, as the band was expected to be at WBCN at 12:00. They were guests of Ken Shelton’s on Celebrity DJs of the Week. We arrived a little late, and after the introductions, the band got to go through the record library and pick out some favorite groups to play. Pete chose the Residents and the Walt Disney soundtrack to Dumbo the Elephant; Steve chose the Clash and XTC; Paddy chose Cream; and John, the Dance and the Seeds. During the playing of cuts and the talking in-between, Michael drove me back to my house to pick up my car as he was leaving afterwards to go back to New York and I had to drive everyone to the airport later that night.

By the time we got back to the station, they were wrapping things up so we said our goodbyes and made our way back to the hotel to grab some lunch. We went upstairs and moved all our luggage into one room and made our plans for the afternoon. Steve and Gay left to go shopping for bolo ties, and Pete and I made our way out to Medford to spend the day at the Child World toy store. It’s a huge place, almost as big as a warehouse, and by the time we made it back to the checkout counter, Pete had collected 80-some-dollars worth of toys, including a Monopoly game, a snap-together Good Year blimp, and assorted Mickey Mouse games. It was so much fun; I even ended up getting an Etch-A-Sketch.

We were supposed to meet in the lobby of the hotel before 5:00 (flight departure was at 7:30) and even though we left by 4:00 to get back in time, we got stuck in so much traffic we didn’t arrive ‘til 5:30, and everyone was in a panic. The rental car was filled with all the suitcases and everybody piled into my car and headed for the airport, which at rush hour took us extra time to get to as well. I drove to the door to drop everyone off and by the time I had parked the car, everyone had gotten their boarding passes and we made our way to the waiting room until departure time.

We reminisced about the tour and how well it had gone (even with the problems) and made plans for the next time they were coming. It was also very sad because we had all become good friends and we didn’t want to see them leave. Seven-thirty seemed to roll around quicker than usual that evening, and as the lines were filing to board, we kissed and hugged goodbye, and with a last wave, they were gone. All we were left with were memories of a wonderful time.

Now: The Altercockers
The Buzzcocks

Next time I heard from any Buzzcocks (letters aside) was late in March when I received a phone call from Pete Shelley informing me of the breakup. I felt a great sadness and an even greater anger that my dream of flipping on the car radio to hear “What Do I Get” blaring out might never come true. Any of their songs would have made the radio a better place, but that’s not to say a valuable contribution wasn’t made. Singles Going Steady doesn’t compete with any of the best Greatest Hits albums; it joins them, and as their manager Richard Boone once said, and I agree, every time you listen to the radio, you can hear snatches of “Love Bites”; and the list goes on and on..

Buzzcocks were the best thing to happen to pop music in the last decade; nostalgia for an age yet to come. And there is more to come. Pete Shelley has signed a new solo contract with an album slated for release this fall, full of wonderful, bright electro-pop tunes; Steve Diggle is busy in the studio working on his own solo material to put together for release in the upcoming future; Paddy Garvey has started a new band entitled Motivation who have been gigging around and hope to sign a new dead soon; John Maher has recently joined the group WAH!, as well as continuing studio and roadwork with Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls, and other assorted projects.

The future holds wonderful things. Believe…


  1. Hi. Enjoyed your article! Saw the Buzzcicks in Boston. Clarification: Reagan elected on Tuesday, November 4, 1980.

  2. Hi... excellent article. One correction--they were at the Paradise in July of '79 with Gang of Four (how's that for a double bill?). I was at that Bradford show--first time seeing them and it was mind-blowing.