When I heard that the legendary BUZZCOCKS were playing in Exeter in February, I chanced my arm and emailed a bunch of questions off to their guitarist Steve Diggle, imagine my surprise when they landed in my inbox whilst I was sat on the cable car ride thingy cruising over the Thames one cold Sunday morning a few days before Christmas with my 7 year old son!
What did he think about the '100 days of Punk', where did he and the guys used to hang out in Manchester in the early days and who did he meet at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester when he first saw the SEX PISTOLS play there in 1976, read on and all answers will be revealed....
MM - I’ve been looking back over your colourful career, the best part of 40 years in the business, which years would you say you enjoyed the most and why?
SD - Over forty years....there are many memories, firstly all the great live shows we have played over the years from small clubs to massive arenas, there has been a lot of excitement. The early shows had the buzz of this new thing called 'punk' which brought the whole country alive, sometimes it would be mad and chaotic as venues didn't know how to control it and fans were to say the least, very enthusiastic especially with BUZZCOCKS as we had the great songs and were very tight right from the beginning, we knew we were different from the others. Also all the songs we wrote, I remember picking up an old out of tune acoustic guitar and writing a song called PROMISES that became BUZZCOCKS second biggest chart hit, that proved you didn't have to have fancy equipment and suddenly we were on Top of the Pops!
MM - I read that you’re launching a PledgeMusic campaign next month for a brand new studio album, plus a 'box set' of your last three solo albums, the whole idea of crowd funding is very ‘punk’, do you think that this funding idea would have ever gained momentum without the assistance of the internet?
SD - I am doing a new STEVE DIGGLE solo album via pledge crowd funding, it's almost like going back to the beginning when we released the Spiral Scratch EP ourselves. These are modern times and the internet has been responsible for the demise of record sales and record companies, so this is a positive way of using the internet to turn things around and have the fans pre-order the record by pledge crowd funding, it also means you have control of what you release.
MM - What was your reaction when the cover version of ‘Ever Fallen in Love….’ by The Fine Young Cannibals reached #9 in the charts? Was it a nice revenue stream?
SD - Fine Young Cannibals cover? I have no interest in it.
MM - Being from Manchester, how did the Northern scene compare to the London (Southern) scene and was there any ‘snobbery’ between the two?
SD - Being from Manchester we got to know the Sex Pistols, The Clash , The Damned and The Jam very early as we played on the same bills that really were the nucleus of punk rock in 1976 so we were all brothers in arms, there was no North South divide for us, that's for more straight forward people!
MM - London had Kings Road, where was the ‘in’ place to be seen in Manchester back in the day?
SD - London had Kings Road, Manchester had a club on Oxford Road called 'Rafters' where a lot of people used to meet. There were clothes shops sprinkled about the town although there wasn't many that sold punk clothes.
MM - The Clash's Mick Jones once said that punk only lasted for 100 days in its purest form, would you agree with this?
SD - Mick Jones did say the purest form of punk lasted 100 days and I agree with him, it had to change and each group became more individual musically and moved from the general umbrella of 'punk', in fact, there became more interpretations of punk than the bible!
MM - In April 1976, Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto booked the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester where the Sex Pistols played, legend states that everyone in the room that night went on to form a band, who do you remember being in the crowd that night?
SD - I went down to meet a guy outside the Free Trade Hall to start a band and met Malcom Mclaren who introduced me to Pete and Howard, I never met the guy I went to see! We all had a rehearsal the next day then we needed a drummer which we found a week later and that was where the BUZZCOCKS really began. It says on Wikipedia otherwise but that's wrong. Three weeks later we opened for the Pistols at the same place.
MM - Later in 1976, you worked with Martin Hannett to produce the ‘Spiral Scratch’ EP, what do you remember most about the process and how was Martin as a producer?
SD - Martin Hannett was the Phil Specter of Manchester, although when we met him, I am not sure if he had been in a studio before when we were making Spiral Scratch, every time the studio engineer made it sound good, he would undo it and turned it into a 'terrible beauty', which turned out to be a stroke of genius!
MM - You started off playing bass but moved onto guitar when Devoto left the band, had you always been able to play both or was a crash course in the guitar required to bring you upto speed?
SD - I am a guitar player who could play a bit of bass when I met Pete and Howard they were looking for a bass player so that's how I got started. Howard only played 10 shows and left within four months so when this happened I moved to my rightful place on guitar and we did the first song I brought to the band 'FAST CARS', I had the music and chorus and left the verse at home so they had some words for the verse, then Howard left and I became a singer and guitarist and this put on the road of the classic line up with the two guitars and vocals with the classic "Oh Oh" backing vocals!
MM - Last but by no means least, have YOU ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with?
SD - I fell in love with the songs I was writing, FAST CARS, AUTONOMY, PROMISES. HARMONY IN MY HEAD, SICK CITY SOMETIMES and many many more and it's been a great journey so far and a pleasure to have inspired so many people along the way!
We'd like to thank Steve for taking time out on a Sunday morning to answer our questions, we wish him every success with the Pledge Music campaign for his new studio album, the bands 40th anniversary tour and all the best for a very merry festive break!
You can catch BUZZCOCKS playing live at the Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre on February 12th, more info and tickets can be found HERE
Interview by Steve Muscutt