Pete Shelley

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Pete Shelley
Shelley in Australia, 2013
Background information
Birth name Peter Campbell McNeish
Born (1955-04-17)17 April 1955
Leigh, Lancashire, England
Origin Manchester, England
Died 6 December 2018(2018-12-06) (aged 63)
Tallinn, Estonia
Occupation(s) Musician, singer, songwriter, guitarist
Instruments Vocals, guitar
Years active 1976–2018
Labels I.R.S., Cooking Vinyl, Island
Associated acts

Pete Shelley (17 April 1955 – 6 December 2018), born Peter Campbell McNeish, was an English singer, songwriter and guitarist. He formed Buzzcocks with Howard Devoto in 1976, and was the lead singer and guitarist from 1977 when Devoto left, releasing "Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)" in 1978. The band broke up in 1981, reforming in 1989. Shelley also had a solo career; his song "Homosapien" charted in the US in 1981.


Shelley was born to Margaret and John McNeish at 48 Milton Street, in Leigh, Lancashire. His mother was an ex-mill worker in the town and his father was a fitter at Astley Green Colliery. He had a younger brother, Gary.[1]


Shelley formed Buzzcocks with Howard Devoto[2] after they met at the Bolton Institute of Technology (now the University of Bolton) in 1975[3] and subsequently travelled to High Wycombe, near London, to see the Sex Pistols.[4] The band included bass guitarist Steve Diggle and drummer John Maher; they made their first appearance in 1976 in Manchester, opening for the Sex Pistols.[5]

In 1977 Buzzcocks released their first EP, Spiral Scratch, on their independent label, New Hormones.[6] When Devoto left the band in February 1977, Shelley took over as the lead vocalist and chief songwriter.[7] Working with the producer Martin Rushent, the band created the punk/new wave singles "Orgasm Addict", "What Do I Get?" and "Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)",[6][8] along with three LPs: Another Music in a Different Kitchen (1978), Love Bites (1978) and A Different Kind of Tension (1979).[9] Difficulties with their record company and a dispute with Virgin Publishing over the UK release of their greatest hits record, Singles Going Steady, brought the band to a halt in 1981.[10]

Solo career

Shelley's solo debut album Sky Yen was recorded in 1974 but remained unheard until it was released on 12" vinyl on Shelley's own label, Groovy Records, in March 1980. It was recorded as a continuous piece of music using a purpose-built oscillator, and used layered electronics and playback speed manipulation to achieve its experimental feel.[11][12] Rooted in electronic music, it has been compared with krautrock.[13] 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.[14] After these releases, Groovy Records never released another album.[15]

In 1981 Shelley released his first solo single, the song "Homosapien", produced by Rushent. On this recording he returned to his original interests in electronic music and shifted emphasis from guitar to synthesiser; Rushent's elaborate drum machine and synthesiser programming laid the groundwork for his next production, the chart-topping album Dare by the Human League.[16][17] "Homosapien" was banned by the BBC for "explicit reference to gay sex".[18] In the US dance chart, "Homosapien" peaked at number fourteen.[19] It was at this time that Shelley talked about his bisexuality,[20] which had been implicit in many of the songs he had written, but now came to wider attention due to "Homosapien" and the BBC ban. The single was followed by an LP of the same title.[21][22]

Shelley released his second LP XL1 in 1983 on Genetic Records. As well as the minor hit "Telephone Operator", the album included a computer program for the ZX Spectrum with lyrics and graphics that displayed in time to the music. XL1 was produced by Rushent and Shelley.[23]

Pete Shelley singing with Buzzcocks at Shepherds Bush Empire, 30 January 2009

In June 1986 Shelley released the single "Never Again", followed by the album Heaven and the Sea. In 1987 he followed the album with a new song, "Do Anything", for the film Some Kind of Wonderful. He composed the theme music for the intro of the Tour de France on Channel 4, which was used from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s.[24]

Shelley recorded a new version of "Homosapien", called "Homosapien II", in 1989. The single featured four mixes of the new recording.[25] He played with various other musicians during his career, including the Invisible Girls who backed punk poet John Cooper Clarke.[26] Shelley also formed a short-lived band called the Tiller Boys.[27] He briefly reunited with Howard Devoto to make the LP Buzzkunst, released in 2002.[2] Shelley appeared on the 2005 debut EP by the Los Angeles band the Adored,[28] who toured with Buzzcocks the following year.[29]

Buzzcocks reform

Buzzcocks reunited in 1989 and released a new full-length album, Trade Test Transmissions, in 1993.[30] They continued to tour and record and released the album The Way in 2014.[31] 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.[32] Shelley performed the song live at the 2005 UK Music Hall of Fame.[33]

Personal life and death

Shelley was open about his bisexuality. Diggle suggested that his earlier same sex encounters were "a phase",[34] but Shelley continued to identify as bisexual in later life.[35] He was married in 1991 and divorced in 2002. His son was born in 1993.[2]

Shelley moved to Tallinn, Estonia, in 2012 with his second wife, Greta, an Estonian, preferring the less hectic pace there to London.[36] He died there of a suspected heart attack on the morning of 6 December 2018. His brother, Gary McNeish, announced his death on Facebook.[37][38]



  • Sky Yen (1980) Groovy Records
  • Hangahar (1980) Groovy Records
  • Homosapien (1981) Genetic-Island/Arista
  • XL1 (1983) Island/Arista (UK #42)
  • Heaven and the Sea (1986) Mercury
  • Cinema Music and Wallpaper Sounds (2016) (Caroline True Records)[39]


  • "Homosapien" (1981) Genetic-Island/Arista (AUS #4) (CAN #6) (US Dance #14)
  • "I Don't Know What Love Is" (1981) Genetic-Island/Arista (US Dance #22)
  • "Witness the Change" (1981) (US Dance #63)
  • "Qu'est-Ce Que C'est Que Ça" (1982)
  • "Homosapien" (1982) Genetic-Island/Arista
  • "Telephone Operator" (1983) Island/Arista (US Dance #22) (UK #66)
  • "Millions Of People (No One Like You)" (1983) (UK #94)
  • "Never Again" (1984) Immaculate
  • "Waiting For Love" (1986) Mercury
  • "On Your Own" (1986) Mercury (US Dance #10)
  • "Blue Eyes" (1986) Mercury
  • "I Surrender" (1986) Mercury
  • "Your Love" (1988)
  • "Homosapien. Pete Shelley Vs. Power, Wonder and Love" (1989) Immaculate[40]


  1. ^ Gomm, Brian (1 July 2009). "University honours Buzzcock Pete". Leigh Journal. Newsquest Media Group.
  2. ^ a b c Lester, Paul (1 March 2002). "Part Time Punks". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 March 2018.
  3. ^ McGartland 2017, 309–316.
  4. ^ McGartland 2017, 353.
  5. ^ McGartland 2017, 365.
  6. ^ a b Taylor 2006, p. 50.
  7. ^ McGartland 2017, 691.
  8. ^ McGartland 2017, 89.
  9. ^ Brackett & Hoard 2004, p. 124.
  10. ^ McGartland 2017, 1848–1866.
  11. ^ McGartland 2017, 150, 305.
  12. ^ Wilkinson, Damon; Fitzgerald, Todd; Day, Rebecca (6 December 2018). "Buzzcocks lead singer Pete Shelley dies of suspected heart attack aged 63". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  13. ^ Sky Yen from
  14. ^ Beaudoin, Jedd. "Various Artists: The Total Groovy". Popmatters. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  15. ^ McGartland 2017, 1295–1303, 3531.
  16. ^ Watts, Peter. "Pete Shelley - the Genetic Years". Uncut. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  17. ^ "Martin Rushent: Producer". Sound on Sound. February 2007. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  18. ^ Lynskey, Dorian (29 June 2007). "Readers recommend: songs about homosexuality". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  19. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Hot Dance/Disco: 1974–2003. Record Research. p. 232.
  20. ^ Michallon, Clemence (7 December 2018). "Pete Shelley death: Lead singer of Buzzcocks dies, aged 63". The Independent. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  21. ^ Shapiro, Gregg (26 March 2003). "Queerly Independent: The Best of New Queer Music Isn't Finding Home at the Major Labels". Windy City Times. Retrieved 9 September 2007.
  22. ^ Blistein, Jon (6 December 2018). "Buzzcocks Singer Pete Shelley Dead at 63". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  23. ^ McGartland 2017, 1911, 3516.
  24. ^ Murray, Scott (28 October 2011). "The Joy of Six: sporting theme tunes". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  25. ^ "Homosapien II (1989)". Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  26. ^ "The Invisible Girls". NTS. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  27. ^ "The Tiller Boys". Factory Records. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  28. ^ "The Adored - A New Language". Punk News. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  29. ^ Gibson, Will. "Buzzcocks Review". BBC Berkshire. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  30. ^ "Trade Test Tramsmissions". Pitchfork. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  31. ^ "The Way". Pitchfork. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  32. ^ Lynskey, Dorian (22 November 2005). "Group effort". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  33. ^ Dickson, Andrew (23 September 2005). "Music legends unite for Peel tribute single". London: Guardian News and Media.
  34. ^ Kenneth Partridge,Why the Hell Aren’t The Buzzcocks in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?, Vice, 5 November 2014
  35. ^ Grant Smithies,Buzzcocks: Breathing life into punk's cold corpse,, 9 March 2016
  36. ^ "Buzzcocks frontman Pete Shelley living in Estonia". Postimees. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  37. ^ "Buzzcocks singer Pete Shelley dies at 63". BBC News. 6 December 2018. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  38. ^ Flanagan, Andrew. "Buzzcocks' Pete Shelley Dies At 63". NPR. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  39. ^ McGartland 2017, 3504–3531.
  40. ^ McGartland 2017, 3481–3504.


  • Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian David (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • McGartland, Tony (2017). Buzzcocks – The Complete History (Kindle ed.). London: Music Press.
  • Taylor, Steve (2006). The A to X of Alternative Music. London: A&C Black.

External links

  • Interview with Pete Shelley
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