Buzzcocks are back with a brand-new album for 2022. Steve Diggle and company previewed some new songs in April with the limited edition 10″ EP ‘Senses Out of Control’ and now they are ready to unveil their brand new album …and their first new studio offering since ‘The Way’ in 2014.
The legendary Manchester punk band needs little introduction. Back in 1977, they gave birth to a generation of independent labels with their debut EP ‘Spiral Scratch’. Thereafter, their melodic punk pop proved irresistible, leading to hit singles and three landmark albums. They broke up in 1981 but reunited in 1989 and have been going steady ever since.
Sadly, singer Pete Shelley passed away in 2018 but founder member and the band’s other singer/songwriter Steve Diggle has kept the flag flying. During the pandemic, Buzzcocks (Steve Diggle, guitar & vocals, Chris Remington, bass, Danny Farrant, drums) busied themselves with recording ‘Sonics In The Soul’. Recorded at Studio 7 in London, the album was co-produced by Steve himself with Laurence Loveless.
During a recent London trip, I was able to catch up for a chat with Steve Diggle about the new album and the longevity of Buzzcocks in the face of ever-changing musical and political times.
Steve Diggle: How are you?
Antihero Magazine: I’m good, man. I’m good. The band are just about to release their first studio album in quite a while.
Steve Diggle: Yeah.
Antihero Magazine: Why has it basically taken so long?
Steve Diggle: Well, I think it’s the first album in seven years. Isn’t it?
Antihero Magazine: Yeah.
Steve Diggle: Well, there are a couple of reasons. One is, it was hard to get Pete Shelley… The last one we did was called The Way. Pete didn’t want to do it. I said, “Let’s make it easy. Right? Five songs each. And then, it’s nice and easy. It’s 10 songs for an album.” We both went into the studio, and we had 10 songs each. That was that. And then, we were on tour all the time going to America. Before you know it, two years pass by, and that kind of thing happens when you’re on tour all year. We were touring every year, 80-90 shows a year. That goes like that. But it was hard to get him to write anyway. And then, of course, the next thing, he died.
Antihero Magazine: This must have put you in a difficult situation, now. Do I go on? What about all these songs we have?
Steve Diggle: Exactly. That was it. It was like we had ended the regular Buzzcocks. Of course, Pete died. We made that a tribute to him. And then, it was like we had some other songs The chaos and the pain of it, it was like, well, let’s do them. That was the catalyst. Well, we might as well go on. Yeah. Our manager said, “Do you want to do solo” because I’ve had a few solo albums out in between the Buzzcocks thing, I had a box set out, “do you want to go out as Steve Diggle and do your solo things?” I would have done Buzzcocks things, as well. I could have done that, as well, which would have given a little more leeway, actually, in some ways.
He said that. It was like, well, we had a single out. I said, “If we start touring,” and we did about 11 dates before Covid. And then, we had a single called Gotta Get Better. And the B-side is even better I think, Destination Zero. And then, it was Covid. We just spent time writing the thing. But during Covid, that’s when I wrote this album.
Antihero Magazine: It’s all your songs, yeah?
Steve Diggle: But it’s only me left, isn’t it? As Paul said, “the last man standing.”
Antihero Magazine: Let’s talk about the new material. Do you want to pick a few? Obviously, they’re all new and fresh and you want to talk about them all. But what would be the ones that…instantly stand out from the rest?
Steve Diggle: Well, obviously, we’ve got the singles, haven’t we, there? There’s a bunch about playing Manchester Rain. I like Bad Dreams. It’s really difficult. I like most of them. And You’ve Changed Everything Now which might be the next single. I kind of like the last one as well.
Well, I like them all, because I wrote it as well. I wanted to write it like proper 70s albums where you had to listen to the whole album. It’s like when you read a book. You start at the beginning. You got to get to the end to know what it’s about, rather than just a collection of songs. I thought I needed to open a fast one. First, we’re all rock. Then, it’s like, now, we’re going down a bit and digging a bit deeper and it lifts a bit, but it gets a bit deeper. I’d start halfway through it. I’d write like that, really, thinking, let’s make this a whole journey. And it was this Sonics in the Soul, I needed a bit of density and a bit of heaviness in it. That was my thinking of this album.
Antihero Magazine: What about your own creative writing process? As you get older, do you look for sources of inspiration from different places or are they still the same subjects that you focus on?
Steve Diggle: Well, obviously, I don’t mess with my brain coming right from the hard Covid period. But also, a guy said to me, he’s like, and I never thought of it like this, really, he said, describing the country as it is right now, he’s somewhere, it’s because you’ve got Experimental Farm, Don’t Mess With My Brain, which wasn’t just about Covid. This is about all the servants we have in the government at the moment. And this Tory government over the last number of years, different prime ministers, different… All that stuff.
Antihero Magazine: It doesn’t make a difference, does it? They change the face at the top. And it’s still all the same bullshit at the end of the day.
Steve Diggle: Well, a lot of confusion with people. And this idea of being controlled all the time. This album mentions a lot about control and that, things like that which we’ve all been feeling, I think. That comes in really. And then, the philosophical one, Nothingless World, which is just a nice tune, really. But it’s “nothing means nothing and nothing as well.” It’s kind of philosophical thinking, really.
Antihero Magazine: Have you got live dates, then, lined up?
Steve Diggle: Yeah, they’re just booking them all now.
Antihero Magazine: You don’t know what songs off this you’ll be playing live?
Steve Diggle: Oh, yeah. Well, we’ve been playing all year. We’ve done quite a few festivals and we’re doing gigs. And we did some small places as a test. We’ve been playing three songs off there. And sometimes, if there’s time, four songs. It’s been amazing, really, because I’m thinking these people don’t know these songs.
And they’ve loved them. And that’s from almost the beginning of the year, we’ve been playing three of those songs and four when there’s time. And they’ve loved them. The set has got bigger, because you do the classics for them four, the hits and things.
Antihero Magazine: It’s difficult to get that mix right, because you want to promote the new stuff. And obviously, the fans want to hear the old stuff.
Steve Diggle: But also, the regular fans that come and travel to are the ones, they’ve heard the old stuff. They want other stuff but also, they want to hear some obscure things off the albums over the years that we haven’t played for years and all of that. And then, you’ve got new stuff. It’s like a three-tier set. When I’ve been planning that out over this time, I mean hold on a minute, you’ve got an hour and 20 minutes, normally.
No problem. There you go. Picture now, three tier sets we work. And normally, let’s be honest, sometimes, we go, “This is a new song.” It’s people’s time to go to the bar. I know their songs are strong like Manchester Rain, Senses Out of Control, and stuff. Things that we’ve been playing. And it’s instantly got people. And as somebody pointed out to me the other day, we got a lot of young kids at our gigs compared to other bands of our age, which I never realised and not bothered by it, really. And they might not even know of the Buzzcocks or whatever but they’re dancing about and getting into it. If we’re playing a new song from a new album. But a song’s a song, if it works live. And we’ve road tested some of them, and they work live.
Antihero Magazine: They work all right. Obviously, we’ve all been affected by the pandemic. How has it affected you personally? I mean has your livelihood gone for two years? I mean how do you cope given that’s what you’ve grown up with? That’s what you know all your life. That’s what you do.
Steve Diggle: Well, that’s it for 40-odd years.
Antihero Magazine: Yeah. And now, it’s sort of gone.
Steve Diggle: We were not on tour every year. At least every few years, making a record album. But I was all right with it. I was all right financially. And part of this album, as well, is when the pandemic was on, everybody, it was closed down, moments of realisation for people who got to find out who they are, because it’s now a new reality. Does the job make you or do you make the job, and all that stuff. You’ve got to stop and think about yourself. But I’m used to that because if I’m not on tour, I’m at home a lot. And I’m used to working on writing and all that stuff, for me, personally. It’s a time for reflection for everybody.
And I think there’s a bit of that in this, really. Once again, on Bad Dreams, it’s all been a mirror, it’s a hypnotic kind of state” And I’m thinking, once they get hypnotised by that song, right away, they could go into themselves. Hence, the Sonic In… They can go in their own soul while they listen to it.
It’s thinking like that. Trying to get a bit of density in it.
Antihero Magazine: In terms of socialisation, though, I mean you’re not able to play live. Fans aren’t able to see bands. I mean it’s difficult as well because it takes away that aspect of socialisation that most people take for granted. It’s just gone now from your lives. And you have to stay in the house.
Steve Diggle: Yeah. What I started doing, because I’ve got a shed there, I’ve got a bit of studio stuff in, I started working in the shed, because it wasn’t a hot summer. It’s outside in the garden. I’ve got a little shed there. I started playing a lot of live albums. And I didn’t realise why. But it’s the crowd, isn’t it?
Antihero Magazine: It is. Yeah.
Steve Diggle: I thought why am I playing bootleg live albums and stuff? And you can hear the crowd on them. And it was live. Subconsciously, I must have…
Antihero Magazine: It is. I miss… I mean as a fan and a regular gig-goer, that’s the thing that I miss most during those times. It was that interaction at a live gig. And it’s just taken from you. Right? You don’t realise what a major part of your life is that’s taken from you.
Steve Diggle: Yeah. No, absolutely. No, I started to miss it. I mean how long did it go on, like a year, year and a half, at least?
Antihero Magazine: Even that, people are saying, was it a year? Was it two years?
Steve Diggle: Yeah. It was a long time. I started to miss it; I feel like. It’s all right for a bit because I’m writing an album.
Antihero Magazine: Yeah. But you missed that feel…
Steve Diggle: Yeah.
Antihero Magazine: Of the live audience.
Steve Diggle: Because that is the lifeblood of you going back and writing another album or whatever. It’s getting feedback from the crowd. But without that, it’s a key thing missing. Isn’t it? I mean when you write a song, you write songs to be yourself or your opinion. But you need to share it with people. If not, we’re writing a song immediately-
Antihero Magazine: Certainly. You need that feedback from the audience. Don’t you?
Steve Diggle: Because it’s like the songs are a conversation as well mixed with music and you want somebody to listen to it. You put it in there. Yeah. That was sadly missed. Thank God all that fucking stuff’s over.
Antihero Magazine: As a band and an artist yourself with a huge body of work, how do you feel, does that annoy you, if people only associate one song with the band? Or is that actually a good thing that they can link?
Steve Diggle: It’s a double-edged sword. It’s a double-edged sword. The thing is everybody has one of these songs.
Antihero Magazine: But at least you have one. And other people maybe don’t.
Steve Diggle: Well, we have more of them. That was more Pete, “Ever Fallen In Love.” For me, it was “Harmony In My Head.” Some people think that’s better than “Ever Fallen In Love.” I always thought they’re all the same, really. It wasn’t a competition with me. A lot of people know that song, “Ever Fallen In Love.” It’s just some old thing. It’s like me going up to Pete Townshend and saying, “Love that song My Generation, but what about the rest of it?”
Antihero Magazine: And a few others.
Steve Diggle: It’s a blessing and a curse, in a way. It’s great that it’s there. But having said that now, when we’ve been doing the set, Ever Fallen safe though. It will still fit in. And also, I’ve mainly been doing my songs. I’ve backed off a lot of Pete’s songs, because some of them are more him than me. I can do them but it’s not me. You know what I mean? It’s more him. A long time ago, a few years back, when I’d sing his song, I’m like, you know what, it doesn’t sit comfortably with me now. The new albumis my songs. But having said that, I mean I wrote Fast Cars, Promises, even Why Can’t I Touch It is starting off with my guitar groove. Pete did the words on that one. Pete sang Fast Cars. But I did all the music and chords, so I regard that as my song. And he knows that as well. And same with Promises. promises. Oh, they’re lovely words there. I said, “It’s only a fucking love song we wrote. What’s wrong with you?” But having said that, those shared songs, I do them, because I’ve done the chords and the chorus. They stay as well.
But I do “Ever Fallen In Love.” And I don’t mind. People love that one as well. Lots of people. And a couple of others. But not that many. And nobody’s questioned that, because I think it’s realism and for that. It’s not like one single man who is believable, because I’m not singing somebody else’s song, trying to act the thing.
Antihero Magazine: How do you see yourself in the role of British punk rock music? Do you see yourself as a bit of a legend, a bit of a hero, or just a regular guy that plays music for a living?
Steve Diggle: People call you a legend, now. But they call people a legend who’ve been around for 10 minutes. But yeah, I guess we have to leave a legacy. But you never wake up and think about that kind of stuff. I feel like, now, we’re still starting. I’ve always felt like that. It’s like… Careers don’t weigh me down. It’s just taking off.
Even years ago, I felt kind of still got to look at it fresh and think we’re still starting. In a way, that keeps the inspiration going for me. It’s like, fuck, all right, we’ve done all these great songs and albums over the years. But what about the next one? Can you do it again? Yeah. But it’s great to have that kind of love we’ve got. I wouldn’t want to do it if we’re just going around just doing all the stuff we’ve done.
Just do that shit.
Antihero Magazine: Go around, do the festival circuits, bang out their hits. And that’s it every summer.
Steve Diggle: Yeah. I won’t be doing it.
Antihero Magazine: They’re not creating anything new.
Steve Diggle: If we were doing that, I wouldn’t be doing it. And that’s why on the tour I do, we play three or four songs off the new album without them even hearing it and the two songs off the single we had out pre-Covid. There’s a lot of newness there. But it still sounds like Buzzcocks and taking it forward. What I call now the new spirit. You’ve got a new spirit.
Antihero Magazine: The music business has changed significantly since you first started. Is it a better or worse place these days or is it a little bit of both? I mean you don’t have generative revenue from the album sales like bands of old.
Steve Diggle: No. We used to get big royalties off those albums.
Antihero Magazine: Those cheques don’t come anymore?
Steve Diggle: No. You get about one pence for a fucking play on somewhere. It’s that online thing.
Antihero Magazine: You put all that hard work into creating an album. And then, people are giving it away for free online and stuff?
Steve Diggle: Yeah. Some fucking new shit the next day. You can’t see a lot of money in it. It’s a weird dilemma. It’s almost like it was back in the punk days when we started, when we made our first vinyl scratch record. We felt the way the record company’s working isn’t right for us], so we’ll put it out ourselves. That’s quite a lot of people. We can make our own. It’s almost like that again, now.
Antihero Magazine: Very self-sufficient?
Steve Diggle: Well, it’s like the record companies have got control of it. The punk thing pulled the carpet from the record companies. A&R manager ran up and down the country going, “We’ll sign you, whoever.” And they’d sign everybody. And the good stuff stayed. But also, they’d sign wacky and weird stuff that you’d probably never hear. The kind of stuff John Peel used to play and all. But now, they won’t do that, because I think by about 1980, seemed to be run by accountants. It’s like, if we put this record out, how much are we going to make off it? Whereas before that, they’d sign anybody up, because it came from the streets not knowing quite what it is. And you got wacky, weird things. You’re going, fuck, I never thought I’d hear that as a regular song. But now, they’ve got it all back in control.
Antihero Magazine: Now, it’s more that the bands become more self-sufficient.
Steve Diggle: Yeah. Well, the ironic thing is, now, you can make a record, now, and stick it on YouTube or wherever you want. But you still can’t get access to a lot of things. I mean it’s kind of like what we did with an independent record. But now, you can just stick it on YouTube, whatever, on the computers instantly. But still don’t mean half the time you can get much further, because they’ve got a hold on it again. It’s all through programming controls and big companies.
Antihero Magazine: Just a couple then to finish. When playing the classics, right, how do you retain that sense of freshness and vigour? You must play particular songs many, many times. It’s like, oh, shit, you all want this again. Or is that looking at the audience and getting that feedback again like you touched on?
Steve Diggle: You would naturally think, oh, not this one again. But the thing is, what I tuned into quite early was you’re in a different hall. You’re in a different place with a different crowd every time. And what I’ve learned over the years is, never mind what I’m doing. I’m interested in what you’re doing right now, how you’ll react to it.
Antihero Magazine: It could be their first time seeing you.
Steve Diggle: Yeah. And also, you learn to play the songs and find out more about a song. I mean rhythmically…
Antihero Magazine: You play it differently.
Steve Diggle: Yeah, you play it differently. The audience won’t know too much. But you kind of find things and all that.
Antihero Magazine: Like they’re new songs that, you as well, you’re rediscovering.
Steve Diggle: It’s the same chords. The first note. But I play it easily. But also reacting to the audience in the theatre in a different way. You play it like that. That was the thing for me, why they always sound fresh. And also, you’ve got to remember, they are Buzzcocks songs, and they always seem like they it was made last week, even though some of them are…
Antihero Magazine: Forty-odd years.
Steve Diggle: It’s not like they… They always sound fresh, which is weird. They’re usually good songs, so it’s easy. But I’ve never thought, like I said, I turned it away from me quite early on. In the early days, it was a bit political and a bit angry. The angst in sharing that. Well, I’m older, you’ve got to play a bit more majestically. And of course, the crowds have changed, and people’s attitudes have changed. I mean, sometimes, I was attacked. But these pigs are giving it out. And I’m thinking, yeah, I’m giving you a bit when I was on the White Riot Tour. But now, people don’t understand that. Some of them. You have to blend it. And also, as you get older, the picture becomes broader. You’ve got to play these songs as songs now. I mean that’s why in the punk days, we felt we’re all punks, and all that, Clash, Pistols. But The Clash became The Clash. The Buzzcocks became the Buzzcocks via the journey of the song. It’s like then they know you for the songs, because it was all just, you’re all punks, what you do. It was more about the attitude.
And then, you give that attitude now. sometimes. It’s like a blend, like a fine whiskey. You find things about the songs and blend things in. In the blend. Like I said, one thing I’ve learned is to react with the crowds. And that’s important to me, as well. It dispels we’re the band, look at us, and you’re the crowd. You’re saying, let’s come all in together. If I make a mistake, give a fuck I’m playing live. And then, you aren’t bothered by it. You’re not here to see me like so I made a fucking mistake, not that I do very often. But I mean the confidence to do that, it’s like, look, we’re all in it together. We’ve got an hour in the holiest church in rock and roll. Let’s fucking share this magic. And in between that magic, you see the Devil, you see God, and you see everything. It’s like a fucking gas burner. And that’s what you share, all those emotions. I’m looking forward to that.
Antihero Magazine: Do you still keep in touch? You go out checking new bands or whatever or not?
Steve Diggle: Occasionally.
Antihero Magazine: You, occasionally, just want to get away from music? Do you do anything? Do you have any spare time or is music just the main focus in your main life?
Steve Diggle: I’m a bit like James Joyce. I have a fondness… I do a lot of drinking here, I suppose. Ride off for a little bit.
Sometimes, I do. It just depends on where I am, really. Sometimes, on the road, you might go to a club after and see some bands. But there’s not always time these days for me. Well, I’m either touring or writing the songs, usually.
Antihero Magazine: There is no life outside of music. Is it just everything?
Steve Diggle: Well, it is. Yeah, I’ve given up… I’ve turned into a machine, like a computer. But also, there’s not that many things that I’ve really wanted to see. I saw the Fontaines. I saw Ocean Colour Scene, recently. I saw Pearl Jam. I’ve been out quite a lot really, a lot more than I’ve been. And I loved all that.
Antihero Magazine: Is there any sort of style of music that you listen to in the privacy of your own home that people would be shocked at? Sit home checking out your jazz albums or some early blues or something that people would go, oh, he should only listen to punk.
Steve Diggle: They would, yeah. It’s like picking a top 10, because that would be my choice. And they would be thinking… Announce your choice for that moment when you’re picking a top 10 for radio, and then the next minute you feel something else.
Antihero Magazine: You do listen to other stuff.
Steve Diggle: Oh, yeah.
Antihero Magazine: You collect music yourself?
Steve Diggle: Oh, yeah. When I was young, I had a stock house of box sets. I used to listen to noise and stuff or experimental noise. And of course, I grew up with all the classic 60s stuff. The Kinks, The Stones, all that. I was a child of that. Hence, the three-minute songs and all that stuff. I grew up with all that. I’m onto a lot of things. But don’t know, sometimes, people my age, they always go back to what you…
Antihero Magazine: What you grew up on.
Steve Diggle: Yeah.
Antihero Magazine: Right. Just a final one. If the roles were reversed and you could sit here and interview a personal hero or inspiration, who would that person be? Not even a musician. Maybe somebody that’s inspired you in your life.
Steve Diggle: Probably Bob Dylan. But I wouldn’t get any change out of him. Would I?
Antihero Magazine: He just won’t give you any.
Steve Diggle: Nope. Yeah.
Antihero Magazine: Yeah.
Steve Diggle: A mate of mine said to me, he said, “If Bob Dylan was a more difficult Steve Diggle.”
Antihero Magazine: There you go. Cheers for chatting to me.