Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Punk Rock Tardis

Old. Old friends. Old music. Old people. Last time I was at Brixton Academy was to see Everything Everything on some NME tour. It was full of fresh smelling youngsters listening to acts like Magnetic Man whose main schtick was to announce repeatedly that his name was Magnetic Man. This is different.

For starters the smell is different. It's not fresh. It reminds me of the smell in my grandparents bedroom on some summer mornings when I used to stay there in school holidays. Already the Proustian olifactorial work is being done by the crowd. Because this is more than a gig for most of us. It's a time travelling experience taking us back to the days of being thin, having hair and the days when we smelt like those Magnetic Man fans. Not for nothing is it called Back to Front. It's a Punk Tardis.

Buzzcocks, for those of you who have occasionally read this, was my first ever gig. Actually, how presumptuous of me to say 'occasionally' reading this, when I have only been 'occasionally' writing it. A couple of weeks ago I decided to start writing it again as so many people I meet ask why I stopped. I'll talk about that another time. So back to Buzzcocks. As I said, it was my first gig - I still have the poster I tore off the wall and it's framed in my study.

I was about to turn 13 and it was 1978. At Brixton last night, Kris Needs (still looking the same after 4 million years) in the role of compere, asked the crowd "Does anyone here remember 1977?" For everyone here, aside from the handful of youngsters, (mainly the progeny of the audience) this was a rhetorical question.

The opening act was the current line-up of Buzzcocks. This seemed to me largely to be The Steve Diggle band: thrashy, hastily arranged punk pop with with modish air pointing from Diggle and occasionally flashes of shy melodic genius from Shelley. The latter were constantly undermined by Diggle's mugging to the audience while Shelley hogged his limelight. Or perhaps I was reading too much into it.  A friend said later how he thought Shelley looked embarrassed at his antics. Either way, this didn't bode well for the rest of the evening.

But when the 1977 line of the band came emerged 5 minutes later, something remarkable happened. For starters, from where I was standing, John Mayer and Steve Garvey looked fantastic. Garvey was an idol for me, I remember now; by far the most handsome member of the band and with the benefit of having seen a thousand bands since I last saw him on stage (at the Rainbow in 1979 with Joy Division supporting) I realise now that he has a natural shape throwing swagger. Mayer looks old but in a stately Charlie Watts way. He plays magnificently. I remember finding out that he had opened up a Mini dealership but that may have been a rumour. I certainly don't think he's been playing professionally for years, which is a shame because he has such a distinct style - lots of toms without being showy.

The songs come fast. It would be pointless listing them. Highlights are two questions: Why Can't I Touch It? and What Do I Get? It's lovely to hear the whole of Brixton Academy do the Woah-ohs, which appear in the backing vocals to that classic run of singles which started with What Do I Get? and continued to Everybody's Happy Nowadays. You can't help but sing along.

Despite all this glory, Diggle still manages to buffoon it up. During Moving Away From The Pulsebeat he spoils Mayer's glorious drum solo by dancing ironically in front of the kit. He Bonos his way through Autonomy as if he's singing a song with an important political message. And still he windmills and points at the crowd in his pink shirt and white trousers (the rest of the band wear Buzzcocks black with Shelley making the extra Malcolm Garrett effort with a rectangular red shape emblazoned on his shirt). Even the merchandise stall is not immune from Diggle's ego which has elbowed its way into selling shirts with his name on.

They get an encore and play Every Fallen in Love and Orgasm Addict of course. How could they top that? Well, Devoto comes on and asks us whether we have our hearing aids turned up. He performs in the effortlessly stylish way he did during his Magazine shows and it becomes apparent to me that a star was what the Shelley/Diggle Buzzcocks were missing. This was their unique offering and perhaps also the reason they never lasted creatively beyond those three classic albums. Devoto's turn is brief but great. It turns the band into a classic timeless act. And Diggle, relegated to bass, get limited opportunity to twat about.

Outside in the still warm air, gentlemen of a definite age say goodbye. We meet friends we didn't know were coming and it all feels like an old school reunion: hairline and waistline taken note of, favourite songs clocked. This time, 34 years later, I don't tear a poster down off the wall while waiting for my mum to come and pick me up. Instead I go back to the car with my wife and brother and try and get home for mum who is babysitting. My daughter is starting her Year 4 topic The 70s next week and has decided to dress up  as a punk.