LONDON (CBS SF) — Pete Shelley, the guitarist and main songwriter for the influential British punk band the Buzzcocks, died Thursday at the age of 63 from an apparent heart attack.
The BBC initially reported that band management confirmed Shelley passed away Thursday in Estonia, where he is currently living.
The band’s official Twitter account later confirmed the passing.
“Pete’s music has inspired generations of musicians over a career that spanned five decades and with his band and as a solo artist, he was held in the highest regard by the music industry and by his fans around the world,” a follow-up post read.
Shelley was born Peter Campbell McNeish in the northwestern county of Lancashire in England on April 17, 1955.
Though the group would only last for five years during its initial incarnation between 1976 and its first split in 1981, the Buzzcocks were the first bands from the British punk scene to unabashedly embrace pop hooks, establishing a punchy melodic sound with Shelley’s alternately sardonic and heart-broken lyrics that would be echoed in disciples ranging from early American hardcore bands Black Flag and Husker Du to grunge icons Nirvana to ’90s punk-pop hit makers the Offspring and the Bay Area’s own Green Day.
Along with the Damned and the Sex Pistols, the Manchester-based Buzzcocks were one of the first British punk bands to release a record. Founded in 1976 by principle songwriter and guitarist Shelley and lead singer Howard Devoto after the pair saw the Sex Pistols perform at a concert a year earlier, the Buzzcocks made their live debut in Manchester opening for the Pistols.
With bassist Steve Diggle on board (he would later switch to guitar), the band became the first British punk outfit to self-release its first recording without the involvement of a major label, issuing the Spiral Scratch EP in early 1977 on their own New Hormones imprint. The band was also the first act of note to emerge from outside of the punk scene’s stronghold of London. The four-song EP showcased Shelley’s knack for writing terse, hook-heavy tunes that were far more pop-minded than the band’s contemporaries, but still featured the same kind of grit and intensity.
Devoto would depart the month after the release of the EP, returning to college and later founding his own group Magazine. That left Shelley firmly in charge as he lead the Buzzcocks through the recording of their early chart success, the controversial “Orgasm Addict” single, backed with the equally popular “What Do I Get?” They followed up with the galvanizing full-length debut Another Music in a Different Kitchen and the quick sophomore effort Love Bites the following year, enjoying more BBC airplay with the singles “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” and “I Don’t Mind.”
The 1979 compilation of the band’s hits, Singles Going Steady, introduced the Buzzcocks and their intensely melodic songs to American ears. Unfortunately, the group would only manage one more album before splitting up in 1981. Shelley pursued a solo career and Diggle formed the band Flag of Convenience, but the two musicians held the first of what would be many Buzzcocks reunions late in the decade, putting out three new albums of material during the 1990s.
Unlike many bands who were content to get back together to simply tour and play their greatest hits, the Buzzcocks continued to put out vital music after reconvening, including 2006’s bracing effort Flat Pack Philosophy and their most recent recording, 2014’s The Way for Oakland-based label 1-2-3-4 Go Records. The Buzzcocks visited the Bay Area regularly, headlining shows at San Francisco venues including the Fillmore, Mezzanine and Slim’s in the past decade and serving as the closing headliner at the annual punk/garage rock festival Burger Boogaloo held in Oakland’s Mosswood Park in the summer of 2017.