I love these collections. Collections that bring together moments in time, that are in this case captured on 6 CDs. Recordings that would have otherwise gone unwanted and sat on shelves (metaphorically these days), just waiting for the right visionary to pick them up and hear their potential, believing others would want to. Well, they got that right. Late For The Train: Live & In Session (1989-2016) is a set of recordings that capture a selection of Buzzcocks performances, both live and in session during these years, and fear not, these are performances whose energy and the live experience is held within these recordings. Of course, is has been said that this band was “Regarded as an important influence on the Manchester music scene, the independent record label movement, punk rock, power pop, pop-punk, and indie rock, they achieved commercial success with singles that fused pop craftsmanship with rapid-fire punk energy…”, so with this in mind let’s begin.
Starting this set with a show recorded on the 7th of December, at the Birmingham Hummingbird in 1989, Buzzcocks show that their years of experience haven’t gone lacking and as the band takes to the stage, you can imagine a smiling Steve Diggle greeting the audience before the set begins with ‘I Don’t Know What To Do With My Life’. Pete Shelley‘s eloquent vocal presentation, picking his way through this tale of the undervalued teenager, a lyricist whose talent chronicling the adolescent is undoubted. The sound reflecting the performance perfectly, how occasionally the audio swirls around the room (or ears, as I’m listening on headphones). This was a set during which the band practically ignited the room, something that is reflected in these recordings as the band perform a Diggle penned number ‘Autonomy’ taken from their debut album Another Music In A Different Kitchen and reflects the perfect pairing between Shelley and Diggle. Vocally, Diggle’s coarser presentation vies with Shelley’s clipped northern drawl. ‘E.S.P.’ someway through the set, illustrates their knack at creating a hook, played until the number opens to a vast musical vista, leaving the listener grinning from ear to ear. The band doing what they do, as this is a number void of lyrical content, leaving the notes in the air until Shelley is heard singing the perfect accompaniment in the following number ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’. I can’t say this is necessarily the case, as I sit here amid the Covid pandemic, but escaping within these recordings makes the situation far more palatable. The almost womb-like ‘Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)?’, hits the spot and is followed by the bass-heavy ‘Fast Cars’, a number which is an example of just what you get from the ticket price, a performance you won’t forget in a hurry. ‘Orgasm Addict’, toward the end of the CD, is a number in which Shelley voices his dissent at being “…gobbed in the eye…” at the end of the first verse! But with the number slowing briefly, this is soon returned to normal service, but after almost 3 minutes, it proves this was the end of the set. With a further 5 minutes remaining on the CD, it is clear that we are due an encore, as a rumbling bass introduces a song that was a B-side in 1978. ‘Oh, Shit!’ is followed by ‘Boredom’, another number which speaks of the punk rebellion and was produced by Martin Hannett on their debut ‘Spiral Scratch’ E.P. in ’76. Looking back at this set, this may have been the perfect Buzzcocks show. But with that, you have a further 5 discs to enjoy.
Originally disbanding in 1981, Buzzcocks were to reform in 1989, initially for a world tour with earlier members John Maher and Steve Garvey, but later bringing new blood into their fold in the form of musicians Tony Barber on bass and Phillip Barker, drums. This second disc brings a set from this 4 piece, performing at the Northwick Theatre, Wolverhampton in June of 1993. The show starts with Pete Shelley announcing that “…if you don’t know we’ve got a new album out, than what will happen next will be a bit of a surprise…TTT,” before the band proceed into ‘Trade Test Transmissions’, the title track from the band’s first full-length album since 79s A Different Kind Of Tension. What I get from this recording is at this stage the audience appears a little underwhelmed by this new material, going by Shelley’s comment at the end of the number, in which he remarks to the audiences reserved applause “…I thought that was a day’s outing from Madame Tussauds?” Following this, they head into tried and tested territory in the form of ‘Innocent’ and ‘Last To Know’, before announcing another new number from the T.T.T. album in “When Love Turns Around You”. I have to comment on the recording of this disc. Unlike the first, which was very much a quality bootleg recording, this second disc just seems to have lost the energy that this band provided, and is fair to say is like returning to the bootleg recordings I purchased as a younger punter. With that said, this disc still features 23 tracks including favorites & new numbers from this gig. The banter between Shelley and Diggle will raise a cheeky smile from time to time, ending the show on a somewhat manic performance of 1978’s ‘Breakdown’. Although I do have to say that, having attended a show during this time, that featured this line-up, I can only assume that it’s the recording that has left this feeling somewhat lifeless.
After the experience with the previous disc’s reproduction, it is with trepidation that I approached the next, a recording of the band from 1995 at L’Arapaho Club in Paris. I see that they have made this available on CD on the PiAS label, so just this would suggest a recording of better quality and I’m pleased to report this is the case. Starting the show with 1978’s ‘I Don’t Mind’ it is pretty clear that both the show and the recording is of far better quality. The pace of the number and the placing of the various band members project the right 3-dimensional impression which helps the listening of the show. Before I know where I am, the band is performing the fifth number ‘Breakdown’ a track lifted from Lovebites, quickly followed by ‘Innocent’, from the earlier talked about Trade Test Transmissions album and the projection of this number is like listening to a different track entirely. Recording of this show was done well; it illustrates the importance of having this done properly and I’d have to say how engaging the performance was. 1995 had seen the same lineup of the band perform at the Paris show and being able to hear both performances, side by side, suggests that it wasn’t the musicians who were at fault.
In 2006 Danny Farrant replaced Phillip Barker on drums and seems the only line-up change when they performed at Finsbury Park in July of 96, supporting The Pistols. This was in a different league, playing before the vast festival-sized audience. In contrast, to some press given to The Pistols performance at the show, Buzzcocks’ set from this recording was an extremely accomplished one. It can be read in the accompanying booklet that the band had commented, “We brought the Sex Pistols to Manchester in 1976 and opened up for them – this was the early beginnings of punk. Than, in 1996, history repeats itself and we played Finsbury Park in London with them. It was amazing – the atmosphere was electric, and Buzzcocks were on fire…”. Audio projection on this recording is both lively and engaging and puts the listener somewhere in the middle of the performance, rather than just a bystander. Unlike the previous shows, it couldn’t be expected that Buzzcocks would perform to the same extent, they were a support band after all. The tracks still contain a Buzzcocks greatest hits, for the assembled punk audience. Kicking off with ‘You Say You Don’t Love Me’, for the band, it must’ve been an incredible sight to emerge onto a stage, set before around 30,000 punk music fans. The band progressed into ‘What Am I Supposed To Do Now?’ a telling of youth from these somewhat older musicians, but was still a very vibrant performance. With 9 tracks comprising the likes of ‘Love You More’, ‘Harmony In My Head’, to ‘What Do I Get?’, finishing the set with ‘Boredom’, a snapshot of their material from one of the original punk bands. You might’ve bought a ticket to this show for the headline act, but to see another of the punk legends would’ve been a bonus. Of course, 9 tracks aren’t the end of this CD – the latter part of this disc sees tracks taken from the band’s recordings at the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios in 2003. This wasn’t the first time the band had played at these studios, I believe this was for John Peel’s Radio 1 show in September 1977 and more of their Radio sessions are among the topics talked about in Tony Gartland’s book Buzzcocks – The Complete History. These are among the tracks included here; ‘Driving You Insane’, 2 takes of ‘Certain Move’, ‘Jerk’ and ‘Breakdown’, along with ‘Lester Sands’, ‘Orgasm Addict’ and ‘Harmony In My Head’.
Disc Five includes a performance at London’s Forum in December 2006, played to an audience numbering far less than the outdoor experience of Finsbury Park 10 years previously, but I feel that this is where the band feels more at home. This set is fast-paced and extremely energetic, or at least from what they project on the recording. If the Finsbury Park set was a snapshot of the band’s material, the 28 track content is very nearly a compendium of their work. Among the tracks included are ‘Whatever Happened To?’, ‘Love You More’, ‘What Do I Get’, ‘Why She’s A Girl From The Chainstore’ and the track that surely chimes of Buzzcocks brilliance, that of ‘Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)’. 78 minutes of sheer Buzzcocks joy and a recording that shows just what an incredible act this band were to see, even 30 years on from that Manchester show in 1976.
The final disc of this set is Buzzcocks At The BBC but doesn’t contain any John Peel content, many of which I remember being found on the Strange Fruit Peel Sessions releases from the 1980s. Instead, these recordings centre on those recordings between 1993 and 2016. Starting with 2 from 1993’s National Music Day, with ‘Do It’ and ‘Isolation’. Continuing with those sessions for Jakki Brambles in 1993, Mark Radcliffe in 1994 & 2006, and Mark Riley in 2015. I found some of these session recordings the warmest I have heard on this collection, the real self projected from the artists during these performances. Diggle and Shelley voicing from their respective microphones cheeky nods to audience members, both physically and on-air, often as they started into a number. The sound production is as you might expect from a recording for the BBC, consistent and very well done, and as these were for radio shows, very engrossing. The band doing all the work at keeping listeners amused, I refer to Pete Shelley’s exuberant projection to his perceived audience when at the end of ‘Last To Know’ a recording for Mark Radcliffe in 1994, he announces “…Thank you, Goodnight!”. The disc finishes with 3 numbers recorded during a performance at the 6Music Festival in 2016 and with the second performance of ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ we have heard on this disc, a number inspired from a line from Marlon Brando in the film Guys and Dolls. This is a number that has undoubtedly earned Pete Shelley and his estate more than the round of drinks they might have purchased at the Blenheim Guest House, the night the band stayed following their performance at ‘The Clouds’ in Edinburgh. I’ll perhaps leave Steve Diggle to have the final say of this review, part of an interview found in the accompanying book available with this box set, ‘…These BBC Sessions allowed us to be less precious about the recording, and playing live, first take, gave the listener another reality into the band and song.”