Ever Fallen In Love?

When he sat down to write a biography of Pete Shelley and Buzzcocks, Paul Hanley hit a problem. His enthusiasm for the subject was getting in the way of his objectivity. “I was a massive Buzzcocks fan at the age of 14. It was quite a process to keep stepping back. I thought, ‘A lot of people could write a biography. It’s only me could write about my relationship with the band.’”


As a former drummer with The Fall, Hanley is well-placed to write about one of the most significant Manchester bands. The beauty of Sixteen Again: How Pete Shelley & Buzzcocks Changed Manchester Music (And Me), is the way it renders an adult view of Pete Shelley’s genius with teenage enthusiasm. The biographical details of Shelley’s life are present; so is the purity of Hanley’s passion.


Hanley remembers the day Buzzcocks’ first album Another Music In A Different Kitchen came out. Future Fall members Marc Riley, Craig Scanlon and Steve Hanley (Paul’s older brother) went to Virgin’s Manchester branch for a launch event. The shop released balloons. “The idea was that whoever got the one that flew furthest away would win the album. Of course, they all got caught in the trees.” When the trio returned, album in hand, Hanley was waiting by the record player. “I looked at this sleeve and listened to the record and I thought, ‘This is the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life’. Everything about it. I loved the record. I loved the sleeve. And there was badges! It was the perfect thing for me at 14 years of age. This was gonna be my band.”

Buzzcocks are vital in punk history because they brought the Sex Pistols to Manchester, and demystified the process of releasing records with the Spiral Scratch EP. For the teenage Hanley, there was also the fact that John Maher went to his school, and left at 16 to join Buzzcocks. “I left the same school at 16 to join The Fall. I thought John Maher was the best drummer in the world. I had John Maher, Karl Burns out The Fall, and Steve Morris of Joy Division – three of the best drummers I’ve ever heard in my life and they were within reach.”

With hindsight, Hanley can appreciate that the appeal of Buzzcocks was rooted in Pete Shelley’s ability to channel the emotional intensity of adolescence. “He could sing authentically and put himself in the headspace of a 15, 16 year-old without a hint of condescension. It wasn’t Jilted John. If you look at the Sex Pistols, there’s so much artifice in Johnny Rotten’s persona. And The Clash bouncing around, with this rock’n’ roll sort of thing. [With Buzzcocks] It was just Pete Shelley stood on a stage. You would expect to get a similar kind of vibe if you stood next to him at a bus stop. Which you wouldn’t get with most other bands. I mean, you wouldn’t want to be stood next to Ian Curtis at a bus stop if he behaved like he did on stage, would you? Or Mark E Smith…”


Speaking of which, Hanley’s Fall offshoot band House of All, is about to return with a second album, Continuum, and a UK tour.  Hanley promises “more variety of sound” and admits to being amazed at the band’s ability to conjure songs from nothing. “I’m not sure I want to work out how we did it. But I can’t even if I wanted to.”

Sixteen Again is published by Route on April 17; House Of All’s Continuum is released by Tiny Global Productions on April 5