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British punk greats the Buzzcocks bring latest tour to San Francisco

Though they lost principle songwriter Pete Shelley to a heart attack in late 2018, iconic UK punk giants the Buzzcocks led by surviving member Steve Diggle return to San Francisco Thursday, headlining the Great American Music Hall with popular local garage rockers the Seagulls. 

Along with the Damned and the Sex Pistols, the Manchester-based Buzzcocks were one of the first British punk bands to record and release their own record with the Spiral Scratch EP in early 1977. Founded by guitarists Peter McNeish (who would take the stage name Pete Shelley) and Howard Trafford (who renamed himself Howard Devoto) in Greater Manchester, the band was inspired by the burgeoning London punk movement and played its early shows supporting the Sex Pistols and the Clash.

Buzzcocks - Boredom (1977 Spiral Scratch version) by Soraj Music on YouTube

Devoto would depart the band after the release of Spiral Scratch on their own New Hormones imprint, saying he'd become disillusioned with punk. He went on to form post-punk group Magazine and later launched a solo career. Shelly took the helm of the Buzzcocks as member Steve Diggle switched from bass to guitar and former member Garth Davies rejoining to handle bass (talented drummer John Maher rounded out the group).   

Buzzcocks - What Do I Get? (Official Video) by Domino Recording Co. on YouTube

That line-up of the band would sign a deal with United Artists and release the hit singles "Orgasm Addict" and "What Do I Get?" ahead of their seminal 1978 debut album Another Music in a Different Kitchen. Though they still used several songs that had been co-written by Devoto, Shelley firmly established himself as one of the most talented tunesmiths to emerge from the British punk scene. Their follow-up album Love Bites was recorded six months later and issued in the same year, charting with "Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)" and "I Don't Mind."  

Buzzcocks - Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve?) (TOTP, 1978) by Domino Recording Co. on YouTube

A compilation of the band's hits -- Singles Going Steady -- introduced the Buzzcocks and their hook-laden songwriting to American ears. Unfortunately, the group would only manage one more album before splitting up in 1981. Shelley and Diggle held the first of what would be many reunions late in the decade, but unlike many bands who have been content to get back together to simply tour, the Buzzcocks have continued to put out vital music during the '90s and 2000s, including such quality efforts as All Set in 1996 and Flat Pack Philosophy a decade later. The band toured consistently, playing festivals including the 2017 edition of the then named Burger Boogaloo in Oakland.

When Shelley died of a heart attack in 2018 at the relatively young age of 63 many assumed that the band would be no more, but longtime guitarist Diggle has continued to lead the group, even releasing a new recording in 2022 entitled Sonics in the Soul with his current version of the band with bassist Chris Remington and drummer Danny Farrant (guitarist Mani Perazzoli fills out the live line-up). When the Buzzcocks play a set full of classic hits at this sold-out Great American Music Hall show Thursday, the band will be joined by San Francisco garage-rock band the Seagulls. 

The band is fronted by British punk veteran Jon Brooder, who was raised in South London during the 1970s and found inspiration in '50s rock, Motown, rock steady, British pub rock before the initial wave of UK punk rock took hold of his imagination. 

Beat Street Lightning Strike by Edward Taylor on YouTube

He would end up playing bass in the Clash-inspired late '80s punk band Lightning Strike, which played CBGBs after relocating to New York and managed to score a record deal with RCA. Though the band only managed to release its debut album before getting dropped by the major label, the experience whetted Brooder's appetite for making music and his desire to live in the U.S. He would move to San Francisco in the early '90s, eventually working with the bands the Hairdressers and the Music Lovers, an indie-pop project led by fellow Brit songwriter Matthew Edwards. It was in the latter band that Brooder met keyboard player Isaac Bonnell.

The two musicians started the Seagulls in 2012, building on their shared experience to play a mix of covers and original music that nodded equally to roots-minded songwriting, punk energy and a bluesy swagger that recalls legendary British pub-rock band Dr. Feelgood. Rounded out by longtime drummer/singer Geri Vahey (who played in the bands Skint and Mom's Favorite Vase) and Tony Velour on bass, the band managed to ramp up its activity in the past few years despite the pandemic.

After releasing the holiday tune "Spirit in the Air" in December of 2019 before COVID shut down the planet, the Seagulls have put out a pair of EPs (recorded both live and in the studio) and several digital singles, with some of the material addressing the stark new reality of sheltering in place and missing human interaction. The band also played a steady string of outdoor shows in San Francisco and at Winters Tavern in Pacifica as businesses gamely tried to operate amid new COVID protocols, providing a bit of relief for people starved to for live music hoping for a brief moment of normalcy.

Sunday Afternoon Drinking by The Seagulls SF on YouTube

The Seagulls trekked to the UK last year, playing a series of gigs in and around London. They celebrated the long-awaited release of their album This Time Next Year last spring. Packed with catchy rockers like opening track "Big Bad Beautiful World" and "Sunday Afternoon Drinking" and ska-tinged tunes "Hold On" and "G'is a Drink Woodcock," the bracing effort is a fine encapsulation of the energetic party the band delivers onstage. 

More recently, the group has been performing new tracks written since the release of the album live in addition to putting out a new music video on YouTube for "G'is a Drink Woodcock." Brooder also made a solo trip back to England where he played a handful of shows with a variety of musicians and friends during his visit. One of those friends, guitarist "Soho Steve" Crittall, lent his skills to a series of live shows and recording sessions during an extended stay in San Francisco. Currently a member of the Black Bombers and Alvin Gibbs and the Disobedient Servants, Crittall has previously played with such notables as the Godfathers, the Selector and UK Subs. He joined new bass player Nate Fink (Open Doors, Greg Hoy and the Boys) for a run of shows in SF and Los Angeles before heading home.   

G'is a Drink Woodcock by The Seagulls SF on YouTube

The Seagulls debuted their new five-piece line-up featuring guitarist Rob Vastano last month at Baltic Kiss in Richmond. Opening the show will be acclaimed Los Angeles punk/power-pop band the Reflectors.

The Buzzcocks with the Seagulls and the Reflectors
Thursday, March 14, 7 p.m. $35-$40 (sold out)
Great American Music Hall

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