Songs In The Key Of Pete Shelley

A band on a poster. The forthcoming gig, notice tacked upon the brickwork adjacent to the bar, the gaggle of hip kids standing by the bar, the staircase next to the bar leading down, down into the cellar where the cool bands play. A band named after a Ted Hughes poem – of things such at these, I know.

I put my money on the afternoon table strewn with victims of our afternoon drinking. “This band will feature a lead singer with vocal inflexion highly reminiscent of former Buzzcocks mouthpiece Pete Shelley,” I confidently announce. “In fact I’ll go further. This band will feature frontman as Pete Shelley from a third rate gore-fest of a horror flick – Pete Shelley singing whilst undergoing some kind of meticulous and almost pleasant slo-mo evisceration.” I grin, and take another slug from a beer.

But as a wager it’s of an unpromising nature. It doesn’t appear to matter that I’ve neither seen or heard said band before sighting their poster. It doesn’t count that the Pete Shelley spiel is no doubt way, way off; my bet remains untaken – I’d have lost if anyone had put their cash up, anyway – so as the conversion winds its afternoon way towards less obtuse afternoon terrain (“Shut Up, LGM, you’re drunk again”), I make do with remembering a different band named after the same Ted Hughes poem. A band from ten or more years before; an identical moniker, and a singer inadvertently performing the Pete Shelley in pain routine.

A different band… and there-in ends the tale of the only band I’ve ever named. And the only band I’ve ever performed vocals with. Even now I grimace when I think how awful we sounded…

*****

I’ve always had a soft spot for Pete Shelley’s most famous solo number. Simultaneously confessional yet highly tongue-in-cheek, its camp and celebratory approximation of new-wave almost-disco is deliciously produced (Martin Rushent at the mixing deck), and a top tune to deejay with should you find yourself hosting an indie disco on this most John Peel of days. It’s also a track that was banned at the time by the BBC – obviously the prospect of androgynous urchins storming the barricades was a little too much to contemplate – so feel free to discover your inner urchin, beneath the words and all that.

*****

Incidentally, I had to check that the new, modern version of band named after a Ted Hughes poem wasn’t the same noise disaster that featured me in their line-up. Thankfully this was a totally different act. My old bandmates hadn’t carried the flame without me, nor will they – a true relief; the mock, ironic, for-the-cash reformation would be truly horrendous.

Pete Shelly / Homosapien

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