Sunday, March 06, 2011

Digging Da Diggle

Steve Diggle: The Evolution of a Songwriter

Der Diggle ist ein Mod und ein Rocker

Ever since Amy started collecting Buzzcocks guitarist Steve Diggle's solo back catalog, I can't stop listening to the man we call "Der Diggle." Who knew? I mean, as far as the Buzzcocks went, critical acclaim always went (rightfully so) to co-founder Pete Shelley and (in the early days) to art school singer-provocateur Howard Devoto. Diggle was seen as the bass player who shifted over to "second fiddle" guitarist when Devoto left, the one who wrote the occasional song like "Harmony in My Head," "Autonomy," "Love is Lies," or (with Shelley) "Promises," until he was allotted more songwriting freedom on the (original) 'cocks final LP, 1979's A Different Kind of Tension, on which he had three songs on Side A: "Sitting Around at Home," "You Know You Can't Help It," and "Mad Mad Judy." But if Shelley was perceived as the Buzzcock brain, Diggle was surely the sweaty balls of the group, a hard-rocking Mod Rocker (who loves his white polka dot shirts!) who seemed to have this history of Britpop guitar histrionics flowing through his veins. He was the Guitar Hero who would never, ever write a song with a synthesizer in it. (OK, I'm conveniently forgetting about the 1980 single "Running Free," the electronica experimentations on the 'cocks' Modern...let's just say Steve would never write a whole synth-pop album like Pete in his post-Buzzcocks solo years!) Diggs kept his pop philosophy simple: rock out with yer (Buzz)cock out. Or, to deconstruct his worldview in terms of the KISS aesthetic: Rock and roll all night, and party every day.

But now I find myself listening to Der Diggle to the exclusion of Buzzcocks and all the Shelley solo projects. Quite simply, Diggle has become a really good songwriter - one whose back catalog of songs like "Sick City Sometimes," "When Love Turns Around," "Sell You Everything," "Heavy Hammer," and "Wallpaper World" aren't just good Buzzcocks-worthy compositions but great pop-punk classics in their own right. And *quite simply* is the key word here, because Diggle never overreaches - he keeps it simple because he's basically a rocker, the kind of fun guy you'd want to have a beer with and talk about Mod, Britpop, birds (the non-aviary variety), or Man U (yes, he's a footy fan!).

Der Diggle doesn't mind knocking back a few pints down the pub

Listening to Diggle Rock, one never gets bogged down by weighty words, though he often sings passionately of weighty subjects (politics, guv'ment, distrust of Big Brother who's always watching, and revolution - which is always in the air and never far from Diggo's rock and roll heart) - let's face it, no one listens to a Diggle tune for clever wordplay. Dylanologists may pour over every couplet written by the Bard of Hibbing, Minnesota, but there will never be Diggleologists deconstructing Steve's ditties - not that there's anything wrong with that (hey, Steve Winwood and Elton John are pretty good songwriters, but they had to hire out when it came to writing lyrics - no shame in that!) And, truth be told, sometimes I have trouble hearing the words, as it sometimes takes me a few listens to translate his heavy Mancunian accent (or the "Bernstein Barrier" as Diggle calls it in "Why She's A Girl from the Chainstore") into Stateside English (I thought he was singing "Tell me now" in the song "Terminal" and "Jane Fonda" in "Jetfighter"!) No, he writes songs to be played live in pubs and clubs, with simple words that can be shouted anthemically like soccer chants or fist-pumping stadium rock singalongs (think Oasis, Slade, Gary Glitter, etc.) - even after a few dozen pints of lager. Needless to say, it's great driving music for Fast Cars (at least, that's where I mostly listen to 'em !)

If Pete Shelley rocks from above the neck, then Diggle's mojo comes from below the waist. In other words, Pete's a Top, Steve's a Bottom. They have very difference rock aesthetics, Pete writing of love-angst and existential dilemmas, while Steve's songs are more literal-minded and rooted in the here and now. If they were painters, Pete would be Picasso and Steve would be Norman Rockwell, abstract school versus representational. As Shelley told Mojo Magazine in 1979, "His reason for doing things is different from mine. Mine has always been, you've got the opportunity to communicate with people. It's what the punk ideology always was. But Steve was not an instrumental part of the methodology or the ideaology of Buzzcocks." (Punk: The Whole Story, DK Books, 2006). Maybe not, but he sure caught on fast. Yet Mojo observed that "Twenty-five years on, the differing perspectives of the two main Buzzcocks suggest the only real harmony between Steve Diggle and Pete Shelley prevails onstage. Interviewed seperately, each likens their relationship to that of brothers, bonded by shared experience but with little else in common." Nowhere is this division more evident than at live shows, which is why at last year's Buzzcocks show at Baltimore's Ottobar, the withdrawn Shelley withdrew to the band trailer after the gig, while Diggle hung out to party with 'cocks fans. (As Shelley observed in 1979 during an exhausting American tour that saw him dread the 24/7 rock lifestyle, that's a case of Diggle being in his element: "His whole dream is to be put on that pedestal.")

That shirt again! (Photo by W.S. McCallum)

But what he lacks in wordsmithery, Diggs more than makes up for in axe grinding; the lad sure knows a good riff when he hears it! And he's heard lots of riffs in his time and wears his influences well. Listening to these Diggle solo songs, I hear traces of everything from the Beatles to Neil Young, as well as lots of Paul Weller (all varieties, from Jam to Style Council to Wild Wood period), The Who, The Small Faces (the usual Mod suspects!), Oasis, T. Rex, Gary Glitter, Pistols, Clash, even some Byrds, Badfinger, and The Troggs. In a word(s): Britpop and Britpunk.

Deconstructing the Diggle Canon: Song by Song, Album by Album

OK, so here's my song-by-song take on the three solid-gold-easy-action rockin'-and-a-beboppin' solo CDs (all imports) Amy loaned me. Diggle's band on the solo albums includes bassist extraordinaire - and young Steve Winwood lookalike - Chris Remington (who's also in the current Buzzcocks lineup) and drummers Kevin Hayes (Air Conditioning), Eamonn Sheehy (Serious Contender), and ex-Easterhouse beatbox Gary Rostock (Some Reality).

Bassist Chris Remington and Steve Diggle greet Baltimore fans during Buzzcocks 2010 US tour

The solo records reviews are followed thereafter by a breakdown ("...Got a Breakdown, uh-oh...") of all Diggle songs I've heard, except for his 1980s Flag of Convenience band years - because Amy-the-Buzzcocks-Completist has not yet purchased those! A brief digression about F.O.C....

Diggle F.O.C.-ed off in the '80s

When Shelley disbanded Buzzcocks in March 1981, Diggle formed F.O.C. with 'cocks drummer John Maher and bassist Steve Garvey. The 3/4 Buzzcocks outfit released one 7-inch on Liberty/United Records in 1981 under Diggle's name ('cuz Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto owned the name "Buzzcocks"); the 3-track EP was called 50 Years of Comparative Wealth and featured the Diggle songs "Shut Out the Light," "Here Comes the Fire Brigade," and the eponymous title track.

50 Years of Comparative Wealth

Garvey left soon after, but Diggle and Maher soldiered on, releasing four singles, an 12-inch EP and one compilation of outtakes and a previously released 45, "New House," through 1986. (The final incarnation of F.O.C. included former Stone Roses guitarist Andy Couzens and former Inspiral Carpets drummer Chris Goodwin, who together went on to form The High.) I'm curious to check out Diggle's F.O.C. material, because this 1980s output represents the post-Buzzcocks period where he really found himself as a songwriter and came into his creative own. As Trouser Press wrote of this phase, "Diggle had played the Dave Davies role in the group — writing and singing his two or three songs per LP, getting an occasional A-side, and improving all the while — so it was logical for him to carry on the Buzzcocks' frantic, ambitious pop as Shelley opted for techno-blip dance music." By the time he rejoined Shelley for the 1989 'cocks reunion, he had a sizeable solo back catalog - as would be evidenced by the number of tunes on 1993's "new" Buzzcocks album Trade Test Transmisisons.

Diggle cleaned House and found himself in the '80s

Though Maher quit in 1986, Diggle carried on under the F.O.C. banner through 1989, with 1987's Northwest Sky (on which Maher sat in on three songs) representing his first "real" solo album. (Check out the wonderful Wilfully Obscure blog for a review of F.O.C.'s hard-to-find Northwest Sky and War on the Wireless Set releases; a F.O.C. compilation CD, The Best of Steve Diggle and Flag of Convenience: The Secret Public Years 1981-1989 came out in 1994 and is currently available as an MP3 download album.)

Alas, for Diggle devotees like Amy and I, the search continues to find these elusive F.O.C. picture sleeve singles:

Thankfully, a smattering of F.O.C. videos exist on YouTube, including "The Other Man's Sin" and "Isolation."

OK, now on with the digital Diggle discography (or as Amy calls it, my "Diggle Diaries")!



(Anagram Records, 3.30, EMI)

Steve Diggle: Guitar & Vocals
Chris Remington: Bass
Kevin Hayes: Drums
"Air Conditioning is a refreshing blast of punk attitude and conscious lyrical content. Railing against the plastic and throwaway nature of the modern music machine Steve and his band The Revolution Of Sound have recorded 13 tracks that all punks, mods and rockers, old and new will be able to relate to: Diggle equal parts dreamer, cynic, magpie, trooper, turbonutter and tunesmith extraodinare" - Andy Perry, Mojo
It's funny, I was just telling Amy that I heard the "history of rock guitar" in the Diggle solo records - you know, that "This song reminds me of The Monkees" or "This is his Neil Young long guitar jam a la 'Cortez the Killer' or 'Like a Hurricane'" - when I ran across this Record Collector review that said basically the same thing:
On the surface, Diggle’s new solo album inhabits the same pop jangle field as his ongoing work with Buzzcocks, but with a few harder rock edges and a bigger net to scoop up a broader catch of influences. There’s also a stronger political bent to many of the songs, albeit with preaching-to-the-choir sensibilities about how everyone should just get along with each other.

"World Spinning Around" is gloriously noisy pop, it’s opening riff partly nicked from The Monkees’ "Pleasant Valley Sunday," bemoaning the madness of global leaders. "Sparkle Of The Sun" (shades of The Who) and "Planet Star" both carry solid eco-friendly messages without getting too annoyingly po-faced; the sentiments are clear, but Diggle never lets the need for a sprightly tune play second fiddle.

He’s on spectacularly rocking form on "Hey Maria," which bounces along like Rockpile-era Dave Edmunds hanging out in a Texas bar, and is unashamedly upfront about his Byrdsian inspirations on "Listen To Your Tambourine." Yes, it’s all a bit derivative, but it doesn’t make it any less fun.

1. "In the Air"

"I can't find it anywhere, the sound of revolution in the air..."

OK, I take back what I said about Diggle's lyricism, as I rather like this LP opener that laments "I can't find it anywhere, the sound of revolution in the air"; it's the only song for which the record sleeve includes lyrics and its importance is underscored by Diggs including a quote directly below it from Alan Moore's V for Vendetta: "A revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having" (a modern variation on "Red" Emma Goldberg's dance/revolution deal-breaker rider) . The opening line, "Turn the screw and the screw turns you" recalls an earlier Diggle song, "Turn of the Screw," from the Buzzcocks' 1999 release Modern, continuing "Twisting your mind till you haven't got a clue/Battling nations, backs to the wall/Globalization means nothing at all."

Amy's favorite line is "Taken your mind and hung it to dry/In a washing machine of political sky/All of your senses are under attack/Soon as you're gone you can't come back."

Obviously written before Egypt's recent "Internet" revolution (which in Digglespeak might be called "(Coming on the) Airwaves Dream"), it hammers home the mid-'70s punk spirit of challenging Authority and Complacency, the kind of revolutionary musical mindset lacking in today's bands. As he he told Spinner in an interview last December:
"[Punk] inspired people to have more confidence in themselves and be imaginative," Diggle tells Spinner. "Our lyrics are intellectual and poetic in their way. Not that we thought about it like that back then, but we'd read books that influenced us. So, our singles are like books in a way," he says, laughing. "Little ones."

"When those records were made," the co-singer and guitarist adds, "they was made in a live situation with all those emotions flying around and all the distortion as well. They are very real records. They come at you and assault you to a certain extent -- in a good way."

After repeated intensive listenings, Amy's exhaustive analysis: "I love that song!"

Watch the In the Air video.

2. "Hey Maria"

Diggle's rockabilly love song churns along with a nostalgic nod to the past: "I had a Harmony in My Head, back in 1979"

"I love that song!" comments Amy. "Especially when he makes the Buzzcocks reference!"

3. "Planet Star"
Seriously rocking guitar-driven tune in which Diggle alternately sings "Planet planet political/Planet planet political star, political star" and "You got Jesus and Mohammed and Mohammed and the Jesus/Jesus and Mohammed and Mohammed and the Jews." Haven't a clue what it's much ado about, but the hook is solid and I find myself constantly pressing the replay button to hear it again and again, over and over. Who looks for meaning when you can find a good beat?

Actually, in a November 2009 interview with X-Press Magazine, Diggle may have touched on what he was trying to say in "Planet Star" when he mused:
"We're just one planet sailing around the universe, and it is a political planet. We've been forced into the situation of being homogenised into this regular thing of shopping malls and you're not allowed to think or have an opinion in a lot of ways. You're not allowed to go crazy or think wild thoughts anymore. Whereas in the punk days, you was. And the music we do reflects that: it's all there, it's free and it's open for you to take."

To which Amy adds: "I love that song!"

Watch Diggle play "Planet Star" live at London's 100 Club.

4. "World Spinning Round"

As the Record Collector reviewer rightly observed, this truly is "gloriously noisy pop," with an opening riff reminiscent not only of The Monkees’ "Pleasant Valley Sunday" but also of the Beatles "Ticket To Ride."

And topically, it once again finds Der Diggle bemoaning the madness of global leaders. He will always Question Authority!

To which Amy can only add: "I love that song!"

Watch Diggle's "World Spinning Round" music viddy:

5. "Listen To Your Tambourine"
Ah, the leisurely paced jingly-jangly Byrdsy folk-rock song that Amy claims as a metaphor for deconstruction Diggle Ditties. "I really have trouble understanding what he's singing on a lot of songs," she says, "So I just listen to his tambourine!"

While the overall musical mood and 12-string strumming evokes the Byrds, Diggle's guitar solo in the bridge is straight out of the Beatles songbook, sounding like one of George Harrison's simplistic solos circa Revolver.

"Needless to say," adds Amy, "I love that song!"

6. "Rock Revolution Punk"
The distinctively Buzzcockian opening high-pitched guitar notes here recall a similar riff from the Buzzcocks' "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" before once more settling into a revolutionary call to arms.

Everybody's a Rock Revolution Punk Nowadays

7. "Yeah Man Yeah"
Says it all, doesn't it? For me this hard rockin' jam-out that recalls the spirit of Blue Cheer is strictly album filler, but Diggle must like it because it was a staple of his live shows circa 2008, usually as a set-closer (as shown below).

Typical Diggle Band set list

Nice little bass solo spot in the middle for Chris Remington to show off his licks, as well.

Watch the Diggle Band play "Yeah Man Yeah" live at Filthy's in Twickenham:

Surprisingly, Amy does not love this song. She merely likes it.

8. "Victory Road"

"I love that song!" comments Amy, quickly back in lovey-dovey Diggle ditty mode. "It's very Paul McCartneyesque - or, is it Lennonesque? Well, anyway, it's very Beatlesque."

I too love this laid-back folksy singalong, and though Amy thinks it's somehow related to Diggle's favorite hometown football team, Manchester United (after all, there is a Victory Road in Manchester), it also recalls the terrace chant of another footy side, Australia's Melbourne Victory, whose chant (sung to the tune of John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads") is:

Take me home, Victory road,
To a place, I belong,
The terrace, to see the Melbourne,
Take me home, Victory Road.

But I think Victory Road is less a literal place and more an allegorical one. Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields may have been real places, but in song they too took on new meaning as mythical locales.

Watch Diggle play "Victory Road" live at The Square in Harlow:

By the way, this is the gig that provided the live performance sample of "Victory Road" heard at the end of this track - it's the bit at the end of the video clip above, when the crowd takes to the stage! This fact was confirmed when Diggle personally replied to Amy's query about the song (she was so excited!) on his Facebook page...apparently the soundbite is taken from a YouTube video that the band's engineer found the day after the Harlow show. Thus the mystery of "Victory" was solved via the modern marvel we call Social Networking!
Addendum (3/13/11): Oops! Amy's right. Just saw this posting on Diggle's MySpace page: "On the subject of the new album,there is a great article on Steve's track "Victory Road" in this months Inside United magazine,a must for all you Manchester United fans! Steve wrote this track with the club in mind, so listen out for it on the terraces soon!"

9. "Altitude High"
"Don't you know it's a Sunday, not a cloud in the sky
Don't you know it'll be OK, when the altitude is high"
Another solid riff propels this mid-tempo rocker with nice rythmic wordplay ("All the people on their way, lose their minds in life's decay/Gone tomorrow, here today") and even a vintage two-note Buzzcocks guitar solo in the middle.

10. "Plastic Kisses"

"Take you for a ride on a trail of suicide
Some people have no pride at all
But I got the will to survive
All your lies and your jive
And your plastic kisses"
Yet another Beatlesque song, this time about X Factor, the Simon Crowell-created British TV talent search franchise that probably inspired our American Idol. Steve's been sitting 'round at home, watching the pictures go - and he's not impressed! His revolution will not be televised.

11. "Changing of Your Guard"

"1-2-3-4!" Diggle counts out as his call to self-affirmation arms kicks off.
"Well everybody's talking at the same time
But I don't mind at all
Well everybody's walking on the chain line
Backs against the wall
But if you ever want to change your life
If you're living in a world of strife
It's time, this time, to change it right now
Well the changing of your guard, should never be so hard
The changing of your guard, to set yourself free"

I dunno why, but whenever I hear this song, it makes me think of Roger Livesey as crusty gentleman Colonel Clive Candy in Powell and Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943); a relic of the stuffy old British Empire, Colonel Blimp found it too hard to change his guard and realize the world had changed.

Set yourself free, Colonel Blimp!

"Ohmigod," Amy interjects, after considerable rumination. "I really love that song!"

12. "Sparkle of the Sun"
Starting off with a riff reminiscent of the Beatles' "Rain," "Sparkle of the Sun" soon settles into a tougher groove and then ventures off into a neo-psychedelic bridge as Diggle sings about "I'm waiting for the change, the change that's got to come/A political wave, and the sparkle of the sun." More psychedelic guitar carries the song to its hope-tinged conclusion. Reminds me of neo-psych sound of bands like Dream Syndicate, The Three O'Clock, and Julian Cope's The Teardrop Explodes.

13. "Rock Revolution Punk (Acoustic)"
"Rock Revolution Punk" gets the "Love Is Lies" treatment for MTV Unplugged ears.



(EMI, 2005)

Steve Diggle: Guitar & Vocals
Chris Remington: Bass
Eamonn Sheehy: Drums

This is my favorite Steve Diggle solo record. First thing I noticed is how great the production is, and no wonder: Serious Contender was recorded at EMI's Abbey Road studio! I like the Amazon user who commented "If Weller had released this it would have gone top 5 and been acclaimed as his best since Wild Wood." The same reviewer echoed my sentiments when he observed: "I love this album. Every track is hugely enjoyable, its well produced and has a great variety of styles. Virtually a premenant (sic) fixture in my car for blasting out on the motorway." Yes, music for Fast Cars indeed!

Another reviewer, D. Sloan, sums it up nicely: "I really like this guy. Both with the Buzzcocks and solo, Steve Diggle has shown a real consistency of songcraft. He's not averse to adding a few new touches here and there (harmonica, electronics, ballads, etc), but with every release, you basically know you're going to hear some good, solid rock `n' roll. This CD is no exception.

1. "Serious Contender"
"Life on the ropes and you're dealing with dopes/Sick and tired of the same old jokes/But Im a serious contender - whatever life sends ya/When you touch my soul, it's like rock and roll!"
Wherein Steve states his case, as set against the peripatetic lifestyle of a rock 'n' roll troubadour ("Stayed up all night, haven't slept for a week/hanging out with too many freaks"). He's a serious contender for pop glory and has the C.V. to back it up on this, his business card.

Get Serious!: Brando broods that he "coulda been a contender."

After a peppily insistent intro, Diggle lurches into a gravy-thick, lumpen, dead-echo guitar riff that recalls (pop star-turned-child pornography-afficionado) Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll (Part II)" - the iconic Glam Rock anthem played and produced by Mike Leander that's been called the "missing link between The Troggs and techno" for its wall-of-fuzzy-guitars-sounding-like-kazoos production. Takes me back to the glittery days of T. Rex, Slade, and Mud.

All that glitters is glam

2. "Lie in Bed"
Perfect Pop. Period.

"Diggle seems to spend a lot of time in bed," Amy muses.

3. "Hard Up the Highway"
A military beat ushers in this rumination on life being either a Road To Ruin or a Road To Utopia and how the journey to fulfill one's dreams is always gonna be Hard Up the Highway.

4. "Wallpaper World""
They got a bucket of paste to put on your face and disappear behind a wall/And if my name wasn't Winston Smith, I could laugh about it all"
The obvious single, this is a glorious 12-string-guitar driven pure pop confection that'll have you hitting the replay button ad infinitum. Love the Orwell reference. I suspect Diggle's a fan of 1984, as I've lost track of the times he's sung about distrust of Authority and fighting the propaganda of "The System." Whether you're Winston Smith in the Ministry of Truth or just a musician playing clubs, everywhere you look today you're being bombarded with billboard sloganeering, Internet pop-up ads, and bumper sticker philosphies. "People can say anything to you," Diggle laments, asking, "What in the world will it take to wake up 'YOU'?"

Winston Smith up against a wallpaper world

""I love that song!" says Amy, not surprisingly. "In fact, it just might be my favorite Diggle song of them all!"

Like me, she can't understand why a video wasn't made for this one.

5. "See Through You"

The see through you
"If I could see through you/Through what you want to do/But you ain't got a clue
If I could find a way just to make you say/But you don't play that way...
Look into your life like a mirror/Backs against the wall - it's a never-ending story"

This is a faster-paced version of a song Diggle would re-record a year later with Buzzcocks for the FLAT-PACK PHILOSOPHY album, though it would end up as a non-album track on the "Reconciliation" CD single from that album.

The Buzzcocks version heard on the 2006 CD single features Pete Shelley, bassist Tony Barber, and drummer Philip Barker. Its thick and chunky layered guitars, hand-claps, and backing vocals evoke the sound of Badfinger's "No Matter What." (And that's a very good thing!) I like both versions.

And Amy? She says, "I love those songs!"

6. "Starbucks Round the World"

"I've been looking for something different, something that's not the same/I've been looking for sunshine in the rain."

Uniformity rhymes with conformity, as it all those paper cups that look exactly the same. In his November 2009 interview with X-Press Magazine, Diggle touched on some of the themes he was getting at in this catchy number about the adverse effect of globalization on today's world: namely, homogenization or bland "sameness" - y'know, like Starbucks 'round the world!
"We've been forced into the situation of being homogenised into this regular thing of shopping malls...and that is the way the world seems to be going at the moment, this kinda blandness - homogenised society, globalisation. Fuck that, can't we all have our own identities and stuff and still live together on the planet? Everybody wants to feel like they are somebody."

Naturally, Amy concurs, adding, "I love that song!" (Full disclosure: Though Amy dislikes globalization, she is a fan of Starbucks' "Vanilla Creme Steamer" and Pumpkin Bread.) She also likes the Buzzcocks reference in the line, "I've been painting with different colors/I've been Late for the Train."

Watch the "Starbucks Round the World" video:

7. "Across the Sun"
"Sending out to anyone/I see my life across the sun"

Kind of a Psych(edelic) 101 course.

8. "Round and Round"
"When you come into this life it seems you have to choose/Whatever it is it seems plain you were born to lose."

Another great "sound of thunder" rocker with an Old School Chuck Berry solo thrown in for good measure. The chorus "And it goes round and round and upside down" makes me think of my fave Yardbirds tune "Over Under Sideways Down" (I just love "directional" pop songs!) while the line "There are people who'll monitor what you got/And stack you higher than a parking lot" continues Diggle's obsession with Big Brother Forever Watching Over Us.

Watch it:

9. "Terminal"
"You're living in the real world of hate and death and hate/Ezra Pound's still around to kick it in your face."

The mean spirit of Ezra Pound's still around

A lovely acoustic ballad about the mortal coil (that probably goes on a little too long, but that's OK). "Terminal" previously appeared on Diggle's 1993 four-track Heated and Rising EP, and so impressed reviewer Jack Rabid that he said it, and the EP, eclipsed Trade Test Transmissions as Buzzcocks' most memorable release to date:
"'Terminal' is a totally new wrinkle for Diggle, a resigned, weary voice struggling to keep a grip on heavy emotions, lifted up by deeply ringing, doleful acoustics, and a totally memorable verse/chorus. 'Anyone can make a mistake' he sings, and the mood is complete. The tasteful (uncredited) drumming pushes deftly and gently ahead, as Diggle reluctantly warns, 'I should tell you right now, for you it is too late, (it's) terminal,' as the subject broadens to societal illness. The lush sound and tugging words of 'Terminal'... [is] more in-line with Diggle's ex-Buzzcocks' mate Mike Joyce's old band the Smiths than you'd ever imagine." - Jack Rabid, Rovi

And while acoustic guitar strumming sets the emo-mood, an inspired Diggle electric guitar solo in the middle carries the day and elevates the tune from *luverly* to classic. "Terminal" also appears on the soundtrack (during the end credits) of Luxury - a film about Steve's brother, abstract-expressionist painter Philip Diggle.

Watch the "Terminal" video:

"I know I say this about every one," Amy explains, "But I REALLY, REALLY LOVE that song!"

10. "If I Never Get To Heaven"

This rousing pub rocker gives all the players a chance to solo.

11. "Jetfighter"

I could swear he's singing "Jane Fonda," which gives this axe-grinding workout an entirely different meaning. Musically it sounds like Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers' "Roadrunner" (Jetfighter, jetfighter...going faster miles an hour?) as covered by The Sex Pistols, with more than a passing nod to the primal raw power of Iggy and the Stooges and The Dead Boys.

In summary: A punk rock sonic reducer. Or, Jane Fonda, Jane Fonda...burning faster carbs an hour!

Watch the Diggle Band play "Jetflighter" live at Filthy's in Twickenham:

Near the end of the record, Diggle decides to kick out the jams in two songs that collectively clock in at 16 1/2 minutes.

12. "Shake the System"

Shake the System!

Infectious fist-pumper of a singalong ditty set against a killer riff (think: Led Zep or AC/DC a la "Back In Black") that turns into an anthemic chant that Jimmy Pursey and Sham 69 would be proud of: "Shake, shake, shake the system!" Undeniably catchy, even through 9 minutes of rocking-out play time. Diggle once again invokes his rock-revolution-punk aestheric, inveighing against conformity and complacency as he sings:
"Nobody can take out your mind from you/You know this land was meant for you and me/And when the Flood comes, whatcha gonna do?/You know you can't hide inside your TV"

13. "Early Grave"
"A slice of wedding cake and a killing pain/Another broken heartache in the pouring rain"

"Hats off to the man of an early grave," Diggle sings in the greatest "hats off" song since Del Shannon's "Hats Off To Larry." (In fact, I can't think of any other songs that exist in the Hats Off Genre other than Led Zep's "Hat Off To (Roy) Harper"!)

Hats off to the man of an early rave

At 7 1/2 minutes, it may also be the greatest Neil Young-style guitar solo riffing since "Shakey" and Crazy Horse were cranking out epic "can't-stop-'til-you-get-enough" jams like "Cortez the Killer" and "Like a Hurricane" (the spirit of which "Early Grave" really evokes). This is what Amy's talking about when she says, "I love rock & roll!" Needless to say, Amy loves this song - to death! Shakey the System!



(Import, 2000)

Steve Diggle: Guitar & Vocals
Chris Remington: Bass
Gary Rostock: Drums

2000's Some Reality is almost a Flag on Convenience reunion, as F.O.C. drummer Gary Rostock returns to the fold with Diggle. But, as Aol Music's Jack Rabid wrote, the overall quality of this first album-length solo release isn't up the the standard of F.O.C.'s Northwest Sky, Exiles, or Diggle's own 1993 Heated and Rising EP. Still, it has its moments, like the lead-off "Just Because" (Diggle's "Raison D'Etre"), the Northern Soul of "Heavy Hammer," the two lovely acoustic numbers "Where You're From" and "What Else Can I Do," and Amy's favorite rocker "Three Sheets To the Wind."

1. Just Because

Amy says this sounds like a John Lennon song (Steve does sing it in that nasally Lennon range), while I think it sounds more like a Morrisey band mid-tempo rocker (especially when he goes high pitchy). Plus I hear nods to The Who when Diggle chants "Yeah, na-na-na-no, yeah na-na-na-no!" and early Noel Gallagher guitar phrasing circa Oasis' Definitely Maybe album.

2. "Playing with Fire"
Diggle vocally evokes Paul Weller's Northern Soul period, with some very '70s (Bad Company, Free?) guitar riffing thrown in.

3. "Where You're From"
"You're not the only one to feel that you've been done/Now you're time has come to see where you come, to see where you come from"

This wistful acoustic ballad makes me think of Oasis, who were clearly an influence on Diggle (except they support Man City while Diggle is a diehard Man U fan!), specifically I'm thinking of Noel Gallagher's "Half the World Away" on The Masterplan. After all, Mancunians know where they come from. And Diggle was the most Mancunian Candidate of all the Buzzcocks, having been born in city center, just to the left of Rusholme's "Curry Mile," at St. Mary's Hospital off Oxford Road.

4. "Time of Your Life"
Catchy rocker with irresistable beat.

5. "Blowing Hot"

I call this the Stones song (as in the Rolling variety, not Roses). That guitar riff recalls Let It Bleed's "Monkey Man" when Keith and Mick Taylor trade licks while Mick sings "I hope we're not to messianic, or a triffle too Satanic - just love to sing the blues!"

6. "Three Sheets to the Wind"

"Some reality takes you home/It's hard to swallow
Some reality keeps you stoned/Hard to swallow"

The album's Title Song. Great bridge followed by signature Diggle guitar soloing. I suspect Diggle has experienced the drunken state of being "three sheets to the wind" often in his life.

Just a guess.

7. "What Else Can You Do?"

"When the sun starts to shine, all the light's yours and mine/It's the place you can't forget, it's the place with no regrets."

Another beautiful Diggle acoustic number as Steve croons lines like "Spend your time in prison and your soul it has just risen to outer space...", resigning himself to muse "What else can you do, when the world's stacked against you?"

8. "Something in Your Mind"

This one sounds very '60s Nuggets-y like something by Van Morrison and Them or even a Troggs ballad (circa "With a Girl Like You" or "Love Is All Around"), with a nice Diggle solo capping off the outro. "Life is too short to start to feel so bad/All the things you are/They didn't make you glad."

9. "Heavy Hammer"

Pure Paul Weller-style Northern Soul circa The Style Council! A comparison I'm sure Diggle doesn't mind (the Mod thing!). In fact, Diggle sometimes sings like Weller. In fact, this tune would not have been out of place on Weller's Wild Wood.

St. Paul, the Modfather: always an influence

West Ham United might wanna adopt this as a terrace chant if the Hammers stay up this season.

10. "All Around Your Face"
"Good things turn into bad/But it's the best thing you ever had"
Hard rocker with that tremelo guitar effect that recalls Stills and Young's style circa Buffalo Springfield.

11. "Turning Point"
"If I could take all of your problems, tear 'em up and leave them behind/If I could find a way to reach you, there'd be a turning point in your mind/If I could leave the past behind me, there'd be a turning point from now on"

Mixed tempos and time signatures propel a song about reconciling a relationship that I supsect is highly personal, with Diggle resolving things as usual by rocking out on a long jam-out at the end.


Diggle Discography Deux: Songs from The Buzzcocks Canon


(Cooking Vinyl, 2006)

Steve Diggle: Guitars and vocals
Pete Shelley: Guitars and vocals
Tony Barber: Bass
Philip Barker: Drums

The fifth release from the Shelley-Diggle-Barber-Barker edition Buzzcocks features five Diggle ditties. This was a particulary fruitful period for Diggle's songwriting, as he followed up the 13 originals on his 2005 solo album SERIOUS CONTENDER with five more orginals on FLAT-PACK PHILOSOPHY, including the stellar "Sell You Everything" and "Big Brother Wheels." Steve even had the final word, with his "Between Heaven and Hell" closing out the disc on an acapella note.

"Sell You Everything" (Diggle)

Watch this "Sell You Everything" video:

"Soul Survivor" (Diggle)
"I'm a soul survivor and I live in a world of tack
Whatever they say it just rolls right across my back"

Tough song, hard riff, solid action.

"Big Brother Wheels" (Diggle)

"Big brother wheels
Gonna stamp it out of you in time
Gonna make you jump and walk the line"

Another song about Big Brother and his jack-booted "line of blue" making "you believe what you receive". Shouts from the crowd? Not allowed. "And if you walk into walls, you'll get "a kick in the balls and see how the mighty fall," Diggle warns. If his name wasn't Winston Smith, he could laugh about it all. Instead, he offsets the dire straits with this finger-snapping pop melody that at least one reviewer compared to the late '70s sound of The Motors.

Watch Buzzcocks playing "Big Brother Wheels" live at Koko's in Camden Town, London, during 2006's "World Comeback Tour":

YouTube user francob21's comment: "This video was never meant to be seen as the record company never wanted to release 'Big Brother Wheels' as a single, much to Steve Diggle's disappointment." (To which I'd add - just what the fug do record companies know? This would have been a great single!)

"Sound of a Gun" (Diggle)
"You might think you're clever
This thing will strike you dumb
Everybody shakes to the sound of a gun"

This should have been on the soundtrack of that Michael Caine vigilante justice movie Harry Brown. Yeesir, it's a another good one. The record company must have thought so too, because a great music video accompanied this Diggle song.

Watch "Sound of a Gun":

"Between Heaven and Hell" (Diggle)
Another philosphical song about the meaning of existence. Pete Shelley says it's the aim of existence to offer resistance to the flow of time; Diggle says that though our feet are on the ground, life is what goes on in our mind's eye: "Where things come from no one knows/What it does or where it goes/Sometimes life you just can't see."

"You might think that what you see
Is all there is for sure
But if you look behind your eyes
You'll see there's so much more
Darkness blanks your train of thought
And sticks in your mind's eye
You've got your feet still on the ground
But your head is in the sky
Something stuck in my mind between heaven and hell"

"Between Heaven & Hell" brings the album to an acapella "vocal only" conclusion as the music and album fades away. 'Tis Diggle who has the final word.



(Cooking Vinyl, 2006)

Two Diggle songs appear on this three-track CD supporting the FLAT-PACK PHILOSOPHY album.

"See Through You" (Diggle)
This is the slower tempo, Buzzcocks version of the song Diggle originally released on his 2005 solo album Serious Contender, here backed by Pete Shelley, bassist Tony Barber, and drummer Philip Barker. Its thick and chunky layered guitars, backing vocals and (deal-sealer) syncopated hand-clapping evoke the unmistakable sound of Badfinger's "No Matter What." (And that's a very good thing!)

"Holding Me Down" (Diggle)
"I used to get mad at your rules/You used to to get sad with your fools....I'd look in your eyes and see just a fool/I'd look in your eyes and see it's not cool"

This non-album Diggle ditty is a mid-tempo downbeater, drenched in multi-layered fuzz guitar. It reminds Amy of a grungy Neil Young song and who am I to argue with that spot-on assessment, especially with Steve's high-pitched reedy (or is that weedy?) vocals. An alternate, poppier version previously appeared as a bonus track on the Japanese version of the 1996 Buzzcocks album ALL SET. (Amy likes that version better; I like 'em both.)



(Cooking Vinyl, 2006)

Two more Diggle songs appear on this three-track CD single supporting 2006's FLAT-PACK PHILOSOPHY album: "Sell You Everything" and the non-album track "Every Day and Every Night."

"Every Day and Every Night" (Diggle)
"Cross the bridge and you will find
That it's only in your mind"
This 1996 demo recording of Diggle's "Every Day and Every Night" was originally intended for the MODERN album. And, yes, multi-talented bassist-producer Tony Barber plays synth on it. Starts off real Wyndham Hilly with acoustic guitar strumming complementing Barber's airy synth line, but then really kicks in with a hooky bridge as Diggo sings "Across your mind you find that time is only time and time again" and adds an electric guitar solo.



(Cooking Vinyl, 2006)

This is yet another (the third) CD single released to support 2006's magnificent FLAT-PACK PHILOSOPHY album. Love the cover art by Paul Terrance Madden, whose work rekindles memories of Buzzcocks cover art glory under Malcolm Garrett. Sandwiched between Shelley's titular "Wish I Never Loved You" single and non-album "Orion," the three-track release features Diggle's non-album "Don't Matter What You Say." Needless to say, it must be heard!

"Don't Matter What You Say" (Diggle)
Starting off with staccato guitar riffing that would not be out of place of 1999's electronica-influenced MODERN, the chorus goes forward into the past for a Small Faces-styled rave-up, with Diggle's vocal yelping recalling another mod Steve - Steve Marriott. (From me, this is the highest praise conceivable.)

A nod to the original Mod, Little Stevie

Besides this three-track UK import, there's also a 2009 three-track vinyl version of this single on the Damaged Goods label that substitutes a May 2000 live version (recorded at a show in Eindhoven, Holland) of the Devoto-Shelley tune "Love Battery" in place of "Orion." (I suppose Amy-the-completist will order that one, as well!)



(Merge Records, 2003)

Steve Diggle: Guitars, vocals
Pete Shelley: Guitars, vocals
Tony Barber: Bass
Philip Barker: Drums

“We thought for this one we’d go back to basics,” is how Diggle explains 2003's Buzzcocks album. “Make it a little bit tougher as well, turn up the guitars a bit more, make it more direct. Like the real early stuff, but a modern-day, now sort of thing.” In support of the album, the band made its first ever appearnce on American TV, appearing on the late night Craig Kilborn show.

It also saw Diggle getting a hefty share of the tracks, with five of the 14 tracks being his compositions. As one reviewer put it, "Since returning from oblivion in the early 1990s, Pete and Steve Diggle have taken a Lennon-McCartney approach to their recorded work. They now share equally in the writing, and Steve's work is every bit the equal of Pete's, in terms of quantity and quality."

No doubt, this Lennon-McCartney approach and the quality of the songs the dynamic duo had achieved by 2003 are the reasons why Amy cites this as her favorite post-"Golden Age" (1977-1981) Buzzcocks album. Not surprisingly she says: "I love that album!"

"Wake Up Call" (Diggle)

Hard rocker with that distinctive, klaxon-like Buzzcocks lead guitar sound and "oooh-oooh" backup vocals.

"Driving You Insane" (Diggle)

This is Diggle's Nirvana song. No, really, this coulda been written by Kurt Cobain - except, well, he's another frontman who toured with Buzzcocks and killed himself (Ian Curtis 'twas the other, in 1980). But the way he sing-song rhyme associations really reminds me of the Seattle grungers circa Nevermind. And I love this couplet in which Diggle actual uses the term *kestral* (a predatory falcon) in a pop song!
"Have a shave
Take a rave
Be a slave
From a kestrel to a knave"

Watch Buzzcocks play "Driving You Insane" live on some telly show called Fox Rox:

"Sick City Sometimes" (Diggle)

"Sick city sometimes, sick city on my mind
Sick city sometimes, sick city left way behind"

Another candidate for best-ever Steve Diggle tune, Buzzcocks saw it worthy enough to be the A-side on the 3-track EP released on Damaged Goods in 2003. The guitar riff is irresistable and the imagery catchy as well: "Through the paper and the trash/All the needles and the cash/Side by side with the man in the big car...Then it turns the dead of night/And you get into a fight/And the blades run down your back like superstars."

Watch it.

"Certain Move" (Diggle)
"You live life like you should know/So let the four winds blow/I think it's time to go"

Nice little pop groover with Diggle pining "It's such a certain move, so open you eyes so you can see."

"Up for the Crack" (Diggle)

Crack: Up for it?

Yet another nice rocker, nothing really noteworthy in the words. I think "up for the crack" must be a Brit expression for "I'm game" or whatever. So I guess Diggle's game to look for love in all the right places.



(Damaged Goods, 2003)

This three-track CD single has the same version of Diggle's "Sick City Sometimes" as on the album, plus two Shelley tunes on the B-side: "I Never Believe It" (Shelley) is a previously unreleased track from the Surgery Studios demos recorded at Barnet in August 1995, while Shelley's "Paradise" (a song originally on 1979's A Different Kind of Tension LP) is a September 1995 recording taken from a live Webcast aboard a pirate radio ship.


"JERK" EP (2003)

(Damaged Goods, 2003)

I don't have this three-track vinyl EP. Sandwiched between Shelley's A-side "Jerk" and a live rendition of "Oh Shit!" is Diggle's B-side, "Don't Come Home."


MODERN (1999)

Steve Diggle: Guitars and vocals
Pete Shelley: Guitars and vocals
Tony Barber: Bass
Philip Barker: Drums

A cdnow critic remarked of this album that, "While Shelley has obviously retained an ear for three-minute pop songs, the Steve Diggle-written numbers find the band veering from the formula in favor of a more experimental direction, and the occasionally eccentric production attempts to incorporate all manner of electronica." To which my friend Dave Cawley added, "That's one of my least favorite Buzzcocks records, especially the Diggle songs with electronic drums."

I dunno why so many people are divided on this album, as it's in a dead-heat with Flat-Pack Philosophy on my scorecard for the best-ever Buzzcocks Edition III recording (Buzzcocks I being the Howard Devoto-era, Buzzcocks II being Shelley-Diggle-Maher-Garvey, and III being the Shelly-Diggle-Tony Barber-Phil Barker band).

For, despite coming out in 1999 and being called Modern, it's backward-looking '80s electronic vibe makes me think of The Cars, Kraftwerk, Ultravox!, Gary Numan, OMD, and the "Sheffield Sound" of The Human League.

"Speed of Life" (Diggle)
"You're liv ing at the speed of life
On the edge of a razor knife"

Great pop song that wouldn't be out of place on The Cars' first album, right down to its revved up guitar bridge and that Elliott Easton-like solo. 80s flashback moment!

"Don't Let the Car Crash" (Diggle)

"Help me to help you save yourself"

This car song idles for about a minute of moody introductory electronica, before Steve picks up his guitar and shouts "Save me, save me - don't let the car crash!" The layered guitars and double-tracked hooky chorus do the trick, transforming this song from becoming a track on side 2 of Bowie's Low into something more commercially viable like, say, side 1 of Low! And is he really singing "Wavy Gravy - don't let the car crash" on the next go-round? The middle eight sounds like something off the first or second Ultravox! LPs.

"Doesn't Mean Anything" (Diggle)
"Because you like to know your feelings, and you like to do your thing/And the whole world that surrounds you, doesn't mean anything"
Diggle opens with a hip-hoppy attempt at inner city rap that is...a dreadful misfire. Thankfully, he comes to his senses, picks up his guitar and gets it sorted with some good old rock and roll. Sure, there are some electronic beeps, blips and squawks thrown in to accent the "modernity" of it all, but the solid guitar strumming saves this one.

"Turn of the Screw" (Diggle)

Pure rock song, no electronica gimmicks at all. More old school Buzzcocks rock and roll with ooh's and ah's for good measure.

"Stranger in Your Town" (Diggle)
Back to electronic drums and guitar effects...but the riff is as steady and repitive as a Kraftwerk loop, and it all works out fine.

"Every Day and Every Night" (Diggle)
A 1996 demo recording of Diggle's "Every Day and Every Night" originally intended for the MODERN album appears on the Buzzcocks Sell You Everything CD single (Cooking Vinyl, 2006). Tony Barber plays synth on one of the mellowist of Diggle songs, one that's almost New Agey until that great bridge when the guitars come to the rescue.


ALL SET (1996)

(Capitol, 1996)

Steve Diggle: Guitars and vocals
Pete Shelley: Guitars and vocals
Tony Barber: Bass
Philip Barker: Drums

Three Diggle ditties dot the ALL SET album, with "What Am I Supposed To Do" standing out the strongest. (Three additional Diggle songs appear on the Japanese version of this album.)

"What Am I Supposed to Do" (Diggle)

"You make mistakes when you're twenty one
You see it's gone, simply trolling by
Every time you make a move
Somebody kicks you in the eye
People talking about my life
I don't want to hear it, 'cause it's suicide"

Great little rocker with driving keyboard support supplementing the guitars and catchy backup vocals. This was part of Diggle's Flag of Convenience set list back in 1986 and can be heard on the audiocassette-only bootleg of F.O.C.'s January 10, 1986 live show at Dingwalls Dancehall in London; the same show provided live versions of "A Dance" - which later turned up on the Buzzcocks's DO IT CD single as "Trash Away" - and "Keep Pushing," the B-side of Diggle & F.O.C.'s "New House" single.

"Playing for Time" (Diggle)
Guitars chug along the intro like an auto motor warming up, before Diggle jump-starts the mid-temp rocker while singing "Playing for time, I can see you false face in my mind/I can hear your false face out of line...I can see you're out of place in time, standing in that empty space that's mine."

"Back with You" (Diggle)
"You help me sing my song, and it won't be long/'Til I'm back with you"

Starts off with an Oasis-y electric guitar motif, followed by Folky acoustic strumming, then branches out into an epic ballad a la "Hey Jude" replete with strings and even a xylophone. "The thing's you make me do now..."


ALL SET: Japanese Release with Extra Bonus Tracks (1996)

All three extra tracks by Diggle are good, with not a dud among them. Any could have fit in on the regular ALL SET LP release, time/space allowing. In a 1996 interview with Pop Culture Press magazine (reprinted on Web site, Diggle explained why these tracks were missing:
When asked why he didn't contribute as many songs on All Set as he had on the band's previous releases, Steve describes a humorous incident which will send collector's scrambling to find the Japanese pressing. The band had actually recorded six Diggle compositions, but the songs were delivered late. "They pressed up the album thinking that was it and when the album came out I said, 'what the fuck's happened here? You missed three songs?' The three songs will come out on the Japanese release, since we have a different deal in Japan."

"Holding Me Down" (Diggle)

Yup, it's the same song that later appeared as a B-side on the 2006 CD single for the FLAT-PACK PHILOSOPHY album. But this is a slicker version, with Diggle's vocals double tracked, a quicker tempo, and less distortion on the guitars. The later version evokes the spirit of Neil Young and Crazy Horse and may have been a demo; this cleaned-up version sounds a lot poppier. Love the Beach Boy-ish ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo surf's up backing vocals!

"Television World" (Diggle)

"It's just a television world inside/Look at life through a glass windscreen/Taking control behind the scenes/A mind alone in a haunted dream."

Another song about "sitting 'round at home/watching the pictures go," in a media-saturated (wallpaper) world in which "all the pictures come and go, speeding up making you feel slow." A "Stop the World, I Wanna Get Off" statement? The music is pleasantly mid-tempo with a nice little guitar lead motif in the background.

"Everyday Sky" (Diggle)
"So don't you try to understand/It's just the way the whole thing's planned/You wonder why the sky is blue/It means nothing to you."

Another medium-tempo song that could have worked just as well as an acoustic ballad. Pleasant and uplifting!



(Castle Music UK, 1993)

Steve Diggle: Guitars and vocals
Pete Shelley: Guitars and vocals
Tony Barber: Bass
Philip Barker: Drums

The 1993 "comeback" album from Manchester’s legendary pop punks after the Diggle and Shelley rapproachment and reunification as Buzzcocks (with Garvey and Maher) in 1989. The UK import version includes seven bonus tracks taken from two 1993 12-inch EPs (the "Innocent" and "Do It" releases on the Castle Communications/Caroline label) and live material from non-album tracks.·

"Isolation" (Steve Diggle)
"Well I've watched the waves come and go
And I can never escape from what I know
There is barbed wire 'round my heart...
I'm living in a world of I-SO-LA-TION"

A Flag of Convenience (F.O.C.) oldie given new life with Buzzcocks backing. Check out Steve playing his sunburst Rickenbacker on the F.O.C.-era "Isolation" video below:

"When Love Turns Around" (Diggle)
"What do you get when love turns around?
When hate is just a state in your mind
You say that you know me, but some things are hard to find
When love turns around you"
Fantastic song (!) and another candidate for best-ever Diggle Buzzccocks tune (alongside "Wallpaper World" and "Sick City Sometimes" on my short list). A staple of Buzzocks live shows around this period, a great version also appears on the live recording Encore du Pain, which includes all 10 songs from the three encore sets they performed during their April 1995 gig at Paris' L'Arapaho Club (and also available on the 2-disc 2004 CD release French et Encore du Pain: The Complete Paris Live).

FRENCH: April in Paris finds blistering Buzzcocks takes on many Diggle tunes

"Energy" (Diggle)

All the energy in this tune goes into the melody, with Pete adding those signature Buzzcock backing "oh-oh!" vocals to Steve's otherwise unimaginative words about someone or something wasting all his time and energy.

"Alive Tonight" (Diggle)

TTT includes this Diggle A-side that originally appeared (in a much different version) on the 1991 Buzzcocks ALIVE TONIGHT EP released on the Planet Pacific label. "Alive Tonight"'s grungy retro garage-rock sound would fit in nicely on Lenny Kaye's Nuggets. (The other EP songs are Diggle's "Successful Street" and Shelley's "Serious Crime" and "Last To Know.")

The lineup on this track pre-dates the recruitment of the new Buzzcocks rhythm section of Tony Barber and Philip Barker. Steve Garvey is featured on bass and Smiths drummer Mike Joyce fills in on drums for Maher, who by 1991 had departed to pursue drag racing.

Watch/hear a YouTube video of "Alive Tonight":

"Unthinkable" (Diggle)

Dave Cawley sez:I think I love "Unthinkable"!

This is my friend Dave Cawley's favorite Diggle song from this album. He raves about it. "I think it's his favorite Diggle song of them all," adds Amy. "It's just my opinion," Dave comments, "But my opinion is accurate!"

The lyrics are rathler grisly; wonder if it was inspired by some real world Midlands crime, like the Yorkshire Ripper?

"Oh, oh, oh, oh, it's unthinkable
Oh, oh, oh, oh, it's unthinkable

Last night I dreamed that I took your life
We cut it up together with a sharpened knife
Then next night I found a dead horse in your bed
And when I rolled over it was you instead

Oh, oh, oh, oh, it's unthinkable
Oh, oh, oh, oh, it's unthinkable

Every time you lied, you actually died
Shot in the head, in a cupboard and fried
The next day I came, I was in a frame
Hannibal the Cannibal all over again"


TRADE TEST TRANSMISSIONS: UK release Bonus Tracks reissue: (2005)

"Inside" (Diggle)
"Lots of people talk and feel what they know
Inside it's another picture show
You gotta believe it 'cause
What's it take to win control
Of the things in your life?
What does it take to wake a soul
And step inside your mind?"

"Innocent" EP (1993)

"Innocent" EP - on the "Inside"!

Another great Diggle song, this non-stop rocker is a bonus track taken from the 1993 "Innocent" EP on the Castle Communications/Caroline label. "A lot of people think and what do they know? Inside you got to let it grow - you better believe it!"

"Trash Away" (live) (Diggle)
"In the day we walk through broken glass
Nothing to say that the time is fading fast
What's in the future if you haven't got a past
Here's one more kid looking to trash away"

This live track is taken from the 1993 "Do It" EP originally released on the Castle Communications/Caroline label. (The EP also included a live rendition of Shelley's "All Over You.") Like The Smith's "Hang the DJ," it's a call-out song, with Steve name-checking "Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Scotland, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Windsor, Manchester, in the Lake District" before crossing The Pond to include a shout-out to "in L.A., in L.A., in L.A, in L.A.!" And once again it finds Diggle (ever the class-conscious Socialist) calling for Revolution: "Well it's a one more life to trash away/And if you don't get it right, I hope The Revolution comes this way!"

"Roll It Over" (Diggle)

"Libertine Angel" EP (May 1994)

Diggle's "Roll It Over" is taken from the limited edition (only 1,000 copies!) 1994 "Libertine Angel" EP that was released on Castle Communications and distributed by BMG. I suspect Tony Barber had a lot to do with the stellar production. The throbbing bass and chunka-chunka guitars lend the song an almost heavy metal vibe. I could see Lemmy and Motorhead covering it! Weird song in the sense that it fades out at the two-minute mark, then fades back in - with police siren fanfare - and continues for four more jam-out minutes with Steve-o chanting "Pushin' and a shovin' and a Roll It Over!"



(Planet Pacific, 1991)

Steve Diggle: Guitars and vocals
Pete Shelley: Guitars and vocals
Steve Garvey or Tony Barber: Bass
Mike Joyce: Drums

This four-track EP that culls songs from the 1991 demo sessions for what would become the 1993's TRADE TEST TRANSMISSION LP. It features two songs apiece from Diggle and Shelley, representing two LP tracks (Diggle's title track "Alive Tonight" and Shelley's "Last To Know"), plus two non-LP songs: Shelley's "Serious Crime" and Diggle's "Successful Street." All four songs are also available on Buzzcocks' 3-disc import collection The Complete Singles Anthology. And it features ex-Smiths drummer Mike Joyce (who filled the drumseat vacated by John Mayer) before he quit to join PiL in 1992.

"Alive Tonight" (Diggle)
"When they asked me want I wanted to do
What kind of job do you think we're due to
I said I don't know I just want to feel alive tonight"

This earlier version of a song that would be quickened and grunged up by the time it was rerecorded for 1993's TRADE TEST TRANSMISSIONS LP is very different. The pace, for one thing, is much more leisurely and the sound is more neo-psychedelic and Madchester-tinged than hard rocking. "I call it trippy," says Amy, who herself got ripped up by this song. She got all excited when she misheard the first line as "Armchair Groovers have done nothing on me." The lyrics are actually actually "Object movers have done nothing on me," but the concept of "Armchair Groovers" (which we both are - especially when listening to Buzzcocks at work!) is much better and makes me think of the 1970s Maxell audiocassette ad with the cool dude sitting in a chair and being blown away by the Maxwell's audio tapes.

Maxell's "Chair Man": The original Armchair Groover?

Some up and coming indie psych band should defintely cop this name.

"Successful Street" (Diggle)
This trip-hop stone-rocker clearly shows the influence of fellow Mancunians The Stone Roses and could easily have appeared on their 1989 debut record.

Diggle gets Stoned on "Successful Street"

It's hardly a surprising influence, given that erstwhile Roses guitarist Andy Couzens (1983-1986) went on to play with Diggle in the late-'80s lineup of Flag of Convenience. It's free-flowing dub-style beats and floating guitars show yet another dimesion to Diggle's songwriting talents. This is, after all, the guy who threw a wrench into Buzzcocks 3-minute chainsaw guitar manifestos by penning the acoustic "Love Is Lies" on Love Bites. Something different this way comes.


PARTS 1-3 EP (1981)

(EMI, 1981)

Steve Diggle: Guitars and vocals
Pete Shelley: Guitars and vocals
Steve Garvey: Bass
John Maher" Drums

The first signs that Diggle was emerging from the shadows to overtake Pete Shelley in the spotlight were the three singles that came out in 1980 after A Different Kind of Tension and were later compiled on this six-song 12-inch release. Diggle's tunes were clearly superior to Pete's (depression-prone) efforts from this period. Who, indeed, knew? A sign of things to come.

"Why She's a Girl from the Chainstore" (Diggle)

Good rocker that works even better live (as recorded on various 'cocks bootlegs, like 1998's 30 and 1995's French) and had an accompanying silly-funny video (featuring Buzzcocks collage designer Linder Sterling as the salesgirl) you can find on Playback and YouTube.

Watch "Why She's a Girl From a Chainstore."

The words in this one are downright clever as - in between the chorus - Diggle pens lines like "Her name was written on her coat/Her life was a miserable anecdote"..."a product of environment/Another flesh wound in a tenement"..."Facing Bernstein's barrier/Waiting for someone to marry her"...and "Down there at the discotheque/Waiting for someone to bite her neck."

Chainstore Girls Face Bernstein's Barrier

OK, you're wondering - but what is that obscure reference to "Bernstein's barrier" all about? In her blog The Dawn Patrol, Dawn Eden asked the author what he was talking about:
It would seem that "barrier" was a convenient rhyme for "marry her," but why Bernstein?

That was a question I posed to Diggle when I met him, back when I was a rock and roll obsessive. His answer was charming.

It turned out he was a Leonard Bernstein fan. He had read that Bernstein's New York City accent initially threatened to impede his advancement. In the same way, the Mancunian shopgirl Diggle immortalized was "facing Bernstein's barrier."

"Airwaves Dream" (Diggle)

"This is to you believer
We're inside your head today
There's nothing you will need now
We are your goverment, OK?"
More Orwellian imagery pervades Diggle's tune about propaganda and thought control, with the irony being a pop group on the radio has as much sway as (other) state-controlled media.

"Running Free" (Diggle)

"Here in Suburbia, there's nothing left to see
Just wanna spend my time running free
I've had enough of the day job, I can see farther than that
Just wanna spend my time running free"
The EMI single version features synths - and, under Martin Hannett's muddled over-production, manages to bury Diggle's vocals in the mix almost to incomprehension - but is still a great song, especially when augmented by Pete Shelley's backing refrain of "No-no, no-no time/No-no, no-no time!" (though I thought initially he was singing the more existential-sounding phrase "In love with all time") - which answers Steve's warning that "You better make a move before sleeping gets you/You better shape soon before the weak things make you."

Still, I prefer the live, guitars-only version on the 1995 live album French that Diggle intros by saying, "There's only one way to beat The System: You gotta run free!"



(United Artists, 1979)

Steve Diggle: Guitars and vocals
Pete Shelley: Guitars and vocals
Steve Garvey: Bass
John Maher" Drums

"Promises" (Diggle, Shelley)

No song better illustrates the difference in Diggle-Shelley songwriting than this rare collaboration between the dynamic duo, that was released as a single in 1978. Diggle had the riff but couldn't trim down his Clash-influenced socio-political ruminations into something popsong-friendly, so Pete suggested turning the complex ideas about betrayal by leaders and politicians into something the Every Man could relate to: a love song about betrayal. Shelley the editor kept it simple instead of bombastic. The results are golden.

Watch the "Promises" video:

"Lipstick" (Diggle, Shelley)
The B-side of "Promises."

Though they rarely wrote songs together, "Promises" b/w "Lipstick" represented the only time they shared songwriting credits on both sides of a single release.

Watch the "Lipstick" video:

"Harmony in My Head" (Diggle)

From 1979, Steve's first solo A-side!

Watch Diggle lip-sync "Harmony in My Head" on Top of the Pops!:

"Whenever I'm in doubt about things I do
I listen to the high street wailing sounds in a queue
I go out for my walking sailing social news
Don't let it get me down I'm long in the tooth"

When I'm out in the open clattering shoppers around
The neon signs that take your eyes to town
Your thoughts are chosen your world is advertising now
And extravagance matters to worshippers of the pound

But it's a harmony in my head
It's a harmony in my head

The tortured faces expression out aloud
And life's little ironies seem so obvious now
Your cashed in cheques have placed the payments down
And there's a line of buses all wait to take you out

"Autonomy" (Diggle)

Reprised from the first album, "Autonomy" was the first Diggle single, appearing on the B-side of 1978's "I Don't Mind."

Watch Diggle, in his Union Jack coat, rip through "Autonomy" live on Fuel TV:

"Why Can't I Touch It?" (Diggle, Garvey, Maher, Shelley)

Another joint venture, this group grope was the B-side of 1979's "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" single.



(United Artists, 1979)

Steve Diggle: Guitars and vocals
Pete Shelley: Guitars and vocals
Steve Garvey: Bass
John Maher" Drums

Diggle had three songs on the A side of the last "original" 'cocks LP.

"Sitting Around at Home" (Diggle)
"Sitting 'round at home watching the pictures go..." This is the Diggle ditty that invented Grunge, anticipating the slow-fast-slow songwriting tactics of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain - yet another lead singer who killed himself while touring with the 'cocks (the other being Joy Division's Ian Curtis, back in the day).

"You Know You Can't Help It" (Diggle)
"Sex is known as a screw/A bloody silly thing to do/But we're all gonna do it/'Cuz it's great!" Diggle cuts to the chase in his analysis of man's basest instincts. Rock as a primal urge to purge one's genetic information. Everything one needs to know about the Diggle zeitgeist is contained within the verses of this tune, which serves as his philosphical "Raison D'Etre."

"Mad Mad Judy" (Diggle)
I always like to think this one's about Judy Holiday ('cuz I'm a delusional film geek), though Amy (after consulting the Diggle autobiography, Harmony in My Head, which she has committed to memory) thinks it's about his ex-love Judith.



(United Artists, 1978)

Steve Diggle: Guitars and vocals
Pete Shelley: Guitars and vocals
Steve Garvey: Bass
John Maher" Drums

Love Is Lies" (Diggle)
"Love is lies, love is eyes
Love is everything that's nice
Love is not as cold as ice
But that's what love means to me"
Noteworthy mainly for being the first 'cocks acoustic song in their otherwise hard 'n' spiky repetoire.

Watch Diggle play "Love Is Lies" live:

"Late for the Train" (Shelley, Diggle, Maher, Garvey)
A Buzzcocks ensemble cast jam-out.

On the Love Bites special edition release that came out in February 2010, you can also hear Diggle demos of "Children" - which later became the Diggle-Shelley single "Promises" (which appears on Singles Going Steady) - and "Mother of Turds": the latter a thought-provoking rumination on a epic shit authored by Steve. 'Twas a big one!



(United Artists, 1978)

Steve Diggle: Guitars and vocals
Pete Shelley: Guitars and vocals
Steve Garvey: Bass
John Maher" Drums

"Fast Cars" (Howard Devoto, Steve Diggle, Pete Shelley)
"Sooner or later, you're gonna listen to Ralph Nader
I don't wanna cause a fuss, but those cars are dangerous
Fast cars, fast cars, fast cars - I hate fast cars!"
The first song on the first album - and the first written by Diggle for Buzzcocks. Yep, this is a song Diggle brought to the Buzzcocks table, before DeVoto and Shelley polished it off. I initially thought it might be about his childhood pal who was killed in a fast car crash. Diggle relates the incident in his sex-drugs-rock 'n' roll memoirs, Harmony in My Head. (Wonder if Modern's "Don't Let the Car Crash" could be about the same incident?)

But according to a 2008 phone conversation with a fan named Justin - and subsequently posted to Diggle's Facebook page - the song's origin owes something to *oblique strategies*. Diggle: "In the early 1970's,David Bowie & Brian Eno was using oblique stratergies. I took that in lyrical level,opened up the page of the dictionary,and the first word I saw was FAST,then turned to another page and saw CARS!So I wrote the music,and then had the chorus...FAST CARS!"

Watch Diggle strum "Fast Cars":

"Autonomy" (Diggle)
"It's a thing that's worth having, yes I would
Buys you your life sir, if it could
I...I want you: autonomy"

Long before London's Tottenham Hotspur wore kits advertising their sponsor Autonomy (a Cambridge-based software infrastructure company), there was Autonomy the non-capitalist venture song - from The North, "where we do what we want!" Like Winston Smith, Diggle has always wanted to live autonomously outside The System - that is, as an individual free from The Man in the Ministry's control - and as a self-employed musician, he's made that dream a reality. Some Reality, at that! No wonder this was Joe Strummer's favorite Buzzcocks song.

"I Need" (Diggle, Shelley)
"I need sex
I need love
I need drink
I need drugs
I need food
I need cash
I need you to love me back"

Buzzcock's songwriting duo are in full agreement for once! And who can argue with their plea for sex, drugs, and rock and roll?

********** See also **********

F.O.C. Singles Discography:

"Life on the Telephone" (1982) Sire
"Change" (1984) Weird Systems
"New House" (1986) M.C.M.
"Last Train to Safety" (1987) Flag of Convenience
"Should I Ever Go Deaf" (1987) M.C.M. (as F.O.C.)
"Exiles" (1988) M.C.M. (as F.O.C.)
"Tomorrow's Sunset" (1989) Thin Line (as Buzzcocks F.O.C.)
"Heated and Rising" (1993) 3:30 (as Steve Diggle & the Flag of Convenience)

F.O.C. Albums Discography:
War on the Wireless Set MCM America
Northwest Skyline (1987) M.C.M.
Here's One I Made Earlier (1995) Ax-s (as Steve Diggle & the Flag of Convenience)
Best of Steve Diggle & Flag of Convenience: the Secret Public Years 1981-1989 (2000) Anagram

Related Links:
"Digging Da Diggle, Deux" (Accelerated Decrepitude)
Buzzcocks on Discogs
Buzzcocks Lyrics (
Diggle and Mike Joyce on The Telly
The Secret Public Years: 1981-1989 (Trouser Press review)
Flag of Convenience (Wikipedia)
"Maximum Diggle Interview

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Blogger Matías D said...

Sorry if I sound like an idiot, but thanks for this blog, I was looking for "Early Grave"'s lyrics and couldn't find them, so I decided I'd try and make them out. The quote you left helped me with the hardest part to understand, have in mind I'm from Argentina.

Here's the video I posted the lyrics on, to anyone wondering: /watch?v=OjBOjxRE7xI

Thank you, and now I'm getting into Der Diggle!

6:44 PM  
Anonymous it services said...

nice blog.

7:16 AM  
Anonymous Genesis said...

He is my favorite punk guitarist. We feel proud that he belongs to our nation.

6:03 PM  

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