Nestled between a string of dates in California, peaking with a coveted spot at Coachella, a quick stop in Finland followed by a tour of the UK's festival circuit, The Buzzcocks had a treat and a half for fans both old and new.
The Back to Front tour was comprised of just two shows spread between Manchester and London. Compiled by a three-part gig with a triple line up, the shows kick off with their more recent material and work backwards to the beginning of the band's seminal career.
As I approach Brixton, sweaty and stressed over misjudging the time it would take to get from Clapham to the venue, a punk couple in their late forties pass me by. "I wouldn't bother, love," the bloke says to me, arm around his girlfriend, who pulls a grim expression. "It's shit."
Despite the ominous warning, the pair seem to be in the minority. The venue's brimming with sun-kissed punks, all supping pints and sporting what I would refer to as "vintage" Buzzcocks tees if I wasn't afraid that my tongue-in-cheek humour would be mistaken for patronizing. A buzz ricochets around the venue - the kind of buzz usually reserved for once in a lifetime gigs, gigs that have been long anticipated from tour announcement to ticket release dates to picking the most appropriate t-shirt to show off your punk credentials (although that kind of forethought is the antithesis of 70s punk sensibilities, naturally).
Part one saw the current line-up of Pete Shelley, Steve Diggle, Chris Remington and Danny Farrant tearing through recent material, mostly hits from underwhelming noughties' records Flat-Pack Furniture and Buzzcocks. Diehard fans are fist pumping and pogoing like it's 1979, but there's a vague sense of impatience rippling through the crowd as bar breaks and bog stops seem to be a continuous distraction between tracks. I can safely assume that my pessimistic friends outside the venue were in the bog-and-bar-break portion of the room. The band nip off stage for a quick breather whilst the backdrop - a colour photo of the Buzzcocks as they stand today - is replaced with a black and white shot from the Buzzcocks' photographic vaults, where their cheekbones are sharp, their hair glossy and dark, their skin smooth. This is the band as I know them - from album covers and inlays and archive shots.
Part two picks up the pace as Remington and Farrant are replaced to feature 92's line up of John Maher on the drums and Steve Garvey on the bass. Pete Shelley proves he can still bust a move with the best of them, flinging himself around the stage with the relentless energy of a hot-headed teen. The band crack out all the hits from the golden years, including "Everybody's Happy Nowadays", "Orgasm Addict", "What Do I Get" and, of course, the seminal "Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)". The music is fast and furious, unapologetically loud, appropriately gritty and unpolished from lack of habit rather than lack of experience. Suddenly, the flow of people squeezing past to visit the bar thins to a trickle; most of us are following Shelley's lead and dancing along, singing with reckless abandon and sloshing our pints down our fronts until our t-shirts cling to our skin with sweat and spilt booze. This is what I expected. It's bloody brilliant. The band tease the crowd into a crescendo by ending set two with a brief encore, then we get an official bladder-and-beer break before part three.
Diggle, Shelley and Maher return to the stage with a special appearance from Howard Devoto, original frontman and founding member. For the first time in thirty three years, Devoto took to the stage with the Buzzcocks and performed EP Spiral Scratch in its entirety. Devoto indulges in some theatrics with a bizarre routine involving a bloke in a raincoat dashing onstage so he can check his appearance in a proffered hand mirror (if it's a reference to something, I don't get it), but apart from that, it's a cracking end to a brilliant show. Devoto teases his loyal fans with cracks about hearing aids and bedtime cocoa, jokes that go down well with the crowd who've been pogoing for two hours and forty-five minutes, with no signs of slowing down. With the final chords still ringing in our ears, Shelley throws his guitar to a dubious roadie, who catches it midair. Brilliant.
- Alice Slater