Pete Shelley, lead singer and main songwriter of Manchester punk band Buzzcocks who died on Thursday at the age of 63, played a major role in the first – and arguably most exciting – wave of the UK punk scene. Shelley and his infectious songs stand firmly alongside Sex Pistols, The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Jam, and The Damned.

The singer died of a suspected heart attack in Estonia, where he had been living for some years with his Estonian wife, Greta.

 Born Peter McNeish in 1955, in the Lancashire town of Leigh, Wigan, Greater Manchester, he formed Buzzcocks in early 1976 with one of his best friends, Howard Trafford. Both were studying at the (then) Bolton Institute of Technology, the pair linking up when McNeish replied to a college noticeboard ad for aspiring musicians to form a band. There was one stipulation: they had to like Velvet Underground’s song, Sister Ray.

 Taking the stage names of Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto, in February 1976 the two travelled to a Sex Pistols gig in High Wycombe. Suitably motivated, the pair returned home and arranged a gig for Sex Pistols at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in June. At a second arranged gig for Sex Pistols in July, Buzzcocks made their official debut. By the end of 1976, they were part and parcel of the heady early wave of the UK punk scene.

Spiral Scratch: the first Buzzcocks record
Spiral Scratch: the first Buzzcocks record

By the close of 1976, they had recorded their first EP, Spiral Scratch, a landmark punk release noted not only for being issued on their own independent label (New Hormones) but also for aiding the establishment of DIY labels across the UK. Indeed, the self-release of the EP has often been cited as the emergence of the term “indie” to define not only a form of music but also a creative and publishing business model.