Steve Diggle – Maximum Harmony (Part 2) Punk

By Mark Youll | 21st April, 2011 | Q & A interviews |

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“You had the Pistols, the Clash, the Damned, the Jam and us, that was the nucleus, where it all started. The rest of them bands came later and weren’t as good. We were like the premiership; we stood the test of time...”

Tell me about the band you were in before joining the Buzzcocks.
Well, we had some rehearsals and I thought this isn’t going nowhere for me. Everybody was tripping, all these guys were weird, taking this and that, and I thought I needed more than that. I would play The Who’s Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy, with all the singles on it, and I thought that was the way to go, three minute songs, none of this long blown out stuff. Also, to afford a synthesizer in those days, they were like a thousand pound. Most people didn’t have the money for a guitar.

We also need to write about something pertaining, something in our lives you know? I had people knocking on my door trying to tell me their problems. These people were getting internally and emotionally fucked on acid, a lot of them joined the harekrishna in the end.
Some guy Lance from the band came back to see me with a harekrishna record, a book and an apple. I never ate the bloody apple, I told him that I’d just joined a bloody punk band and it was all changing for me. It was back to that Saturday Night, Sunday Morning thing of “whatever people think I am, that’s what I’m not”. That stuff was always in your mind.

Was the term punk something people associated with at that point?
Yeah, this was early ’76. I remember by then had three scooters, but I’d lost my scooter licence and started playing more guitar. I was about seventeen or eighteen and I wanted to get down to it, punk helped me get where I wanted to be.

Did you play any bass before playing with Buzzcocks?
Well, what happened was my dad was a truck delivery driver and I had been digging some foundations in the fucking rain for my uncle to save up for a guitar. Anyway, one day I was sat reading Proust on the couch and Dad said he could maybe get me a guitar, so I came home one day and he said ‘I’ve got you that guitar you wanted’, so I went up stairs to the bedroom and it was a bass.

Around this time I was rehearsing with a couple of guys round the corner and we did ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘Paranoid’ and stuff like that. That band wasn’t going anywhere so I rang up an ad in the Manchester Evening News. I wanted to form a band like The Who, doing three- minute songs and smashing the guitars, so that’s what I did. Through that I met Pete and Howard. Everybody wanted to be Jimmy Page or Richie Blackmore back then.

Did you enjoy playing bass in Buzzcocks?
Well, looking back to what I did on Spiral Scratch, it sounded quite good, minimal, but just right. I was playing the basic root notes, but it had the feel that was needed. The bass was good, but it didn’t sit right for me for me you know? Back then I wasn’t a musician, I was an angry young guy. When I moved over to guitar it made more sense.

Your move to guitar was crucial to the sound and the band would later have.
Absolutely. If you listen to Spiral Scratch and what Pete was doing, and then when I moved to guitar, it became more mellow, more tuneful.
I had a song called ‘I Might Need You’ and after playing it to Pete it quickly became ‘What Do I Get?’. I always wish I had that fucking cassette with that original version on it, I’d fucking sue him (laughs). Before it was songs like ‘Orgasm Addict’ and ‘Boredom’ and then later it became more tuneful.

Do you think a song like ‘Orgasm Addict’ was written to intentionally shock people?
I think so yeah. Howard was reading William Burroughs and stuff like that, which has all of that shit in it, that sort of imagery you know? I kind of used the same idea on ‘Harmony In My Head’ but I was reading James Joyce. Bowie was also quite influenced by that stuff as well, so around ’79 I thought I would have a go.

Howard was a big Bowie fan.
Yeah, although he did also have an album by a group called Silverhead which I had as well. Silverhead was Michael Des Barres, a posh bloke that married Pamela Des Barres, that famous groupie. They were one of the early bands I saw. Steve Jones from the Pistols had that album as well which amazed me. They were a bit Stones, a bit Stooges.

What do you remember about the recording of the Spiral Scratch EP?
It was very instant. We recorded some demos that became the bootleg, Times Up. We had to go back into the studio to do a single or an EP and then Martin Hannett came on board and said he would like to produce it. We did it all in an afternoon and went to the pub. A remember this big corridor where we had the amps, and when it sounded good Hannett would undo the fucking mix!

I don’t know if he knew what he doing, but that made it fun you know? When you think about it Andrew Loog Oldham didn’t know what he was doing when he was producing the Stones. He would put echo on everything, but thank god he didn’t know. He produced some good stuff. Sometimes when it’s too professional it’s not always the right thing.

Did you think Martin Hannett played a big part in how Spiral Scratch turned out?
A help and a hindrance! I mean, if we’d have left it to the resident engineer, maybe he might have done a good job as well.

I remember hearing Spiral Scratch much later on after Love Bites and it sounded tribal in comparison.
Yeah, it’s wrong the Scratch EP, but at the same time its fucking right. When people first put it on they said it changed their life overnight, it changed mine when I heard it as well. The way I looked at music changed. Things were no longer a mystery like in the days when you had to join a group and have a jet with your name on the side. Now anybody could do it.