My Time Recording the Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley During his Lower East Side Years

Posted on: December 13th, 2018 at 5:04 am by

Ken Lockie in the studio with future Boogie tipster, Photo: Max Lockie

Beloved Buzzcocks frontman Pete Shelley passed away of a suspected heart attack last week (December 6). Ken Lockie, singer-songwriter and sometime collaborator with John (Rotten) Lydon of Public Image Ltd., fondly recalls his time behind the board with Shelley thirty years ago in Williamsburg and on the Lower East Side.

Pete Shelley was a charming, likable, and talented guy who’d written some genre-defining kick-ass songs only a few years before I worked with him. I knew his manager, Raf, from my time as a recording artist at Virgin Records in the UK (Cowboys International); he was the manager of Magazine at the time and was often around the Vernon Yard office. I was friendly with several of the Magazine boys, John Doyle, Dave Formula, and John McGeoch.

Later, while in New York, I’d introduced John McGeoch to John Lydon at Lydon’s request when he was looking to replace Keith Levene. In retrospect, that was probably the single most constructive thing I did during my 18-month time with Public Image Ltd.

Anyway, Pete Shelley and I recorded six demo songs together in 1987. We spent most of our time in a little studio in Williamsburg. Pete was looking to get a different approach toward his sound and engaged me to work on his new material. In the studio, it was Pete with his acoustic guitar and his voice while I did the MIDI programming. We’d rented a Roland TR808 for the sessions, which is what I used to program the rhythm tracks. Pete played all the songs acoustically so the arrangements were his as he presented them. The studio had a 16 track mixing board and used a Macintosh as a hard disk recorder running Vision Opcode, it had a large room for a full band set up, an isolation booth for vocals and enough outboard gear to provide adequate quality for demos.

He was staying in Midtown as I recall, and the mix of Lower East Side, Williamsburg and Midtown gave him plenty of contrast. Williamsburg back then was a broke down neighborhood where Dominicans and Hassidic Jews seemed to be the primary constituents. Basically everyone was avoiding everyone else. Michael Stewart, a Lower East Side artist, had been beaten and killed on the LL Train a few years earlier which made every trip on that line seem hostile and cold. I’d leap up the stairs out of the station on the Williamsburg side, glad to get out onto the street. New York City was bumping to beatbox sounds and those sounds made their way into our recordings with Pete.

The songs we worked were “Crystal Night,” “Your Love,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Dreaming,” “Give It To Me,” and “Last to Know.” These were pop songs, with themes of love, unrequited, satisfying and secret. For each song, Pete had harmonic structure and melody worked out where he’d provide expected and unexpected harmonic changes in a compact pop song structure. Everything he brought to those sessions was some kind of wonderful.

He is sadly missed by all who knew him and his music.

Recent Stories

Help Support Gem Spa on St. Mark’s Place Tomorrow

A perfect storm of misfortune has plagued the Gem Spa these last few months, causing a precipitous loss in business. From landlord issues to the temporary ban on cigarette sales and the loss of Zoltar, it’s hitting the bottom line. Fear of forever closure is palpable at 131 Second Avenue. The plight of the East […]

With Champ Depot Out, Bowery Corner Gains Another Gallery

For more than a decade, the Champ Depot restaurant supply company occupied 176 Bowery. Now, its former home is completely empty and fetching for a new deep-pocketed tenant. There is a torrent of listings on Craigslist fishing for suitors (“last corner retail in Nolita”), yet one was already found to occupy the second floor. It’s […]

‘Partybus Bake Shop’ Parks itself on Essex Street

A different kind of party bus is rolling into the Lower East Side this fall. One ostensibly without the drunken mess. It’s Partybus Bake Shop, an artisanal bakery opening in the former Chinese seafood wholesaler at 31 Essex Street. Upon debut next month, expect a “rotating seasonal menu [of] classics including breads, pies, and cookies […]

Scaffolding Finally Deposed from the DL

It’s trading one eyesore for another. The longstanding scaffolding attached to the facade of The DL on Delancey Street is finally gone. Workers deposed the iron appendages earlier this week. You’ll recall that in July 2016,  a chunk of exterior dislodged from 95 Delancey and tumbled to the sidewalk below. The structural collapse resulted in […]

COLORS Restaurant Announces Return to Stanton Street 2 Years After it Closed Down

Two years after COLORS restaurant shuttered, news comes down the pike of its revival. COLORS moved from NoHo to 176 Stanton Street in the winter of 2017, but didn’t quite make a dent. It closed within months of opening. Now, a report that it’ll return sometime next month. The announcement arrived yesterday, on the eighteenth […]