Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Buzzcocks - Time's Up (Bootleg)

Time's Up (Bootleg)

Released 1978 on Voto
Reviewed by Fitter Stoke, 12/01/2009ce

Ah, 1978. 'O' level resits, the discovery that alcohol could actually taste nice as well as get me drunk, the unrequited lust for a disco-dancing white-jeaned redhead, the best gig I ever saw in my life* and - of most relevance here - the glory of the best band ever to come out of Manchester at their raw, primitive best. 1978 was THE year of the Buzzcocks (definite article purposely included - after all, who ever referred to them without it?) with two albums, at least two nationwide tours of proper venues, and even hit singles at the free disposal of Messrs Shelley, Diggle et al. In 1978 I adored the Buzzcocks beyond all other art. I played 'Another Music In A Different Kitchen' (and its related singles) until they were smooth, and even found merit in a rushed second album which really should have been no more than a decent four-track EP. But it was not until the accompanying tour for 'Love Bites' that I bumped into a Newcastle-accented youth proudly proclaiming ownership of the holy grail bootleg under discussion here. I owe said individual a debt of thanks for introducing me to the absolute essence of my then-favourite band gleaned from that tatty red-sleeved platter, even though he managed to procure my much rarer 'Capital Radio' EP in exchange for it. For 'Time's Up' is, in the humble opinion of your writer, not only the best record ever to bear the Buzzcocks' name, it is the most authentic, shambolic and thrilling LP of the entire first wave of punk and, just possibly, the finest unofficial album ever released by anybody, ever.**

For one thing, the raw first recorded stabs of seven soon-to-be Buzzcocks' classics ('Boredom', 'You Tear Me Up', 'Orgasm Addict', 'Friends Of Mine', 'Breakdown', 'Love Battery' and the title track) sound completely right with their grey non-production and cheap sawn-off Woolworth guitars. Shawn of Martin Rushent brightness, those vital riffs hammer home all the harder and rougher. More important still is the chance to hear Howard Devoto doing what Howard Devoto does best, "slurping and sucking" his uninhibited vocal cords around every song with none of Shelley's grating false effeteness and - let it be noted - plenty of "er" pendants to certain phrases that a certain other Mancunian chanter would make such a trademark later on. The 'Spiral Scratch' tracks sound even more basic here, highlighted by Devoto's irresistible sudden shout of "BOREDOM!" at the end of that song's second chorus, the relative bleakness of its legendary two note solo with just a bass and drum backing, and Shelley's amazing free-form antics in a dark, dark version of 'Friends Of Mine' which frankly pisses all over the better-known Hannett-produced EP version, fine though that is. Those avant-garde Starway thrills are even stronger in an epic cover of The Troggs' 'Can't Control Myself', wherein young Pete and Howie go positively apeshit into the song's fade - and all in glorious panning stereo. This is for me the best reason - of many - for hearing this record. Mind you, the two otherwise unrecorded Buzzcocks songs here deserve more than a cursory mention: 'Lester Sands (Drop In The Ocean)' - a very Pistols' inspired entreaty of bile that shows just how effectively the band could, well, ROCK - and 'Don't Mess Me 'Round', which features one seriously catchy riff and more of Pete Shelley's anything-goes wizardry which creates more spinal tension than a faulty mattress. The latter emerges from a decent early stab at Beefheart's 'I Love You, You Big Dummy' that Magazine would take to greater heights a couple of years on.

What makes 'Time's Up' so great, however, is not just the quality and delivery of its songs, but the overall sound and feel of a great PUNK band at its primal best going all out for thrills and fun. At no point in the subsequent careers of any of its protagonists was this primitive edge and vibrancy ever in such evidence, and it pains me to admit that many of the qualities of the Buzzcocks' official output - even 'Another Music' -
pass me by thirty years on. Those slickly-engineered records have dated badly, but this sulphate-ridden gem still shines on in its cheap and glorious way. This is 1976 in a bottle: ragged and real punk rock at its most mesmerising and original, and - more than anything else - the Buzzcocks at their early peak.

(Currently available on CD from Mute/The Grey Area, albeit with a completely different sleeve design and track running order, and without the 'Spiral Scratch' take of 'Boredom' that cheekily ended the original LP.)


* Ultravox! - with exclamation mark, natch - at the Newcastle Mayfair, January 1978, if anyone's interested!

** I subsequently discovered that 'Time's Up's bootleg status was suspect to say the least - as its official release on CD in 1991 with a Buzzcocks publishing credit would seem to indicate. But I stand by my claim.

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