I received the following WhatsApp message on Thursday night from Shaun Wilson. “Pete Shelley. RIP. Brilliant songwriter. “Why Can’t I Touch It?” Stunning.”
It is a great tune. Mesmeric. Listen to the guitars and bass talking to each other between the verses. Longer than the average Buzzcocks song, with little pointers to Can, the Flamin Lips, and the Stone Roses. Somebody once said the Buzzcocks were the ‘punk Kinks’, which nails it for me. My favourite was “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays”, but pressed strongly by “Harmony in my Head”. Goose bumps listening to both of those just now.
Shaun’s musical taste was always unerring. I had read about the mighty Little Feat in my NME, but he had the albums. ‘Sailin’ Shoes’, ‘Dixie Chicken’ and ‘Feats Don’t Fail Me Now’. When punk emerged, I’m certain that he was the first student in Maple Bank to bulk up his record collection with the Pistols, Clash, Costello, Jam, Jonathan Richman, Ramones, Buzzcocks, Eddie and the Hot Rods, Ian Dury, Siouxsie and X-Ray Spex. Any visit to Shaun, Andy and Dad’s kitchen provided all sorts of aural education, pushing me out of old comfort zones. “New Boots and Panties” in particular. Shaun loved ‘Billericay Dickie’.
Together, Shaun and I watched the Clash at Barbarellas, Magazine and Television at the Odeon in New Street. And the ‘Bunch of Stiffs’ tour at the Town Hall – Dury, Costello, Wreckless Eric and Nick Lowe. Probably other gigs that I have forgotten.
Four decades on, Shaun is one of the world’s biggest fans of Half Man Half Biscuit. Possibly England’s best band. Satirical story-tellers par excellence. Much of the HMHB guitar sound is a living tribute to punk.
Shaun has countless things going for him, aside from musical good taste. Always the first to buy a round of drinks. He and Big Dad once drank 20 pints each over the course of one day. An alcoholic Everest that I was never able to surmount. And Shaun’s biting wit was the counterbalance to many a boastful claim by Keith.
In the post-university interim, he has become a creative, thoughtful gardener and cook. Before retiring a few years back, he was a deputy head teacher who learned the names of every kid in his schools, and never took a day off sick for over two decades. Also a terrific dad and husband, from the available clues.
This weekend, he is serving for the first time behind a community-run bar in Faye-la-Vineuse, somewhere in mid-France.
Santé, my old friend!