As we gear up for another series of Musicians Against Homelessness gigs this September, we talk to one of the bands supporting the campaign – and a true legend; Steve Diggle of Buzzcocks…
Last year marked the 40th anniversary of Buzzcocks, and you celebrated with a world tour. Can you pick out a highlight or two from all those dates?
Steve Diggle: The response has been amazing! We travelled all over the world and are fortunate that there are a lot of great Buzzcocks fans out there, old and new. Coming from Manchester it’s always great to come full circle and do a home town show – from starting out there and connecting with people it reminds me of the beginning, and the hope we had that we could achieve amazing things! London, New York, Australia, Russia… the list is endless.
Buzzcocks are regarded as one of the pioneers of punk, and have had a huge influence on countless artists over the years. Are there any bands you’re particularly proud to have been an inspiration to?
SD: I think we have influenced a lot of bands, which is something you don’t intentionally set out to do. There have been so many that cite Buzzcocks as a reason they started. We had a very unique sound and dealt with the human condition which is something I think people could relate to, they weren’t just songs, they were about everybody’s lives, including our own.
I think many Manchester bands took something from the Buzzcocks – mainly the spirit – and I am so proud to have seen them carry the baton on which the city’s great history of amazing music and style has been built. Having said that, so many other big and small bands across the world have said Buzzcocks gave them something; from U2, R.E.M, Bruce Springsteen, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam to Joy Division, Stone Roses, Oasis, The Fall – its a long list (and an impressive one – Ed).
What are you guys up to at the moment – can we expect any new material or tour dates from Buzzcocks this year?
SD: Buzzcocks are touring in America now coast to coast and doing festivals in Serbia and Croatia – it’s a never ending tour of inspiration.
I’ve just released my fourth solo album, called Inner Space Times, which I wrote and recorded between dates on our world tour last year, and it’s part of the Wheels of Time boxset. The album is really different from what people might expect, and reflects on a personal journey for me mentally. I’ll be doing a solo tour for the album later in the year. I’ll never get tired of writing and making music, and fortunately people seem to be happy to keep listening and it’s been very well received. I wrote most of the new album at my Mum’s house in Blackpool – I think being in the company of people you love and in an environment that you feel safe and comfortable in, away from all the chaos, sets you up to be able to focus and achieve. I’m fortunate to have a roof over my head and a supportive family.
Musicians Against Homelessness is now in its second year. Can you tell us a bit about the campaign, and what your involvement with it is?
SD: It was launched last year with the aims of supporting and promoting up and coming bands and artists, while raising funds for the charity Crisis in England, Scotland and Wales – and this year they’re also supporting Simon Community in Northern Ireland.
Over a four week period last September more than 500 bands performed at over 100 gigs and mini festivals across the UK. Legendary Creation boss Alan McGee is the co-founder and patron of the project. MAH is not for profit and donates every penny raised to enable their chosen charities to improve the lives of homeless people and to continue to campaign for positive change. MAH is all-inclusive of every genre, and welcomes all bands and artists. Many bands put on and headline their own events under the MAH banner and support other local bands by adding them to the line-up. They have had fantastic continuing support from local venues too with many booking and promoting local talent for shows.
The campaign was featured extensively in the national media and has been supported by many high profile people including Liam Gallagher, Lily Allen, Russell Brand, Irvine Welsh, Shaun Ryder, Libertines, Courtney Love Cobain and Cast to name just a few.
I was pleased to personally support the project last year and hope to get together with some other musician friends later this year to put on something a little bit special to show our support and to raise as much money as possible! It’s not just a case of raising money though to help people, it’s making sure that people know about this shocking rise in homelessness and keeping it in the media.
How great a problem is homelessness at the moment? What will the money raised from this campaign do to help?
SD: Homelessness is a rapidly expanding problem affecting people in all areas of the UK – for example, in London alone rough sleeping levels have risen by 104% since 2010.
In England, Scotland and Wales the money raised from MAH will go towards funding Crisis’ vital work. Crisis helps people rebuild their lives through housing, health, education and employment services. They work with thousands of homeless people across the UK and have ambitious plans to work with many more. Crisis are also determined campaigners, working to prevent people from becoming homeless and to change the way society and government thinks and acts towards homeless people. In Northern Ireland the money will help Simon Community, who have grown to become Northern Ireland’s leading homelessness charity and service provider. Simon Community provides support to people who are homeless and accommodation in 22 projects every night of the year, alongside a range of preventative and specialist support services.
As well as featuring some top, established bands and artists, Musicians Against Homelessness makes a point of giving new bands a platform. What do you make of the current independent live music scene?
SD: Wherever I travel in the UK, there’s always new bands around, the next generation really going for it. When we started Buzzcocks we kind of created our own opportunities, booked venues ourselves and put a show on. Then the whole punk thing took off. These days it seems harder for a new band to make that happen without money or big business behind them and with more music venues closing down, I think it’s really important to give these talented new bands a stage. It’s great that MAH are doing it, and doing it well.
Do you have any favourite new bands? Any recommendations from your local scene, or bands you’ve played with on tour?
SD: With the advent of the big record labels wanting massive money making hits, they tend to leave the little bands in the local town behind – which is a big problem. They should support homegrown talent a lot more, it’s not about bland music and gold discs! When we started we had no money and somehow made our own record – you realise the creative people are behind ideas, not some bullshit life style marketing dream!
You’ve got to be strong and rage hard against corporate thinking that stamps on your life, but it’s a tough road. I see there are bands like Blossoms, Cabbage, The Spitfires and Novatones coming through and many more in every town we play, which is a good sign. Bands need the breaks, and a ground swell of rebellion is starting to happen.
And finally, how can artists, promoters and festivals reading this get involved in Musicians Against Homelessness?
SD: MAH are keen to hear from bands, venues and people interested in organising a gig. Check their Facebook page for more information and keep a look out for some really brilliant MAH events close to you this September.
- Steve Diggle’s new album Inner Space Times is available now from http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/stevediggle
- Crisis: https://www.crisis.org.uk
- Simon Community NI: http://www.simoncommunity.org
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