Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

April 18–25, 1996

earshot|Where Are They Now?

Steve Garvey of the Buzzcocks

By Margit Detweiler


Running out of gas isn't on our schedule.

En route to interview Steve Garvey, one-time punk star, I trek up a country road to a phone booth to call and tell him the photographer and I will be late — because not only have we lost our way amidst the rolling green hills of Central Bucks, we've also run out of gas.

Garvey just says in a mannerly Manchester accent, "So you need some rescuing?"

And a few minutes later, he shows up with emergency gasoline.

A swell bloke, for sure.

Garvey laughs as he fills up our tank. "My first job ever was pumping gas."

His more famous job was as the bass player for the seminal British punk band, the Buzzcocks. Garvey first played with the band on the single "What Do I Get" in 1977 on the Buzzcocks' first album Spiral Scratch, and replaced bassist Garth Smith on their second album, Another Music in a Different Kitchen.

Even though he rejoined the band for a reunion tour in 1989 (the band broke up in '81), he's still known as the Buzzcock who got away. So when he makes his appearance today, it's not only our automotive problems that makeus very glad to see him. I hop into Garvey's Acura for a ride to his home to pick up jumper cables (since our battery has died from trying to start it, and start it, and...).

Now 38, with two sons and wife Barbara, Garvey lives in a modest home in a town with the fittingly Brit-sounding name of Buckingham.

"There are a lot of English here," he says during our drive, and points out Sandy's Store, a Scottish-owned shop where he satisfies his cravings for pudding pasties.

These days Garvey works as a carpenter, finishing homes for Toll Brothersin Bucks County. "I'm Mr. Suburbs now," says the lean, gray-haired Garvey, looking more J. Crew than King's Road — the skinny mod tie and OxFam plaid sports jacket replaced by black Levis and a denim shirt. So what do the neighbors think of their punk rock neighbor?

"When my neighbors ask me what kind of music I used to play I say, 'Oh it's a lot like Green Day.'"

Known for their punchy, energetic riffs, catchy tunes and witty, often subversive lyrics, Buzzcocks paved the way for punk retread bands like Green Day and Rancid.

"Am I angry about bands like Green Day? Nah... it makes what we did a little more acceptable."

And he likes their sound. ("They write good songs, memorable songs, with that short little beat." Sound familiar?) Garvey's a regular WDRE listener and recently bought Pearl Jam's Vitology, which he calls a "great record... even though I hated them before that."

What did he think about Eddie Vedder's big acceptance speech dis at the Grammys?

"Oh he's kinda cute. I like Eddie. But he's trying not to be a rock star when he is a rock star. I just want to shake him and say, 'Have a good time!'"

Garvey remembers wild times with the Buzzcocks — the band refused to go on until they were each handed a bottle of Moet Chandon. Hundreds of people would end up backstage after a show, blasted out of their minds.

"We lived like kings and fed ourselves like pigs," he laughs. "No, we got treated like kings and acted like pigs."

It was about three years ago, after a reunion stint, that Garvey quit the Buzzcocks for health reasons, among themthe discovery of a cancerous tumor on his cheek.

"Before that, oh, I'd been sick all the time — I couldn't do it. And I wasn't making enough money and I was away from home for months at a time."

"But he's fine now," his son Ian chimes in from the back seat.

Just before his illness, Garvey had been living in New York and managing the Philadelphia band Brother Eye, who lived and rehearsed in Bucks County. He loved the beauty of the area, and thought it a better place for his kids to grow up.

After we finally get our car going and follow Garvey to his home, he plays Brother Eye's CD Soapdish Antennae on his living room stereo. Though the album didn't go very far, Garvey says he's as proud of this album as anything he did with the Buzzcocks.

"I had a lot of fun with those guys. It's a super record that no one's ever heard."

Though he doesn't go out as much anymore, he still likes to keep tabs on the local music scene.

"Music's very important to me. It will still be here when I'm gone. You think about a lot of things like that when you're close to death."

He loves, er, loved hanging out at J.C. Dobbs (he hung out with Manchester mates Oasis after their show at Dobbs only a year ago) and Khyber Pass (a club he calls "superb"), and got Ian an autograph from Alanis Morissette at the Electric Factory.

At the kitchen table, we eat the chocolate chip cookies his wife Barbara has made for us, and Garvey chuckles as he offers us milk to go with them — as if to say, it doesn't get more all-American than that.

He met Barbara at a Brimstone and Treacle party for Sting.

"I used to know Sting. Before he became a total asshole," he laughs. "No... maybe he's back to being nice, he was just real snooty. He tries hard to be what he isn't. He's just a kid from Newcastle but what do I know — he's made millions of dollars."

Garvey's content with his slow-lane lifestyle and regular day job hours — any more than that and he's afraid of risking his health and not being able to spend as much time with his kids. It's immediately apparent how important Garvey's family is to him.

"I've been offered promotions. But it means I'd have to work more... sure it means more money but I don't care about money."

That's not to say he isn't pissed off about getting jilted out of royalties from the Buzzcocks.

Thumbing through the ultra-groovy-looking box set of albums, Product, he pulls out Singles Going Steady — the ultimate hit-parade of Buzzcocks singles. He notes, "We sold 100,000 copies of that and never saw any of the money. Miles Copeland produced it and he ripped us off. And you can print that... In general, we made a decent amount of money, we sold hundreds of thousands of records, but [lead singer Pete] Shelley kept all the publishing. I wrote some tunes, but Shelley wrote all the hits."

Garvey says he rarely speaks with the other Buzzcocks, but keeps up on their buzz — they have a new album coming out on IRS, and he got up on stage for an encore with them during a recent gig.

Later, he pulls out his white Fender bass from his upstairs studio.

"It's a cheap Fender. I liked it because I beat up my guitars so much. I know everyone likes cheap equipment now, but back then the only other band doing that was The Who."

Much has been written about how founders Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto were inspired by a Sex Pistols show in '76. But Garvey says it was The Clash who really inspired him.

"The Clash splitting up was a travesty. They were more important than the Sex Pistols — they were so short-lived. Me and Steve Diggle were huge fans; they were like The Rolling Stones to us."

Garvey hopes to get back to producing and managing eventually, when something strikes his fancy. But until then he'll keep his day job, play soccer ("I could have been a pro, but music got in the way") and fish, fish, fish (he caught five trout yesterday morning, though a big one got away).

He seems to be good at a lot of things.

"It's kind of true. Anything I set my mind to, I can become good at. That's why I worry about getting involved with things. I get totally immersed."

"But I've never been one to hustle or go out... I'm kind of a Taoist — what happens is what happens..."

Good philosophy when you run out of gas.

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