Pete Shelley, who supercharged pop melodies with punk energy as the leader of the British band Buzzcocks, died ion Thursday at his home in Talinn. He was 63.
His label, Domino Records, said the cause was a heart attack. Mr. Shelley had moved to Estonia, the home country of his wife, Greta, an artist, in 2012.
Mr. Shelley’s breakneck guitar strumming propelled songs that often proclaimed lovelorn vulnerability alongside acute self-consciousness. “I’m in distress, I need a caress,” he sang on one of the first Buzzcocks singles, What Do I Get?
Buzzcocks, formed in 1976, were in London’s punk-rock vanguard. For its initial EP, Spiral Scratch (1977), the band was led by its founders and songwriters, Mr. Shelley and Howard Devoto, often with Mr. Devoto as lead singer. But Mr. Devoto left before Spiral Scratch was released, and Mr. Shelley took over lead vocals and most of the songwriting, trading the band’s early sneers for songs about romance – often romance gone wrong.
Singles Going Steady, the 1979 compilation that was the first U.S. Buzzcocks album (it consisted of material that had been released in Britain), is a quintessential punk collection: fast, terse and tuneful, shielding a lusty yet tender heart behind a brash attack. Mr. Shelley deliberately used gender-neutral pronouns, addressing love songs to “you,” and he was matter-of-fact about his bisexuality.
As the first wave of punk crested in Britain, Buzzcocks had hits there with songs such as Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)? in 1978. They disbanded in 1981 but regrouped in 1989 and had been led by Mr. Shelley, with personnel changes, ever since.
On solo albums between stints with the band, Mr. Shelley explored synth-pop, dance music and more abstract electronic compositions. The title track of his 1981 solo album, Homosapien, was a pop hit in Canada and Australia, but was banned by the BBC for “explicit reference to gay sex” because of the lyrics “Homo superior/In my interior.”
By the 1990s, after disbanding and getting back together, Buzzcocks was recording new albums – its most recent was The Way, in 2014 – and was widely hailed by bands in its wake. Nirvana chose Buzzcocks to open European arena shows on its last tour, in 1994. The band celebrated its 40th anniversary with a tour in 2016.
Mr. Shelley was born Peter Campbell McNeish on April 17, 1955, in Leigh, England, west of Manchester. He leaves his wife; a son, Alex; and his brother, Gary McNeish.