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R.I.P. Burke Shelley, Budgie Singer-Bassist Dies at 71

The Welsh band has influenced such acts as Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Van Halen

Burke Shelley of Budgie dies
Burke Shelley of Budgie (photo by Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty Images)
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    Burke Shelley, the singer and bassist of the influential Welsh metal band Budgie, has died at the age of 71.

    Shelley’s daughter, Ela, shared the news of her father’s passing in a Facebook post on Monday (January 10th): “It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my father, John Burke Shelley. He passed away this evening in his sleep at Heath Hospital in Cardiff, his birth town. He was 71 years old. Please respect the family during this time. With love, His four children: Ela, Osian, Dimitri and Nathaniel.”

    Although no cause of death was given, Shelley had suffered from health problems over the last few years (a genetic disorder called Stickler syndrome, plus two aortic aneurysms), which kept Budgie off of the road and from issuing new music.

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    Born John Burke Shelley on April 10th, 1950, Shelley was the lone Budgie member to be present from their inception through to the end. Specializing in a brand of heavy metal that featured heavy riffing and also more tranquil compositions, the band was often mentioned alongside Black Sabbath. But Shelley’s vocals were in the higher register, which garnered comparisons to Rush’s Geddy Lee.

    Although they never were more than a cult band stateside, in their homeland, Budgie were much better known amongst metalheads — issuing two classic early releases (1971’s self-titled debut and 1972’s Squawk) and hitting the UK top-40 album charts (with 1974’s In for the Kill! And 1975’s Bandolier), as well as headlining the first night of the 1982 Reading Festival (the other two nights being headlined by Iron Maiden and Michael Schenker Group, respectively). The group was also known for its unusual song titles, such as “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman,” “Hot as a Docker’s Armpit,” and “In the Grip of a Tyrefitter’s Hand,” among others.

    Yet, it was their influence on world-renowned bands for which Budgie are most recognizable — judging from the impressive amount of their songs that have been covered by high-profile acts. Among the bands who’ve tackled Budgie songs are Van Halen (who covered “In for the Kill” during their club days), Metallica (“Crash Course in Brain Surgery” and “Breadfan”), Soundgarden (“Homicidal Suicidal”), Iron Maiden (“I Can’t See My Feelings”), and Megadeth (“Melt the Ice Away”).

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    Upon hearing of Shelley’s passing, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich posted a note on his Instagram Stories, writing, “Thank you Burke for everything you did for heavy music and much next level appreciation for co-writing and creating two songs that Metallica were honored to record over the years, ‘Breadfan’ and ‘Crash Course in Brain Surgery’.” Metallica performed “Breadfan” during night one of their recent 40th anniversary concerts in San Francisco.

    Budgie’s last album, You’re All Living in Cuckooland (their eleventh overall), arrived in 2006, while the band had not played any shows since 2010.

    Our condolences go out to Burke Shelley’s family, friends, and bandmates during this difficult time. Watch a number of Budgie performances, as well as Metallica’s cover of “Breadfan” below.

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