Burke Shelley, founder, frontman and bassist of Welsh rock trio Budgie, has died aged 71. His daughter Ela Shelley broke the news, claiming he had died in his sleep in a Cardiff hospital, with no cause of death being given.
Born John Burke Shelley in Cardiff in 1950, Shelley formed Budgie in 1967 with guitarist Tony Bourge and drummer Ray Phillips. They released their first album in 1971 and in 1974 they reached the UK Top 30 with their fourth album In for the Kill!
Powered by the remarkable, high-pitched voice of Shelley, the band married the blues to a galloping rock sound alongside peers such as Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, and helped launch the heavy metal that flourished in the ’70s and’ 80s. – although they were also given at calmer times of immaculate beauty. Their most famous song, Breadfan, from Never Turn Your Back on a Friend in 1973, combined the two moods in one song – it was frequently covered by Metallica in concerts, with a version included in their Garage Inc. Soundgarden compilation, Van Halen, Megadeth and Iron Maiden will also cover Budgie’s songs.
Budgie was also known for humorous and lively song titles such as You’re the Biggest Thing Since Powdered Milk and In the Grip of a Tyrefitter’s Hand, and equally striking album covers, with fantastic views by Roger Dean ( also known for his sleeves for Yes and others).
The band saw their success wane somewhat in the late 1970s as their roster – still with Shelley – changed frequently, but they enjoyed second glory in the early 1980s when the new wave of British heavy metal they helped inspire come to fruition. The Nightflight and Deliver Us from Evil albums brought them back to the UK charts, and they supported Ozzy Osbourne’s first solo tour across Europe in 1980.
Their career declined again in the mid-1980s and the band toured only occasionally over the next two decades, but reformed to record a final album, You’re All Living in Cuckooland, in 2006.
Shelley suffered from a number of health issues later in life. In addition to having a connective tissue disorder, Stickler’s syndrome, emergency heart surgery in 2010 damaged her singing voice and her right leg was injured during the operation.