In Memoriam: Burke Shelly (1950 – 2022)

Budgie’s Burke Shelley photographed in Cardiff, Wales, 16 March 2020. Photo by Adam Gasson / Classic Rock

John Burke Shelley (April 10, 1950 – January 10, 2022) was a Welsh musician and singer-songwriter, best known as the lead vocalist and bassist of the rock band Budgie.

In 1967, Shelly co-founded the band Hills Contemporary Grass with Tony Bourge on guitar and vocals and Ray Phillips on drums. The following year they changed their name to Budgie.

Shelley is often compared to Rush bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee, as they both share the position of bassist/vocalist in power trio bands, both have distinctive high pitched singing voices, and during the mid to late 1970s they bore a striking resemblance to one other, with long straight hair and large glasses. Both vocalists possessed a high tenor vocal range, but unlike Lee, who is a fingerstylist, Shelley played bass with a guitar pick. In addition to singing and playing bass for the group, Shelley also performed keyboards on its early albums, most notably Mellotron on “Young Is a World” from their second album Squawk.

Budgie’s November 2010 tour of Eastern Europe had to be cancelled as Shelley was hospitalised on 9 November in Wejherowo, Poland, with a 6 cm aortic aneurysm. After surgery, he returned to Britain for recovery, but no decision about the future of the band had been made. By the time of his death in 2022, Budgie were considered disbanded or on hiatus, having not performed or recorded since Shelley’s hospitalisation.

Shelley had claimed that, following the operation, he found it hard to simultaneously sing and play bass guitar for long periods. Nevertheless, he continued to play bass (with occasional backing vocal duties) in rock and pop covers bands based in South Wales.

Shelley was a father of four children: Ela, Osian, Dimitri and Nathaniel. In the final years of his life, Shelley suffered from Stickler syndrome, and on two occasions had an aortic aneurysm. Shelley died in his sleep at the Heath Hospital on 10 January 2022, at the age of 71.

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