Shelley Budgie

Budgie’s Burke Shelley Dies Aged 71

Burke Shelley, co-founder, frontman and bassist of Welsh band Budgie, has passed away at the age of 71.

Born in Canton in April 1950, Burke Shelley of the Welsh rock trio Budgie was seen as a pioneer of the heavy metal genre, having influenced some of the biggest names in rock through his music.

Shelley co-founded Budgie in 1967, then under the name Hills Contemporary Grass, with guitarist and vocalist Tony Bourge and drummer Ray Phillips. Their success began with their self-titled debut album released in 1971; by 1974 they had reached the UK Top 30 with their fourth album, In for the Kill!.

Shelley Budgie
Budgie (Credit: Getty Images)

Although the band’s line-up frequently changed throughout the seventies, Shelley was always featured and performed on all eleven of Budgie’s studio releases. Considered their most celebrated song, ‘Breadfan’ from 1973’s Never Turn Your Back on a Friend serves as the epitome of their influence on heavy metal bands of the late seventies and eighties, and was often been covered by Metallica in their live shows. Iron Maiden, Megadeth and Soundgarden were also inspired by Budgie’s music.

In later life, Shelley tackled a number of health issues, suffering from two aortic aneurysms and the genetic disorder Stickler syndrome. Speaking to Wales Online in early 2020, Shelley revealed that he had refused surgery due to the risk of it causing irreparable spinal damage. ‘I’m seventy next month and want to live what life I have left and not be crippled,’ he said. ‘It’s all guess work really, but I’ve got faith in God and have no worries about where I’m going. So I’ll just go when He decides to take me and, in the meantime, I’ll carry on doing what I want to do. Simple as that.’

On the evening of the 10th of January, his death was announced by his family. ‘It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my father, John Burke Shelley,’ wrote Shelley’s daughter, Ela. ‘He passed away this evening in his sleep at Heath Hospital in Cardiff, his birth town.’

Professing his admiration for the musician, Lars Ulrich of Metallica wrote, ‘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 honoured to record over the years, ‘Breadfan’ and ‘Crash Course In Brain Surgery’.’

Despite his early passing, Shelley’s legacy certainly lives on not only in Budgie’s music, but also through the many rock and metal bands who have been and continue to be inspired by the band.