Burke Shelley, Singer and Bassist for Budgie, Dead at 71
John Burke Shelley, the bassist and lead singer for Welsh heavy metal band Budgie, has reportedly died at the age of 71.
“It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my father, John Burke Shelley,” the rocker’s daughter, Ela, posted to Facebook. “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.”
Shelley co-founded Budgie in 1967, originally under the name Hills Contemporary Grass. The name change would come the following year as the group worked to cement its lineup and musical style. Budgie released their self-titled debut album in 1971. They put out an additional nine LPs over the course of the next decade, developing a passionate following in the process.
Along the way, Budgie also won fans among their fellow rockers. The band opened for Ozzy Osbourne during the European dates of his Blizzard of Ozz tour in 1980. Meanwhile, Metallica covered two Budgie songs: "Crash Course in Brain Surgery" appeared on 1987's Garage Days Re-Revisited, and "Breadfan" was the B-side to "Harvester of Sorrow" in 1988.
"Thank you, Burke, for everything you did for heavy music," Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich wrote on Instagram, "and much next-level appreciation for co-writing and creating two songs that Metallica were honored to record over the years."
Shelley was the only musician to appear on every Budgie release and was instrumental in the band’s distinctive sound. Blessed with a high vocal range and excellent bass-playing skills, the musician was routinely compared to Rush’s Geddy Lee.
Budgie was largely inactive after 1987, coming together only for the occasional show as its members focused on other pursuits. In 2006, the band released its final album, You're All Living in Cuckooland. They group continued touring until 2010. Setlist.fm states that their last performance took place on Nov. 5 that year in the Netherlands.
It was around that time that Shelley was diagnosed with a six-centimeter aortic aneurysm, a dangerous and life-threatening swelling of the main artery that supplies blood to the body. Surgery was successful at that time, but the issue resurfaced in 2020.
"Doctors have informed me I've got another aneurysm, a critical one, even higher up my aorta this time,” the bassist explained to Wales Online, before revealing he’d turned down further surgery. “They've said they definitely need to operate on it straight away, but I've told them no.”
Shelley’s decision stemmed from concern that the procedure would leave him in a wheelchair. “[I] want to live what life I have left and not be crippled," he declared. “It's all guesswork 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."