His singing has been characterized as a "speak-sing voice that veered between amused croon and panicked yelp."
Born in Scunthorpe, Devoto grew up in Nuneaton, Warwickshire and Moortown, Leeds, where he attended Leeds Grammar School and met and befriended future Buzzcocks manager Richard Boon. In 1972, he went to Bolton Institute of Technology (now the University of Bolton) to study psychology, and, later, humanities. During these college years, he met his future bandmates Pete Shelley and Ben Mandelson.
Inspired by the Sex Pistols, Devoto co-formed Buzzcocks with singer/guitarist Pete Shelley in 1976. He left the band in February 1977 after only one record (the Spiral Scratch EP) and a small number of performances.
Devoto formed the influential post-punk band Magazine in 1977. They released several critically acclaimed albums, which met with moderate commercial success, as well as minor hits such as "Shot by Both Sides" and "A Song from Under the Floorboards". Magazine reformed in February 2009, initially performing on a tour of five dates, and subsequently continued playing live and began to record new material. A studio album, No Thyself, was released in October 2011.
After Magazine split in 1981 Devoto spent two years putting together a solo album with former Magazine keyboard player Dave Formula. Jerky Versions of the Dream reached #57 in the UK Albums Chart in August 1983, and was reissued in 2007 by Virgin/EMI, featuring several tracks of bonus material.
A collaboration (three songs) with Bernard Szajner on the Brute Reason LP was released on Island Records in 1983. This was followed by a rendering of Big Star's "Holocaust" for the loose collective This Mortal Coil. The album It'll End in Tears contained contributions from many of the 4AD label's best artists, Devoto's presence being somewhat atypical.
In 1997, Devoto wrote the lyrics to the Mansun track, "Everyone Must Win", which appeared on the Closed for Business EP. A year later, he collaborated again with the band, writing lyrics for and singing on "Railings", a B-side for "Being a Girl (Part One)".
One of his next projects was a 1988 collaboration with Liverpool multi-instrumentalist Noko. As Luxuria they released two albums and a music video for the single "Redneck".
For most of the 1990s, Devoto was little involved in music, earning his living by working for a photo agency.
In 2001, Devoto teamed up for the first time in twenty-five years with Buzzcocks Pete Shelley and released the much-anticipated Buzzkunst under the name ShelleyDevoto. Reviews were mixed.
In 2002, Devoto had a small part in the movie 24 Hour Party People, a film about Manchester's Factory Records. In his brief cameo appearance, Devoto appears as a janitor cleaning a men's toilet while actor Martin Hancock portrays Devoto having a tryst with the wife of promoter/journalist Tony Wilson. The real-life Devoto breaks the fourth wall by addressing the camera and stating in deadpan, "I definitely don't remember this happening".
In February 2009 Magazine reformed, with former Luxuria partner Noko replacing the deceased John McGeoch on guitar.
On 9 July 2009, Devoto was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Bolton for his contribution to music.
In November 2011 it was announced he would be returning to the stage with the Buzzcocks for two special shows as part of the Buzzcocks "Back to Front" tour on 25 and 26 May 2012. These took place at the O2 Apollo in Manchester and the O2 Academy in Brixton
For Magazine and Luxuria, see Discography of Magazine and Discography of Luxuria. This is from his solo career:Solo discography
Jerky Versions of the Dream (album) (1983) #57 UK
"Rainy Season" (single) (1983) #97 UK
"Cold Imagination" (single) (1983)
Spiral Scratch (January 1977) (with Buzzcocks)
Real Life (June 1978) #29 UK (with Magazine)
Secondhand Daylight (March 1979) #38 UK (with Magazine)
The Correct Use of Soap (May 1980) #28 UK (with Magazine)
Magic, Murder and the Weather (June 1981) #39 UK (with Magazine)
Jerky Versions of the Dream (July 1983) #57 UK (Solo)
Unanswerable Lust (1988) (with Luxuria)
Beast Box (1990) (with Luxuria)
Buzzkunst (2001) (with ShelleyDevoto)
No Thyself (November 2011: Wired18) #167 UK (with Magazine)