The son of a fireman, Bushell attended Charlton Manor School and Colfe's School (which was then a grammar school). At secondary school, he first performed in the group Pink Tent, which was heavily influenced by Monty Python. They wrote songs and comedy sketches; performed at parties and at each other's houses. Bushell was involved in the National Union of School Students and the Schools Action Union, a socialist organisation that had a strong situationist streak that led them to mix schoolboy hijinks with student activism. He worked for Shell as a messenger, and then the London Fire Brigade before attending North East London Polytechnic and the London College of Printing simultaneously.
Pink Tent evolved into the Gonads, an Oi! and punk pathetique band that has continued to perform in the 2000s. They describe themselves as an "Oi-Tone" band because they play ska and street punk. Many of their songs are comical party tunes, but they have occasionally written more serious material. Two examples of their songs that include social commentary are "Dying for a Pint" (which comments on nightclub bouncer brutality) and "Jobs Not Jails" (a critique of the Margaret Thatcher government's policies).
Other Bushell musical projects have included the bands Prole, Orgasm Guerrillas and Lord Waistrel & the Cosh Boys. Prole was a socialist punk band that also included Steve Kent, the original guitarist of the Oi! band The Business. Bushell managed the Blood and Cockney Rejects, getting them their EMI deal. He also got Twisted Sister signed in the UK to Secret Records. He compiled the first four Oi! compilation albums and contributed songs to later collections.
In 1973, at the age of 18, Bushell joined the International Socialists and started writing for their newspaper Socialist Worker. He also wrote for Temporary Hoarding, Rebel, and edited the North East London Polytechnic Student Union magazine Napalm. From 1978 to 1985, he wrote for Sounds magazine, covering punk and other street-level music genres, such as 2 Tone, the new wave of British heavy metal and the mod revival. Bushell was at the forefront of covering the Oi! subgenre, also known as real punk or street punk. In 1981, Bushell wrote the book Dance Craze – the 2-Tone story, and in 1984, he wrote the Iron Maiden biography Running Free.
During his time at Sounds, Bushell gained notoriety for writing negative and sarcastic reviews of the early punk incarnation of Adam and the Ants, which led to him being namechecked, along with veteran NME writer Nick Kent, in the band's song Press Darlings, containing the line "If passion ends in fashion, Bushell is the best dressed man in town." Bushell also attracted the attentions of Scottish punk band The Exploited who described him as a "wanker" in their song 'Singalongabushell'.