45 years ago, this Summer, around 40 people attended a concert at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall. Little did they know that what they would go on to see that night would inspire them to change the world forever.
The story began when Manc rockers, Howard Devoto and Pete Shelly read an article in the NME about an up-and-coming punk band called The Sex Pistols – you may have heard of them. Inspired by the story, the pair, who were also members of a punk outfit, borrowed a car and drove straight down to London to try and track down the Pistols and their manager. It’s fair to say that Devoto and Shelly were blown away by the band after watching two of their live performances. The trip inspired them to christen the name for their own band – Buzzcocks. You’ve probably heard of them too, right?
Upon witnessing the raw power and anger of The Sex Pistols, Howard and Pete invited the band to play a show in Manchester, with the intention of the Buzzcocks supporting them. By this point however, news had reached Manchester about The Sex Pistols’ explosive and often extremely violent gigs. Because of this, no venue in the city would accommodate them. This wouldn’t put the guys off though. Instead, Howard and Pete scrambled all their money together and organised the gig themselves, hiring out Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall for £32. News of the concert spread mostly through word of mouth around the city, hence why only between 40-50 attended the venue which could hold hundreds.
Amongst the crowd, however, were individuals who would change music and culture in different ways forever.
First up, Mark E Smith. Salford lad, Mark, was already making music at the time of the gig. He turned up basically to see what all the fuss was about. After seeing the chaos displayed in the Lesser Free Trade Hall that night, Mark thought he could do much better and formed, “The Fall”, not long after. The Fall would go on to release over 30 albums, constantly challenging the boundaries of punk rock, inspiring the likes of Nirvana, Sonic Youth and The Pixies. They have been described as, “the most prolific band of the British post-punk movement”.
Watching from the back was another young man by the name of Steven Patrick Morrissey, or just “Morrissey” to you and me. Then only 17, he was reviewing the gig for NME magazine and his words were not very flattering to say the least. Ever the controvert, he wrote, “The bumptious Pistols in jumble sale attire had those few that attended dancing in the aisles despite their discordant music and barely audible lyrics.”. He did go on to say that he hoped that the Sex Pistols made it big, just so they will be, “able to afford some clothes which don’t look as though they’ve been slept in”. Alas Morrissey was another who thought he could do better. With friend Johnny Marr, he established The Smiths, one of the biggest bands in the history of the UK. They would go on to provide the building blocks for other huge Manchester bands. Without Marr’s iconic guitar riffs, there would be no Stone Roses and no Oasis and quite frankly, that is a world that I wouldn’t want to live in.
Next up, two old school pals from Salford – Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook. So inspired were they by The Sex Pistol’s explosive set, Peter would go out and buy a bass guitar the very next day, telling his father, “I’m going to be in a punk band”. His father responded, “you’ll last a week”. As part of Joy Division and then New Order, Hooky would go on to deliver some of the most iconic bass lines in music history. But they would have to wait until 3 weeks later, when the Pistols returned to Manchester, were they would meet their future lead singer, Ian Curtis. The trio added drummer, Steven Morris to the line up and became Stomping Kittens, then Warsaw and ultimately Joy Division. The group were immortalised by their debut album, “Unknown Pleasures” and were pioneers in the post-punk era. Their melancholic lyrics mixed with sparse, ethereal sound inspired a new era of alternative pop/rock focusing on mood and expression, rather than the rage and anger of the previous punk scene. After the tragic death of Ian Curtis in 1980, the band reformed as New Order and developed a new sound, blending post-punk with electronic and dance music influences.
Our next attendee is debatable. Nobody saw him at the gig, yet he always claimed that he was there. It’s the man, the myth, the legend – Tony Wilson. Either way, he was so inspired by The Sex Pistols, he booked them to play on his music and culture TV show, “So It Goes”. In doing so he exposed the public to this volatile brand of punk rock for the first time. Who knows how many saw their performance and decided to pick up a guitar or microphone after that? 2 years later, Wilson established Factory records who managed such bands as A Certain Ratio, the Durutti Column, the Happy Mondays, New Order and Joy Division. Not satisfied with this, he also opened the world-famous Hacienda night club in Manchester, thus almost single-handedly creating the rave scene and “Madchester” culture. The club was influential in the careers of countless bands and DJs.
Unfortunately for The Buzzcocks, they weren’t ready yet as a band to support The Sex Pistols on that night and instead, Howard and Pete worked the door. Don’t feel too sorry for them though, they supported the London band when they returned to Manchester 3 weeks later. The Buzzcocks became a seminal influence on the Manchester music scene, indie music, punk rock and pop punk.
Other members of the crowd that night included band members from Simply Red and A Certain Ratio; legendary designers Peter Saville and Malcolm Garrett, rock ‘n’ roll photographer Kevin Cummins, and producer Martin Hannett, who was so influential that he probably deserves his own blog post.
Ultimately, it has to be said that The Sex Pistols didn’t put on an incredible show that night. Lead singer, Jonny Rotten, has since said that he didn’t even remember the gig. However, they proved that you didn’t have to be a clean-cut musician to create such impressive and evocative music. They proved that if these guys could do it, anyone could. This triggered a butterfly effect that is still visible in music, fashion and culture to this day, 45 years later. There’s a lesson in that. If you want to try your hand at something, whether it be music, art, writing, fashion – anything; don’t let anybody tell you can’t or that you aren’t good enough. You never know, you might just change the world.