The most influential punk concert of all time: This is how the Sex Pistols changed the face of music forever
On June 4th, 1976, The Sex Pistols would take to the stage at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall and inspire the next generation of bands all in one evening —despite the fact that on 40 people were in attendance.
The reason those few people inside the venue were so inspired wasn’t due to the overwhelming nature of The Pistols’ musical talents and, in fact, the reality was quite the opposite. Members of the youthful Mancunian audience left the venue that evening with the belief that if Sex Pistols can make a career out of this with their lack of musical ability, then I can too.
The ripple effect of that evening would be felt for decades to come in Manchester’s now-legendary music scene, a location that remains the birthplace to some of Britain’s best bands for generations which, somewhat bizarrely, was the domino effect of this famed show.
If it wasn’t for the Sex Pistols coming to town on June 4th there would be no Joy Division, New Order, Magazine, The Fall, The Smiths or the halcyon days of the Hacienda which, in turn, inspired bands like the Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses who inspired Oasis who then influenced another generation of bands.
The gig originated after Bolton Technical College students Howard Trafford and Pete McNeish organised the landmark event after reading an article in the NME about the Sex Pistols, one which made them intent on bringing the Pistols’ anarchy to the North West. The pair immediately borrowed a car and headed for London in February ‘76 with one aim on their mind which was hunting down the Pistols and their manager, Malcolm McLaren.
Having witnessed the chaos of the Pistols twice while in London, the duo invited the band to come up to Manchester to play a gig which they promised to organise. Doing it for slightly selfish reasons, Trafford and McNeish made no secret of the fact that they wanted their newly formed band, which they had decided to call The Buzzcocks whilst in London, to support the Pistols. Trafford and McNeish would also change their names to Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley whilst down in the big smoke.
Buzzcocks might not have been ready to be on support duties on that June evening, but less than six months on from the show they had formed their own independent punk label, Spiral Scratch, and indie music as we know it today, was set to be born.
The evening had an effect on two audiences members, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook with the show providing them with the realisation that they could, if the wanted, make it as a musician without needing to be a squeaky clean, whiter-than-white pop-star. The following day Hook would borrow £35 from his mother to buy a bass and Sumner would also buy himself a guitar — Joy Division had begun.
Terry Mason, who had also attended the gig, would go out and buy a drum kit. Initially, they invited their schoolfriend Martin Gresty on board but he declined their invitation to join as a vocalist after getting a job at a local factory. The band then placed an advertisement for a vocalist in the Manchester Virgin Records shop to which Ian Curtis, who knew the band already, applied and was hired without audition.
Another person in attendance was the future leader of The Smiths, Stephen Morrissey, who was 17 at the time and felt compelled to write a letter into NME about the show. 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 audacious lyrics, and they were called back for two encores.”
The Smiths’ frontman then took affectionate aim at the most famous punk in the world at the time, “the Pistols’ vocalist-exhibitionist Johnny Rotten’s attitude and self-asserted ‘love us or leave us’ approach can be compared to both Iggy Pop and David Johansen in their heyday.”
Moz does concede to the band’s impressive stature though, despite letting the letter end with a sharpened barb, he says: “The Sex Pistols are very New York and it’s nice to see that the British have produced a band capable of producing atmosphere created by The New York Dolls and their many imitators, even though it may be too late. I’d love to see the Pistols make it. Maybe they will be able to afford some clothes which don’t look as though they’ve been slept in.”
Factory Records mastermind Tony Wilson was also in attendance as was Mark E. Smith and Ian Curtis, whose impact on the world of alternative music would change music forever.
If this show had happened even a matter of months earlier, there is a chance that the people in attendance may have gone down a different road and wouldn’t have chosen to form bands which would not only have a cultural impact on Manchester which can still be felt today but also create some of the most glorious music in existence.