How Manchester Lit The Spark Of The Punk Rock Explosion

by | Apr 15, 2018 | Manchester, Music

iNostalgia remembers how Manchester lit the spark of the punk rock explosion in the late 1970s. It was described, quite simply, as the gig that changed the world.

The date was June 4th, 1976. The venue was Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall. The group on stage were like nothing glimpsed on the British music scene before.

They were savage, raw, brutal and breathtaking.

They were the Sex Pistols – and their Manchester appearance ignited the punk rock explosion of the 1970s.

The Sex Pistols at the EMI offices in Manchester, December 1976.

If everyone who claimed to have been at the Free Trade Hall on that extraordinary night had actually been there, the place would have been heaving.

As it was, an estimated 35-40 people turned up.

But the people who did come along read like a who’s who of Manchester music.

The audience included two students from Bolton Institute of Technology, Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley, who’d invited the Sex Pistols to play. They went on to form the Buzzcocks.

Mr Manchester – presenter and impresario Tony Wilson – was also there. He created Factory Records and helped launch the Hacienda nightclub.

At the time he was involved in Granada TV’s culture and music programme So It Goes.

He thought the Sex Pistols were a breath of fresh air and swiftly booked them for what was probably the first TV performance by a punk band.

Hacienda nightclub owner Tony Wilson, November 2000.

Also present on the memorable night were Mark E. Smith who formed punk band The Fall along with Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook who went on to create Joy Division.

Martin Hannett, co-founder of Factory Records and producer for the likes of Joy Division, John Cooper Clarke and the Happy Mondays, was there too.

So was music journalist Paul Morley, who would also manage Manchester punk band The Drones.

Mick Hucknall from the Frantic Elevators and later Simply Red was in the audience too.

Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall, June 1986.

And then there was a young man called Steven Morrissey. He would soon join local band The Nosebleeds and co-write several songs including I Get Nervous and Peppermint Heaven.

He later joined Slaughter and the Dogs but left when a recording deal fell through. He then worked as a journalist for Record Mirror.

But the Manchester music world shifted again in May 1982, when Morrissey and Johnny Marr co-founded their iconic band – The Smiths.

Johnny Marr, guitarist and songwriter for The Smiths, March 1984.

The Sex Pistols played 13 songs in their Free Trade Hall set including early versions of Pretty Vacant, Problems, New York and No Feelings.

Their most famous songs, God Save the Queen and Anarchy in the UK, had not even been written.

Commentators said it felt like everyone in Manchester and beyond was trying to form a band after the inspirational Sex Pistols’ gig.

Lead singer Johnny Rotten on stage with the Sex Pistols, December 1977.

By the time the group got back to London, The Clash and The Damned had arrived on the scene.

The Sex Pistols were back in Manchester three weeks later to play the Hall again. This time hundreds turned up to cement the foundation of the punk era.

Over the next decade, Factory Records created a mix of Manchester’s industrial grit and the pop art world of Andy Warhol. It flowed through the music of Joy Division.

The bleakness of the late 1970s that fired the creation of punk inspired bands like the Salford Jets and The Freshies.

But perhaps the group that best defined Manchester in the 1980s was The Smiths. Morrissey sang directly about his home city in tracks like Suffer Little Children and Rusholme Ruffians.

Smiths’ frontman Morrissey on stage in March 2018.

In the late 1980s, the so-called Madchester music scene flourished around the Hacienda nightclub. The leading local groups of the day were the Inspiral Carpets, Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses and Northside.

Cheshire band The Charlatans rose up the charts along with Hacienda co-owners New Order, formed out of Joy Division.

Just as the Sex Pistols gig launched the punk era, another city music event provided a book-end to the era a decade later.

It was the Festival of the Tenth Summer, organised by Factory Records to mark the 10th anniversary of punk in Manchester.

The festival culminated in an all-day gig at the Greater Manchester Exhibition Centre on July 19th 1986, compered by Paul Morley and Bill Grundy.

The bands taking part included The Smiths, The Fall, New Order and a Manchester phenomenon from an earlier era – Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders.

Manchester group Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, April 1965.

Many more memorable pictures of the past can be found in Clive Hardy’s brilliant book Around Manchester in the 1970s.