Thursday, July 09, 2009

Sex Pistols Firing Up a Movement

It’s June of 1976 in Manchester, England, and a small group of people gather in a tiny venue called the Lesser Free Trade Hall to see a band play.

There’s nothing really remarkable about this group of 42 people, and that evening’s featured musicians are unknown at the time. The band calls themselves the Sex Pistols.

As I mentioned, there were no famous people in the crowd at this show, or at the follow-up show that happened about a month later.

The Sex Pistols had not yet caused an uproar throughout the UK with songs like Anarchy in the UK and God Save the Queen, and it was well before they invaded the US in 1978.

Attendees ranged from the local mailman to a few rebellious school children. But a handful of others in that small audience became some of the most influential people in independent and now mainstream music.

In that tiny crowd were the likes of Tony Wilson, who went on to start the influential Factory Records (home to New Order and Happy Mondays) and The Haçienda nightclub (the birthplace of rave culture), legendary producer Martin Hannett, and Paul Morley who became a music journalist for NME.

Also in attendance were the members of future punk favorites the Buzzcocks, Mark E. Smith of The Fall, Mick Hucknall who became lead singer of Simply Red, Morrissey who would later front The Smiths, and the founding members of Joy Division, who after the death of their lead singer would carry on as New Order.

If you’re not familiar with alternative music from the 1980s, let me put this in perspective. This tiny concert is considered on par with Woodstock and Live Aid in terms of importance, due to the influence the audience went on to have on popular music by creating the independent music scene.

Contrary to what you might think, not all of these people in the audience thought the Sex Pistols were fantastic. Sure, some were attracted to the fresh, raw power of punk and the “do it yourself” ethos that came with it, but others thought the Pistols sounded like rubbish and thought they could do better.

Regardless, that small group of people spotted the changing dynamics in music and took action, because if the Pistols could do it, so could they. By seeing the inevitable future they became important players in that future.

Source: Brian Clark, Teaching Sells Report, Teaching Sells, 18-19.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: The Sex Pistols, 1976.