How this gig in Manchester changed the world 44 years ago today

The Sex Pistols / Wikimedia Commons

On 4 June 1976, a scattered audience watched the Sex Pistols take the stage at a public hall on Peter Street.

It was a small gig, with roughly 40 people in the crowd.

But in the four decades that have passed since, hundreds have claimed: “I was there!”

The fibs are somewhat forgivable. People want to be part of the extraordinary story.

Over time, this run-of-the-mill Friday concert at the Lesser Free Trade Hall has revealed its true colours as the most important show in Manchester’s history.

Today, it’s known as “the gig that changed the world.”

Free Trade Hall / Wikimedia Commons

What made this particular show so influential wasn’t so much what happened on stage, but who was there watching – and what came afterwards.

Amongst the forty-something strong crowd was a Manchester docks worker called Mark E Smith, a seventeen-year-old from Hulme known as Morrissey, and a pair of Salford lads – Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner – out enjoying the weekend.

Nothing was ever the same for any of them ever again.

Each came away inspired to do their own version of what they’d just witnessed, and three of the city’s best bands were born as a result.

Mark E Smith soon founded The Fall, Morrissey would go on to form The Smiths, and Hook/Sumner would unite the band soon to be known as Joy Division.

Tony Wilson Memorial / Loco Steve / Flickr

Buzzcocks, another group who would have a seminal influence on the local music scene in later years, actually helped to set up the show and ensure it went ahead.

Journalist Paul Morley, who became one of the most prevalent writers on the music beat, was also in attendance.

Reflecting on the evening for the New Statesmen, Morley said: “I would become the writer I wanted to be, writing from a city that reacted the quickest and smartest to the lurid poetics of the Sex Pistols and added to its own (then fading) progressive, revolutionary history.”

More than a few tall tales have about that night have circled the city as the show has increasingly become shrouded by folklore.

But whilst some specifics remain fuzzy, the verdict on its importance is unanimous.

This was the start of something very special.

The Fall / Wikipedia

The Sex Pistols returned to Manchester for another gig several weeks later – which would attract more important characters like Ian Curtis and Tony Wilson into the ever-growing creative hive.

Next, came a musical movement unlike anything seen before or since.

Many of the greatest bands of all time were born 44 years ago today – with the legendary Free Trade Hall show setting the wheels in motion for the city’s chaotic, legendary transition into Madchester.

It was a night that changed the world.

The full story of the Sex Pistols 1976 gig in Manchester is outlined in wonderful detail by David Nolan in his book: I Swear I Was There.

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