It was described, quite simply, as the gig that changed the world.

The venue was Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall.

The band on stage were like nothing glimpsed on the British music scene before.

They were savage, raw and breathtaking.

The Stranglers play The Electric Circus
The Stranglers play The Electric Circus 1977, Did You Have a Ticket Like This? – Manchester Digital Music Archive

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

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.

Sex Pistols 1977
The Sex Pistols performing in Paradiso – 1977 – Wikimedia

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.

An Early Photo of the Sex Pistols
The Sex Pistols, early 1976; from left: Rotten, Jones, Matlock and Cook – wikimedia

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.

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.

Joy Division, outside Manchester Cathedral 1979
Joy Division, outside Manchester Cathedral 1979 – MDMA

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.

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.

The Smiths play Manchester Free Trade Hall 1984
The Smiths play Manchester Free Trade Hall 1984 – MDMA
The Smiths Play Manchester Free Trade Hall 1984
The Smiths Play Manchester Free Trade Hall 1984, Ticket – MDMA

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

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.

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

The Clash in the 1970s
The Clash played an infamous gig at Belle Vue’s Elizabethan Ballroom, November 1977Wikimedia

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.

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.

Malcolm Pheby
Former daily newspaper editor and group editorial director for leading national media brands, Malcolm is a regular contributor to iNostalgia.

Baker Street Underground Station – The Worlds First Underground and the Sherlock Holmes Connection

Previous article

Manchester United? Who Were They?

Next article

You may also like