In 1976-77 punk hit Britain like a tidal wave, sweeping away all the tired music that stood in its way. It wasn’t just a London thing. Across the country local scenes developed. Many would argue that Manchester was the most important. In his occasional blog looking at punk, Hassan Mahamdallie looks at the Manchester scene.
In the 1970s there was a thriving independent record shop on Worcester Park’s high street. (Hard in these days to believe, but true.)
It was a bit of a lifeline to the outside world for a teenager from a hard-up family, painfully aware that we were looked down on by the town’s “polite society”, the consensus being that our mother was a depraved woman for shacking up with a “darkie” (my Indo-Caribbean father) and then shamelessly producing twelve “half-caste” urchins (“How could she? They’ll all grow up not fitting in and confused about who they are…”)
Every week, after scouring Sounds music newspaper for the latest punk single releases and upcoming London gigs, I would head straight for the record shop.
It stocked a wide spectrum of music to suit its suburban London clientele: Gary Glitter or Bay City Rollers singles for the kids, Pink Floyd and Genesis albums for the long-haired grammar school boys acting out polite rebellion before becoming career civil servants, and under-the-counter punk and new wave 7″ and 12″ for rejects like myself.
In November 1977 as punk hit its peak, the shop assistant – who kept new stuff aside for me – reached under the counter. There was a flash of yellow as he slipped a single into a brown paper bag. “You’ll like this one.” I handed over my 70p, grabbed the bag and was off home to play it.
The single’s picture sleeve, which had to be concealed deep in my record collection, was a collage of the upper half of a nude woman with an iron for a head (designed by radical feminist visual artist Linder Sterling).
Orgasm Addict was of course banned on the BBC, with workers at the vinyl pressing plant refusing to handle it. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t sell very well, but I was thankful a copy had been thrust into my hands by my mate at the record shop.
It was Bolton band the Buzzcocks’ first single, with Pete Shelley on vocals. The founder and original singer Howard Devoto had left, despite the success of the band’s first release, the EP Spiral Scratch, which included the iconic track Boredom. Glasgow band Orange Juice later paid homage to it when they sampled it in their upbeat tune Rip it Up.
Devoto went off to form his own band Magazine, which had a string of hits, including the outstanding song Shot by Both Sides.
I had never really travelled outside of London, so I had no idea where Bolton was, or Manchester for that matter. But I liked the sound. So when the band was set to play the Croydon Greyhound a week or so later, I made sure I was there. It was a great gig, as the band tore through their set, fronted by diminutive Pete Shelley whose reward for turning in an excellent gig was to be gobbed at relentlessly, regardless of his soft-spoken, Mancunian-accented objections. I even bought an Orgasm Addict badge – although thankfully I can’t remember ever wearing it.
From then on I began to seek out records from punk bands from the Greater Manchester area. Soon I was picking up and getting into singles by Slaughter and the Dogs, Ed Banger and the Nosebleeds, the Drones, Magazine, John Cooper Clarke, The Fall and later Joy Division.
One of my all-time favourite singles has to be Ed Banger and the Nosebleeds’ 1977 track Ain’t Bin to No Music School. Like all the best punk singles produced at the time it had the feel of a Music Hall turn about it – larger than life, speaking straight to its audience, brassy, raucous and giving it to the top-hats.
The front cover of the single has the Nosebleeds plonked in a secondary-modern pre-fab school classroom with their feet on the desks like something out of that awful seventies sit-com Please Sir! Singer Ed Banger (Ed Garrity) is front right and guitarist Vincent Riley is front left in an ill-fitting blazer.
The back has a sketch of the boarded- up door of mythic “Wythenshawe Royal Music School” (presumably a reference to the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester’s Oxford Road) with the warning KEEP OUT!
The message that working class oiks were not welcome in the conservatoires may have come from Riley, a working class Mancunian whose precocious musical abilities weren’t nurtured by the RNCM but through after-school sessions by classical music tutors paid for by his mum. Of course Vincent Riley is now better known as Vini Reilly – the enigmatic driving force behind The Durutti Column, and revered in the rock industry as “the best guitarist in the world”.
Reilly, disillusioned with the scene, left the Nosebleeds after their one and only record was released (he describes the band as an “imitation” punk band). After he and front man Ed Banger left, Steven Morrissey stepped in as singer (it was his first band), with Billy Duffy (later of metal rock band The Cult) replacing Reilly.
As befitting Reilly’s formal training Music School starts with a snatch of grand orchestral violins interrupted by a spiralling sonic guitar riff by Reilly, cut across by choppy punk chords and drums and then we’re into the lyrics – the bellowed chorus of which is:
I ain’t been to no music school,
I ain’t nobody’s fool.
It really is a glorious piece of music, lifted by Reilly’s guitar playing.
The other Manchester punk band I had a lot of time for was Slaughter and the Dogs, emerging early onto the scene out of the south Manchester housing estates of Wythenshawe. The band was formed by glam rock fan Wayne Barrett. The band’s name was a combination of two of Barrett’s favourite albums: David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs and Mick Ronson’s Slaughter on 10th Avenue.
The Dogs supported the Sex Pistols when they played Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in July 1976. This gig is credited with catalysing the whole Manchester punk scene. Journalist David Nolan records:
Morrissey was there, who went on to form the Smiths. We know that the lads who went on to form the Buzzcocks were there because they organised the gig. We know that two lads from Lower Broughton were there who went out the next day and bought guitars at Mazel Radio which used to be on Piccadilly Station Approach, they formed a band called Joy Division; We know that Mark E Smith was there who went on to form The Fall; we know that Paul Morley was there who went on to become a writer and wrote about the scene for the NME etc.
Slaughter and the Dogs’ first – and best – single was Cranked Up Really High. An ode to the misery of council estate drug culture, it was released in June 1977:
Getting high, on glue and cocaine
Jabbing things into my vein
A lucifer lord, a holding my hand
Pushing pills to a rock and roll band
The second single, Where Have All the Boot Boys Gone? which I bought as a 12″ pressing, was a pop at skinheads (which I appreciated):
Wearing boots and short hair cuts
We will kick you in the gut
But no luck they’ve all grown up
They drink tea from a cup.
I also bought their limited edition rough-as-hell album Live Slaughter Rabid Dogs recorded in July 1977 at punk venue the Elizabethan Room in Belle Vue.
Both the Nosebleeds and Slaughter were initially signed to Manchester independent label Rabid Records. Rabid was set up by “Mancunian, musician, cultural provocateur and social documenter” Tosh Ryan. Ryan was a working class activist, part of Music Force, a collective committed to “Keeping Music Live” and making sure musicians got paid. Rabid signed up not only the Nosebleeds and Slaughter, but also John Cooper Clarke and Jilted John (the early persona of Sheffield comedy actor Graham Fellows).
Ryan and his mates cleared the path for the smoother more capitalist operation of “Mr Manchester” Tony Wilson and Factory records. Ryan’s compatriot in Music Force was Martin Hannett, who went onto be the in-house producer at Factory, crucial to Joy Division’s success, and later on The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. He died in 1991 at 42 years of age as a result of alcohol and heroin addiction.
So what attracted a south London teenager to Manchester punk? In a Melody Maker article in 1977, entitled “New Wave Devolution: Manchester Waits for the World to Listen”, Ryan credited the city’s distinctive punk sound, outlook and energy as a particular response to the final tortured stages in the industrial decline of the city and life on the working class estates in areas like Wythenshawe, Salford and Moss Side. Ryan argued:
The area is so neglected, so economically deprived and full of massive housing complexes, that the mood of the place was right and ready for a new movement in music with markedly different criteria of success. What has developed is peculiar to Manchester.
Maybe I somehow identified with this “different criteria of success”, and its working class sensibility. The London punk scene in 1977 could certainly feel very middle-class, individualistic and overtly controlled by Thatcherite precursors like Malcolm Maclaren. Maybe I sniffed a bit of working class pride and solidarity in the Manchester scene. I don’t know.
Later in life I would end up working in theatre in Manchester and Lancashire, living in Rochdale and then St Helens. It was only then that I came to appreciate the region’s rich socialist and working class traditions, culture and historical memory.
But let’s give the last word to the Buzzcocks’ Boredom – from Spiral Scratch, all four tracks laid down in three hours and mixed in two by Martin Hannett:
I’ve taken this extravagant journey
so it seems to me
I just came from nowhere
and I’m going straight back there