Friday, 4 April 2008

Sex Pistols/Buzzcocks - Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester - 31 July 1976

ABOVE MANCHESTER'S Free Trade Hall is a little known auditorium, capable of holding some 400, cunningly named the Lesser Hall. Until the Sex Pistols discovered it for a concert last month its functional Fifties atmosphere had been sullied only by the strains of the odd jazz recital.

After that concert, which attracted some 150 rough tuff raving Mancunians, conversation led to contact with the fabulously named Slaughter and the Dogs. With the coordination of Howard Devoto the Pistols organised another bout, the Dogs supporting. In the meantime Devoto whipped his own band, the Buzzcocks, into shape, making for a triple bill of critical mass potential.

Unfortunately, the PA was more expectation than actuality, the Pistols sounds man having to patch together a mismatched jumble of amps to gain results. Under the circumstances, it's a wonder the sound was as good as it was.

It was the Buzzcocks' first gig. Devoto stands and sings a lot like Johnny Rotten, and indeed the band sounds a lot like the Pistols, perhaps because Howard hauled guitarist Pete Shelley down to a London Pistols gig so that the light could be seen and the course charted. Whatever their inspiration, they're promising.

Howard, wearing sneakers, pencil thin Levis, t-shirt and baggy blue jacket, is singing love songs, the strangest love songs you've ever heard. They have titles like (and I can't vouch for their accuracy) 'Breakout', 'You're Shit', 'Put 'Em Down', 'I Love You, You Big Dummy'. One song goes 'I’ve been smoking in the smoking room, Now I'm in the living room, I want what I came for pretty soon'.

It's the Boston Strangler singing the dance of romance, his face getting redder, eyes popping, kicking and punching the air.

At first they are rhythmic to the point of rigidity, Shelley – who is wearing tight salmon pink Levis, sleeveless 'Buzzcocks' t-shirt, shades and short hair – not even bothering with the concept of a middle-eight, let alone a solo. The top half of his red, £18.49 Audition guitar is snapped off; he got excited at rehearsal one day and threw it against the wall.

But soon he begins to open out. By the time they fire up a high rev version of the Troggs' 'I Can't Control Myself' he's pulling out all manner of interesting riffs and changes. Drummer John Maher is solid, maintaining a fast, precise rhythm with plenty of cymbal flicking. Bassist Steve Diggle, who has a fair resemblance to Johnny Ramone is equally strong.

The climax came with a wild feedback solo, Shelley throwing his axe at the amp. When he went on a little too long, Devoto came out of the wings and pulled the guitar from him. He pulled it back. Devoto grabbed all six strings and yanked ripping them asunder. Shelley propped the now screaming guitar against the speaker and left via the audience. Thus finished the set.

Apart from gigs, the only thing the Buzzcocks need is a hell of a lot more volume.

WHILE EQUIPMENT was changed the capacity audience posed. The David Bowie lookalikes all had the distinct advantage of looking like their skinny hero, perhaps the benefit of plastic surgery. There was a profusion of Neanderthals in stringy hair and leather, one of whom dug the Pistols by bellowing "Stooges!" and pounding seats to oblivion.

There was a profusion of homemade Slaughter and the Dogs badges, and one trendsetter sported a high-class homemade Sex Pistols t-shirt. Then there were the six rows of very straight looking people at the back who sat there very vacant all evening, even those who loathed it.

Depending on who you talk to, Slaughter and the Dogs have been alive between eight months and two years: the new order's ground rules are still being formed and no-one is quite sure what's cool to admit and what isn't. Their age is 15 and 16, except for vocalist Wayne Barratt, who sheepishly admits to an ancient 19. Their reason d'etre, he says, is to relate the energy of 60s Stones to the 70s. An admirable notion, but what this means is that all the fast songs sound like 'Jumping Jack Flash' and the slow ones like 'Angie'.

Anyway you slice it, it is rapidly apparent that the Dogs are well outside the boundaries being drawn by the Pistols. They open with a meandering bass/guitar interchange, the band suddenly bursting on in a blaze of light and noise. For the first tune they generate reasonable excitement, kind of like a high-energy Faces routine.

Barratt, who sports immaculately combed green tinted hair, is wearing Captain Blood style brown satin trousers tied at the cuffs, which brush red Anello and Davide shoes. The belt turns into a sash across his chest and then somehow into a scarf. A codpiece is equipped at no extra charge. The others – Brian Granford (drums), Howard Bates (bass), Mike Day (lead guitar) – look pretty normal, but rhythm guitarist Mike Rossi, who's so punky he can hardly be bothered to mumble his name, is decked out red and white striped t-shirt, black vinyl vest and white Strat; it's a wonder he hasn't dyed his Ronno hair cut that just so Mick Ronson shade. Ah yes, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. And naturally, Diamond Dogs.

Just how the Dogs see themselves as being like the Pistols, which is how they approached the group, is an entertaining mystery. It is said that on a local radio show they defined 'punk' as being a cross between David Bowie and the Rolling Stones. But fuck definitions, Pete Shelley reckons they're an offence just to the word itself.

It is also said that a lot of interest is being expressed in them, which is easy to see. They could quite easily replace any of the current crop of Top Of The Pops groups with no drop in visual quality.

They should also learn to differentiate between genuine demand for an encore and a huge scream of relief at their exit. It would save their outnumbered fans a lot of bother.

THE NOTORIOUS Sex Pistols, the band the promoters of the French Punk Rock festival claim are going too far – "Who do they think they are? The Rolling Stones?" – were greeted with a wild ovation. John stood there and beamed. Then Steve jumped to the front of the stage and started ripping off the opening to 'I Want To Be You', legs apart, swinging his hips from side to side. He has great style.

After 'Pushing And Shoving' John takes off his red mohair sweater, the right sleeve of his shirt casually rolled up to show the cigarette burns on his forearm.

At the Lyceum, like a nonchalant robot he'd stuck out his right fist, ground his fag out on it and chucked the butt over his shoulder, all in one fluid, mechanical motion.

The best thing about the Pistols is the rapid improvement they make from gig to gig. Finally hearing John's lyrics gives it quite a push but Steve and Glen are really beginning to rein in the power, both piling on the energy through the solos. Unfortunately, Paul's drumming was practically inaudible, but some of the bass runs were real eye-openers, while Steve was rewriting the whole Guitar Hero's Stances textbook, pulling his axe up alongside his cheek (great expression of exquisite pain), firing off early Pete Townshend dive bombs, rockin’ out on the beat with precise, soaring feedback endings.

It's all summed up in 'I'm A Lazy Sod': 'Lotta noise. It's my choice. What I want to do'.

Pretty soon a guy was doing the Wilko Johnson Robot Zigzag at high speed up and down the aisle. People near the front began to jump about more. As the band blasted into 'New York' a guy came leaping down the aisle, each bound taking him about five feet into the air, his feet somewhere around his ears.

'Anarchy In The UK', a new song, was a highpoint: 'Give me the MPLA, Or is it UDA, Or is it IRA, Or is it the UK, Or just another country, Or just a council tenancy'. 'Satellite', another hot number, has yet to have the lyrics dug out of it, the only visible hook being the chorus, 'I love you'. But honey this ain't no romance, as John disdainfully clarifies. "It's a comment on suburbia, a wife. 2.4 children, a mortgage and a car in the garage."

The closest John Rotten gets to love is the soon-to-be-classic 'No Feelings': 'You better understand I'm in love with myself'.

At John's encouragement the front rapidly filled with wildly bopping people. One enthusiastic couple pushed each other back and forth in time to the express train rhythm, and God help anyone in the way. By the time 'Problems' had blasted to a close the joint was screaming.

For an encore, John tore up his shirt.

© Jonh Ingham, 1976

3 comments:

MikeyC said...

"There was a profusion of homemade Slaughter and the Dogs badges, and one trendsetter sported a high-class homemade Sex Pistols t-shirt."

My goodness, Jonh, the T-shirt maker was me (wish i still had it). I've been trying to find your article for years. I remember having a quick chat with you on the steps of the foyer that night. We've got the Buzzcocks here in Bilbao next week. I'm dragging my old arse to go and see them.

Thanks for posting that article!

Mike Casey - now of Bilbao.

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