Booze, Blood and Noise: The Violent Roots of Manchester Punk

A blow-by-blow history of the raucous 1970s scene that birthed Joy Division, Morrissey and Buzzcocks

Frank Owen
Feb 24, 2015 · 27 min read

The fear of the wrecking ball haunted Manchester’s working class communities
Slum clearance turned Manchester into a ghost town
Britain’s socialist government betrayed Manchester’s working class

The Show That Made History

A rare photo of the legendary Sex Pistols performance in Manchester, June 4, 1976
Buzzcocks bass player Steve Diggle being carried out of the Ranch | photo by Kevin Cummins
Bowie clone in his bedroom | photo by Kevin Cummins
Author Frank Owen wearing two-tone Teddy Boy drape jacket | photo by Kevin Cummins

It’s the Buzz, Cock

If the Sex Pistols kickstarted the Manchester scene, Buzzcocks embodied it. Formed when singer Howard Devoto and guitarist Pete Shelley met at Bolton Technical College, the duo not only introduced the Pistols to Manchester when they booked them to play the Lesser Free Trade Hall, but the group they formed in the wake of the Pistols’ performances probably influenced more kids in Manchester to become punks than the Pistols did.

Buzzcocks singer Pete Shelly and his sawn-off Woolworth’s guitar | photo by Kevin Cummins
Working class heroes the Fall
Ian Curtis not long before he killed himself
The Worst: Ian, Alan and Woody | photo by Kevin Cummins

Style Wars

While it was always hazardous being a punk in Manchester, it got a lot more dangerous after the Sex Pistols released their second single “God Save The Queen” in June 1977, as it did for punk rockers nationwide. Released in the same year that Britain was celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee, the single’s mocking lyrics (“God save the Queen/ She ain’t no human being”) and controversial artwork (one poster depicted the Queen with a safety pin through her lip) scandalized a nation and sparked an immediate angry backlash.

The Sex Pistols perform at Club Lafayette in Wolverhampton | photo by Kevin Cummins
National Front skinhead giving Nazi salute
Teddy Boys hated punks because they stole their look | photos by Chris Steele-Perkins

Crackdown on Punk

The anti-punk backlash wasn’t just confined to street thugs. At the same time, local politicians were increasingly putting pressure on live music venues not to host punk bands. After featuring the Sex Pistols the previous December, the Electric Circus had become the city’s premier showcase for visiting punk bands from New York and London, including classic concerts by the Ramones, Talking Heads, the Clash and the Slits, among many others. Soon the venue was targeted by cops and the fire department. Denied a license to sell food, which meant it could no longer stay open late, and ordered by the fire department to restrict its capacity, the concert hall’s shady owners decided to close, but not before throwing one last bash—a two-night celebration in early October featuring the cream of Manchester punk bands.

Post-Punk Blues

Joy Division performing live: Bernard Sumner (left) & Ian Curtis
Local legend Morrissey
Poster for the opening night of the Factory, designed by Peter Saville
The Factory, where Manchester punk ended and post-punk began | photo by Kevin Cummins
Denise Shaw, Frank Owen and Joan | photo by Kevin Cummins


Medium’s Premier Music Publication: An ear for the new, a heart for the classics

Frank Owen

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Medium’s Premier Music Publication: An ear for the new, a heart for the classics