If Peter McNeish had done nothing more than organise the Sex Pistols’ June 1976 gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall with his college friend Howard Trafford – then he could still reasonably have claimed to have made a vast impact on the face of rock music.
Hastily arranged by two students who had no idea what they were doing and sparsely attended (‘I think there were about 42 – 43 people there’ McNeish later recalled ‘and I’m not sure whether that’s counting me and Howard or even the Sex Pistols’) it is nevertheless among the most influential gigs in British pop history.
The question of who precisely was there is so vexed that an entire book has been devoted to tracking audience members down – but among those who did turn up were future members of Joy Division – the Fall and the Smiths as well as Factory Records founder Tony Wilson – all of whom seem to have been immediately galvanised by the performance.
‘A friend who was with me said ‘Jesus – you could play guitar as good as that’ recalled Bernard Sumner.
‘We formed a band that night’ said Peter Hook.
So did McNeish and Trafford: by the time the Sex Pistols returned to Manchester six weeks later they had changed their names – Trafford became Howard Devoto – McNeish Pete Shelley – tellingly the name his parents would have given him had he been born a girl – recruited a bass player and drummer and were acting as the Pistols’ support act under the name Buzzcocks.
By the end of 1976 they had recorded their first release – the Spiral Scratch EP.
It remains the essential document of punk rock hitting the provinces – of the Sex Pistols’ big idea being twisted into something else by people outside of London