The Sex Pistols’ 1976 Manchester “Gig That Changed the World,” and the Day the Punk Era Began

“Ever get the feel­ing you’ve been cheat­ed?”

John­ny Rot­ten aka John Lydon’s clos­ing words at the last Sex Pis­tols gig (watch it online) seemed apt this week when Vir­gin Bank announced their cur­rent line of cred­it cards would fea­ture the band’s sig­na­ture art­work. That Jamie Reid’s famous cut-n-paste zine-cum-Sit­u­a­tion­al­ist aes­thet­ic has turned into a bit of cap­i­tal­ist plas­tic for your wal­let is an irony that the Sex Pis­tols might nev­er have seen com­ing back in 1976, when they played the “gig that changed the world.”

Recre­at­ed above in a clip from Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Par­ty Peo­ple, the June 4, 1976 gig at Manchester’s Less­er Free Trade Hall spawned the British punk move­ment and the post-punk move­ment that was soon to fol­low in a scant two years. For in the audi­ence were future mem­bers of the Buz­zcocks Howard Devo­to and Pete Shel­ley (who orga­nized the gig and opened for the Pis­tols); a nascent ver­sion of Joy Divi­sion; the two founders of Fac­to­ry Records Mar­tin Han­net and Tony Wil­son; Mark E. Smith of The Fall, Mick Huck­nall of Fran­tic Ele­va­tors and much lat­er Sim­ply Red; and a one Steven Patrick Mor­ris­sey, who would form The Smiths. (That’s Steve Coogan play­ing Tony Wil­son in the clip, by the way.)

The Sex Pis­tols played 13 songs in their set, includ­ing cov­ers of Dave Berry’s “Don’t Give Me No Lip Child,” Paul Revere and the Raiders “(I’m Not Your) Step­ping Stone”, the Small Faces “What’cha Gonna Do About It,” The Stooges’ “No Fun”, and The Who’s “Sub­sti­tute.” When asked for an encore, they played “No Fun” again.

Of their orig­i­nals, their two most famous songs–”God Save the Queen” and “Anar­chy in the U.K.” had yet to be written–but “Pret­ty Vacant,” “Prob­lems,” “New York,” “No Feel­ings” are all here in their raw form.

A few songs nev­er made it onto their first album, but can be found on their heav­i­ly boot­legged demo tape they record­ed the same year.

Also of note is how non “punk” the mem­bers are dressed, not in the sense of how Mal­colm McLaren and Vivi­enne West­wood would design, pack­age and sell the fash­ion. The boys look clos­er to the work­ing class job­bers of ear­ly Devo and the Stooges. Plus: no Sid Vicious. He’d come lat­er. That’s Glen Mat­lock on bass, who left the band in ear­ly ’77 after clash­ing with Lydon. He went on to form Rich Kids with Midge Ure.

When the Pis­tols returned to Lon­don, every­body in Man­ches­ter and beyond had start­ed a band, or at least that’s how it felt. By the time the Pis­tols got back to Lon­don, The Clash and The Damned had formed. And even if you hadn’t been at Less­er Free Trade Hall, you told your friends you had been and picked up a gui­tar.

The Sex Pis­tols would return three weeks lat­er to play the Hall again, play­ing to hun­dreds this time and solid­i­fy­ing the dawn of the punk era.

Below is a BBC doc­u­men­tary on the famous gig, telling­ly titled I Swear I Was There, which has an accom­pa­ny­ing book.

On a side note: Less­er Free Trade Hall–named after the rad­i­cal Free Trade polit­i­cal move­ment–was the site of anoth­er famous moment in rock his­to­ry. It was here that a new­ly elec­tri­fied Bob Dylan was called “Judas” by a very upset folk music fan.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Sex Pis­tols Do Dal­las: A Strange Con­cert from the Strangest Tour in His­to­ry (Jan­u­ary 10, 1978)

John­ny Rotten’s Cor­dial Let­ter to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Next to the Sex Pis­tols, You’re ‘a Piss Stain’

Sid Vicious Sings Paul Anka’s “My Way” in His Own Spec­tac­u­lar Way

Rock Crit­ic Greil Mar­cus Picks 10 Unex­pect­ed Songs That Tell the Sto­ry of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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