Monday, November 14, 2011

I Swear I Was There.

I read David Nolan's book, I Swear I Was There this weekend. The book documents the Sex Pistols' two concerts at The Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester. These two concerts are legendary in the history of 20th century music.
My poor wife has had to endure my rantings about the importance of these concerts (especially the first one in June 4, 1076 [1076 is an inside joke, read the book]) in music history for the last seven years. Now that I know that others are defending the epic historical significance of these concerts, perhaps I can give her a break.
Not sure how I missed the publication of this book, but is it is everything a Sex Pistols fan could hope for. It delves into every nuance of those concerts as well as the Sex Pistols first television appearance on So It Goes (yes, even before the famous Grundy interview.)
The book is a breezy read. I finished it in two long sittings. The detail is extraordinary. The story is told as a primary source collection of quotes from the people that were there. Glen Matlock is the only Sex Pistol interviewed but it almost gets in the way. The story is about the audience and the event. The opening acts and the organizers. The fans and the people in Manchester just discovering a new freedom and a new way of thinking about music.
HERE it is on Amazon. Now I see why I may have missed it. The book does not appear to have a publisher in the U.S. Interesting.
The BBC has an interview with the author HERE:
Why is it such a mythical event?
"It’s because it’s one of those moments in popular culture whereby you can put your finger on it and say: that was it, that was the day, that was the time, that was the year that was the precise moment when everything took a left turn. And that is the music that we’re listening to now, the clubs we have in Manchester, the way we buy records, the independent music scene, basically came out of that audience."
That’s a big statement. Lots of people will say punk had no influence on my life…
"The book ain’t about punk. It’s about the audience who were in there that night and looked at the band who were the Sex Pistols who played their first Manchester gig and turned to each other and said, in that Mancunian way: ‘That’s rubbish! We could do so much better than that. And that’s exactly what they did."
How many people were there?
"There were about 35-40 people there at the time."
So who was there?
"We know that 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.
"That was it: that was the day, that was the time, that was the year that was the precise moment when everything took a left turn."
"There was ANOTHER gig six weeks later there that was actually full, and that’s where the Hacienda came from, that’s where Factory Records came from. So it’s a very easy thing to put your finger on and say: yeah, that’s where everything kind of changed. As a result, it’s become such an attractive thing that lot’s of people have said: I was there.. and maybe they weren’t."

Morrissey wrote a letter to NME after the first concert. has the text of the letter:
18 June 1976 - NME (UK)
Review by Steven Morrissey of a Sex Pistols concert: "I pen this epistle after witnessing the infamous Sex Pistols in concert at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall. The bumptious Pistols in jumble sale attire had those few that attended dancing in the aisles despite their discordant music and barely audible lyrics. The Pistols boast having no inspiration from the New York / Manhattan rock scene, yet their set includes, "I'm Not Your Stepping Stone", a number believed to be done almost to perfection by the Heartbreakers on any sleazy New York night and the Pistols' vocalist / exhibitionist Johnny Rotten's attitude and self-asserted 'love us or leave us' approach can be compared to both Iggy Pop and David JoHansen in their heyday. The Sex Pistols are very New York and it's nice to see that the British have produced a band capable of producing atmosphere created by The New York Dolls and their many imitators, even though it may be too late. I'd love to see the Pistols make it. Maybe they will be able to afford some clothes which don't look as though they've been slept in."
In later letters Morrissey would not be so kind to the Sex Pistols or the punk movement they spawned.
There are ton-load of videos with the music recorded that night, displaying photographs from the event on YouTube.
Here is a scene about the concert from the film 24 Hour Party People.

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