BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

24 September 2014

BBC Homepage
»BBC Local
Travel News

Things to do
People & Places
Religion & Ethics
Arts and Culture
BBC Introducing
TV & Radio

Sites near Manchester


Related BBC Sites


Contact Us

Arts and Literature

Sex Pistols (Pic: Pete Welsh/Penetration fanzine)
Sex Pistols (Pete Welsh/Penetration)

Sex Pistols gig: the truth

The Sex Pistols gig at Manchester's Lesser Free Trade Hall in June 1976: one of the most influential gigs of all time. Hundreds of people have claimed: 'I was there.' But how many are telling the truth? We find out 30 years on:

The Sex Pistols, Manchester, 4 June 1976: a gig that inspired a generation to make their own music, and arguably changed the world forever. Such was the power of punk.

'I Swear I Was There' book cover
David Nolan's book

It was recently voted one of the most important concerts of all time, alongside Woodstock and Live Aid. Only a handful of people were actually at the gig at the city's Lesser Free Trade Hall but thousands have since claimed: 'I was there'.

But who was there? For 30 years, the gig has been shrouded in myth and legend. But people who were there formed legendary Manchester bands such as Joy Division, The Smiths, The Fall, The Buzzcocks. Oh yes, and Solstice. (who?)

Were you there? email:

Music journalist David Nolan now claims to have uncovered the true story about this iconic event - and the follow-up gig six weeks later - in his new book 'I Swear I Was There: The Gig That Changed The World'.

David spoke to us this week:

So the numbers are pretty hazy...

"Yeah, it’s funny because I think you can get 150 people in the Lesser Free Trade Hall and by my reckoning seven and a half thousand were there supposedly so something must have gone awry with the ticketing, apparently!"

Why is it such a mythical event?

Dave Nolan
Dave Nolan

"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."
David Nolan

"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."

But everyone who was there was on the fringe of the music business...

"Well, no they weren’t, not all of them. They were schoolboys, schoolgirls, they were people who worked for the Manchester Dock company, they were plasterers from Denton. A lot of them were ordinary people."

So how did it become so mythical worldwide?

"The film 24 Hour Party People, the first scene is a variety of people sat in the Lesser Free Trade Hall watching the Sex Pistols. You Google it on the internet and you’ll see it in Spain, Germany and France. It’s become this big myth and you still open books now and the myth is still perpetuated. I know it’s desperately unfashionable.. but I thought: let’s just have the truth for once, rather than the myth."

What other truths have you uncovered?

Dave 'Zok' Howard of Solstice
Dave 'Zok' Howard of Solstice

"For 30 years, nobody knew who the support band was. Nobody ever knew. The other month, I went up to a little pub in a place called Tockholes, between Bolton and Blackburn, and met these rather bemused looking guys in their fifties who were in a progressive heavy metal rock band called Solstice who were the support band. And no-one has ever found them for 30 years. And they’d never mentioned it."

Why not?

"Because that’s the kind of blokes they are. Doesn’t that just throw a spotlight on the story that some people who maybe weren’t even there, have done nothing but go on about this for 30 years. Whereas the support band have never mentioned it. They were kind of bemused. I think they thought: is this some kind of wind up? I had to trace them through a contact in Germany and somebody else on South Africa. I thought: ‘Fantastic! I’m going to get such a trip out of this!’ And it turns out it’s bloomin’  Tockholes!

"It’s one of the most important gigs ever. It’s a bit like playing at Live Aid and never mentioning it to your wife. I think that’s fantastic. ‘I was there but I don’t need to go on about it."

So in your view, was it more important than say Live Aid, or Woodstock?

"In terms of the numbers of people there – not even close. How many were at Woodstock? Half a million, something like that? As opposed to 40-odd slightly weird-smelling, long-haired Mancunians in this little room. But what those Mancunians did was astonishing. They sent club culture around the world, they sent the independent record scene around the world, they took a style of music around the world:  you know, that’s an amazing thing to come out of one little room on Peter Street. Fantastic!”

I Swear I Was There - the Gig that Changed the World – by David Nolan. Published by IMP on June 4 2006

last updated: 27/06/06
Go to the top of the page

Made in England
How Manchester makes Art & Art makes Manchester

BBC Arts

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy