How Buzzcocks fabricated indie( with help from the Sex Pistols, a Renault and the Quo)
Its 40 years since the Manchester bands first release reshaped pop music. With no industry supporting, they pressed and sold the EP themselves, and kickstarted a revolution
In January 1977 a young punk band called Buzzcocks strolled into the Manchester branch of Virgin with a box of singles they wanted to sell. They had set up a label called New Hormones and pay money the records themselves with an early sort of crowdfunding borrowing 500 from a couple of friends and the guitarists dad and their only aspiration was to sell enough of the 1,000 copies they had pressed to be able to repay the loans. The Spiral Scratch EP objective up selling 16,000 copies and reaching the top 40 there was no problem with the loans. More importantly, though, it proved that it was possible for artists to be in complete control of their music, from production to distribution, and in the process fabricated indie.
These days, theres nothing unusual about bypassing the record industry. Chance the Rapper self-released his music and has become a breakout starring and Barack Obamas guest at the White House. In 1977, though, Spiral Scratch was game-changing. In its aftermath went a wave of British independent labels and a distribution network that meant that, as Rough Trade founder Geoff Travis sets it, anyone could compete with the big sons, but that simply happened because it was an undeniably great record.
Few who considered the first Buzzcocks demonstrate on 1 April 1976 would have felt they were in the presence of people who were about to reshape pop. Peter McNeish and Howard Trafford( who would become Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto) fronted a makeshift version of the band at Bolton Institute of Technologys students union they were studying there and managed to rile not only the venue, but their bandmates, too.
After the venue pulled the plug, their drummer who had never rehearsed with them before laid into Shelley and Devoto. He told: Im at this level and held his hands the highest, Shelley, recollects, and youre down there.
Shelley and Devoto had been inspired to form Buzzcocks seven weeks earlier, when they read a live review in NME that would transform their lives. The headline, Dont look over your shoulder, but the Sex Pistols are arriving !, was enough to convince them to borrow a little Renault and drive 200 miles to High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire to consider the Pistols support Screaming Lord Sutch on 21 February.
Seeing the Pistols changed everything, Devoto says. We started to realise what songs we ourselves could write.