One of the best bands to come out of Manchester is back in town in October – Buzzcocks. Self-confessed fan Aidan O’Rourke caught up with Steve Diggle to talk about Manchester past and present taking in the birth of punk, Piccadilly Gardens and Sam’s Chop House.
I’m curious about the legendary gig in 1976 with the Sex Pistols which you were at. Sadly I wasn’t there. It’s one of my great regrets in life. Can you tell me what you remember about it?
There were actually two gigs. The first one was where Pete and I met and about three weeks later there was the legendary one where all the press came down to review the Sex Pistols and were amazed that there was a band from Manchester opening up the gig for them. Really, that’s what it was about. The Pistols, particularly in grey Manchester, were like the New York Dolls with bright orange hair, and at the time they played in Manchester nobody was walking around like that. So the Pistols were there and we opened up for them and that’s what put us on the map.
At the time we didn’t know how inspiring that gig would be. All the journalists came down on a freebie to review the gig and to stay in a hotel and get drunk. The coverage really put Manchester on the map and put the provinces on the map. After that people started doing things. It wasn’t all about London any more.
Manchester was working with London, you were collaborating with London in a way.
We were and because of that gig we were invited to London to do the legendary Screen on the Green gig which was the Clash, Pistols, and Buzzcocks, all for a pound, then the 100 Club and others like that. We were discovered from that gig at the Screen on the Green.
The other important thing was the Spiral Scratch EP which I bought. That was also very very influential. No other band had done anything quite like that.
It was a stroke of genius and a case of necessity really. The thing was, we had done a couple of shows and we played the Electric Circus, probably the Band on the Wall and all the shows like that after that Pistols gig. We needed some recordings so people could hear us. So we went in and recorded Spiral Scratch. It was a kind of a giveaway or something to sell at the gigs. Just the idea of making your own record was a massive inspiration to a lot of people. And of course Rough Trade took it on after a while. We were trying to do the band so we couldn’t be a record label as well. So initially the idea was to put Manchester on the map. Releasing your own record at that time was quite amazing.
What artists were you personally influenced by in those days?
Well in those days I’d grown up with all the 60s stuff. From the 50s Little Richard, the Beatles the Kinks and the Who. I heard Dylan really early on in 62 as well. And a lot of soul records. I remember that place, the Twisted Wheel, though I was very young to get in there. That was all to do with the swinging 60s. Then it became the 70s with Heavy Metal and stuff like that. I listened to a lot of soul records and went through different phases. Quite a few years before the punk thing, I had scooters and liked a lot of soul records.
But essentially at the same time I was questioning my mind. Apart from the music, you’d read books and also the classic soap dramas. I remember them being on the telly and also films like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, A Kind of Loving. They really showed you what living in the North was like.
I remember them too.
And I was aware of things like Harold Pinter’s White Room and all his other plays. But at the same time I was trying to figure out things. As a young lad, I thought there must be more to life than this. So that steered me towards a band in the end and it wasn’t so much to do with playing music and being a performer, it was more to do with the attitude. The punk thing was important. It was the right time for me and I thought you can get onto stage and tell people to f*** off. It wasn’t like some cabaret act or being a musician in that way.
I wanted to look a little bit at Manchester today and how it compares to Manchester in 1976. Is it a better city today than it was then?
I was so glad I was born in Manchester. I was born in Saint Mary’s Hospital just off Oxford Road near the curry mile and I lived on Clarence Road Longsight. I don’t know if the house is still there but I lived there till I was seven years old. Then we moved to Bradford, Manchester, near the new City ground. I remember the Bradford Old Town, it’s a pub. They’ve just knocked it down, only a couple of years ago I believe. I have fond memories of all that and Belle Vue. I was speaking to someone about Belle Vue, the zoo and the amusements. That was a fantastic place. So then we moved from that street to Moston on the other side of town and then Chadderton. But my fondest memories really are from Longsight and Bradford. I loved those terraced streets. I was gutted when they were torn down. I went to Bradford Memorial Junior School and then Wright Robinson High School.
Do you spend much time in Manchester these days?
Not really, I’ve been living in London about 23 years. I was in Manchester a while back, when we did that gig with the Roses at the City ground and I actually lived near there. All the street names are the same but with new houses. I knew all the names of the streets. It took me back you know. I was happy to see the street names but sad to see it had all changed
I’ve walked round the city centre a million times most of my life or at least a good half of it if not more, and I’ve seen a lot of the changes. I don’t go as much now. Sometimes it seems as if they have just cut the town up.
Piccadilly Gardens used to be wonderful when it was a basic Victorian garden and then they put a building on there. I don’t know why that had to appear. It was lovely once, when it was an open space Victorian garden. They seem to do that with every town. Flyovers, remnants of the old bits and new bits.
I’m glad you mentioned the new Piccadilly Gardens because I campaigned against that, but it wasn’t successful. I’ve been complaining about it for 15 years!
Good on you, because it was beautiful as it was and now you don’t know what it is really. It was a massive big square, oblong, with beautiful Victorian gardens. It was a lovely open central space as it was it had a good thing about it but now it doesn’t look half as good.
I will tell you where we like to go – Sam’s Chop House. Mr Lowry used to go there a few times. I’ve gone for a meal there and even some of the old streets round there. Sadly the Grapes on Quay Street around the corner from Granada TV is going. I used to drink in the Old Shambles and I had a walk around there. It’s amazing that they moved it 200 yards. It survived the IRA bomb and the Arndale Centre was still intact which was still amazing. I have many many memories of there as well.
Even though I’ve lived in London I still have the picture in my mind of how Manchester was. It was tough growing up there in the 60s but I loved every minute of it. And the 70s and the 80s. Now I live in London and I can see them doing the same thing as they’ve been doing in Manchester and everywhere else. Carving the place up and carving up the communities.
What about the clubs in Manchester?
Inside all those little clubs was where punk initially started. Like Rafters, Foo Foo’s Palace. There used to be little night clubs scattered around. That’s where a lot of the genius of punk started. It wasn’t in the Hacienda. That was like more of a corporate building to me. It seemed corporate compared to the seedy little clubs. The Hacienda was the 80s but before that there was five years of punk, growing up in little clubs. I think I remember seeing Morrissey with Headbanger and the Nosebleeds in one of those night clubs on a rainy Tuesday night when nobody was in there.
I went to the Ranch.
Yes the Ranch, places like that. But all that was very inspiring and creative. Sadly those places have disappeared.
You have a tour coming up and you’re in Manchester in October.
Yeah we’re really looking forward to that. That’s going to be a great gig. It’s our home town and it’s the hometown gig. We’re going to New York, we’re going to Russia, we’re going everywhere. But when you do the Manchester gig, that’s the special one. It’s like ‘This is everything I know’.
Buzzcocks play Albert Hall Friday 7 October
Follow Aidan O’Rourke @AidanEyewitness