Buzzcocks: Boredom (Spiral Scratch EP) New Hormones.

You may well know the story of how in February ’76, two Bolton Tech students called Peter and Howard journeyed in a borrowed car from Lancashire to High Wycombe to see a band that neither had even heard before, an article in the music press being enough to convince the pair that the round trip of almost 500 miles might just be a good idea.

Most of the crowd for the show were there to see ’60s eccentric Screaming Lord Sutch but our intrepid new music fans – who on returning home, changed their surnames to Shelley and Devoto – were of course there for the support act, The Sex Pistols.

The following night in Welwyn Garden City, where the Pistols were again gigging, the pair approached Malcolm McLaren and offered to arrange for the group to play at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester, which they planned to hire, the idea being that they would be the support act.

They became Buzzcocks and on the night of April Fools ’76 made their debut, three songs at Bolton Tech’s Textile Students’ Social before the plug was pulled – the same fate as the Pistols’ debut supporting Bazooka Joe at Saint Martin’s College in London late in 1975.

The Pistols show went ahead in Manchester but without Buzzcocks as they’d lost their bassist and drummer. Seven weeks later The Pistols returned and now with new bassist Steve Diggle and drummer John Maher, Buzzcocks did get the opportunity to join in the fun, albeit third on the bill, below glam hoodlum punks Slaughter and The Dogs.

This time round no plug was pulled – and not just because they had helped set up the concert. Impressed by their performance McLaren invited them to play with The Pistols and Clash at the Screen on the Green in London and then at the second night of the 100 Club Punk ‘Festival’ a high impact event for the still largely underground scene.

Shortly afterwards Buzzcocks entered Revolution Studios in Manchester where, live, they recorded what at this point was their entire set, the idea being that this would act as a demo. They also obtained a manager in Richard Boon. Before the year was out they had raised enough money from friends and family (around £500) to record, press and release 1000 copies of an EP.

They soon scooted back into a studio, to Indigo Sound with the Joe Meek of Manchester – Martin Zero (aka Hannett) on production duties and within five hours, Buzzcocks had the four tracks that would become the Spiral Scratch EP in the can. The band together with Boon created New Hormones for its release.

The hope was to sell at least half of the records, thus ensuring debts could be paid back and the band break even.

It soon transpired that that idea was far from optimistic. ORG1 sold out speedily.

This is a live version of the song shot in Boston sans Howard Devoto in 1980:

Independently released records weren’t actually as much of a rarity at this point as some might imagine. Scotland itself possessed independent labels, with numerous folk artists and even pipe bands making their material available in this manner.

More recently and with far more credibility, two London independents, Stiff and Chiswick, had began to establish reputations for their quirky rosters and imaginative releases. And if you were looking for a label actually founded and run by musicians themselves, Incus could claim to have predated New Hormones by around seven years.

Interestingly too, just over a year earlier, John Martyn, already an established artist, hit upon the idea to release, promote and distribute his Live at Leeds LP himself after his label Island declined to put it out. Most of the 10,000 initial pressing were sold from his home in Hastings after being advertised in the music press.

The idea of an unsigned and unknown band completely funding the release of their own record, though, probably struck some as the equivalent of vanity publishing, that Spiral Scratch was the same as your Uncle Danny’s slim volume on the history of all the cars he had ever owned, paid for from his redundancy money and now lying unsold under his bed.

In fact, although seen now as a major step in the whole concept of Do-It-Yourself, at the time the EP was seen in many ways even by the members of the band as a memento, some proof in years to come that they’d been in a group rather than any kind of vinyl manifesto for the fledgling independent movement.

But Buzzcocks’ EP was far from any self-indulgent artistic folly, instead it proved to be a truly seminal record, doubly so in the regions of Britain usually ignored by the fat-cat record industry. New Hormones would continue to function even after it was decided that the planned second Buzzcocks EP to be called Love Bites wouldn’t come out on the label, ORG-2 instead becoming The Secret Public, a folded fanzine/booklet of photomontages by Linder Sterling and Jon Savage issued early in 1978.

I bought a copy of this at a Buzzcocks show at the Apollo in Glasgow wrongly assuming it was a concert programme. Sadly, I have no idea what happened to it but apparently one copy went for over a thousand quid on eBay a few years ago so I should maybe go through my cupboards again.

New Hormones later also put out material by a band called Ludus who featured Linder Sterling on vocals, and around five years ago I was lucky enough to see some of Sterling’s epic thirteen hour art performance The Darktown Cakewalk at the Arches in Glasgow, which, Claudia Nova aka Hausfrau, from a recent post, also participated in.

Oh and before I forget, if you’re wondering about the title of this post, it’s a combination of the dead wax messages on both sides of the EP.

Buzzcocks Irving Plaza

Buzzcocks are playing some shows in the States over the next few days:

April 16 – New York City/Irving Plaza
April 17 – Asbury Park/The Stone Pony
April 18 – Baltimore/Baltimore Sound Stage

They will also be appearing on Late Night with Seth Meyers on NBC on Monday, April 20th. They also have recently released a new single, In the Back, taken from their – by their own standards – frankly mediocre 2014 album The Way:

And finally, I’m told that Pete Shelley reaches the grand old age of 60 on Friday. Have a good ’un, Pete.

For more on Buzzcocks, click here for their Facebook page and here for their official site.