I don’t care that these songs featured on the blog back in August 2016 as part of a series looking at all the 45s by Buzzcocks. The words that follow are different….
Spiral Scratch is, without any question, one of the most important pieces of plastic in all history as it set the template for the DIY attitude that began with punk and still resonates today, probably even more so given how much new music is self-financed, promoted and released to the listening public.
The four-track EP came out at the end of January 1977, with the bands’s main protagonists – Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto – having been inspired to start up a band after initially seeing Sex Pistols play live down south and then promoting the now legendary show(s) at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Up until this point, the only way a singer or band could get product into the shops was through some sort of contract with a record company through which all the technical, administrative, practical, financial and legal stuff would be sorted out. It was also more difficult for any bands living or working outside of London to land any contract as the capital was where all the labels had their headquarters or satellite office if they were owned overseas.
Pete and Howard borrowed £500 from friends and family members (it equates to around £3,000 today). They went into Indigo Studios in Gartside Street, Manchester on 28 December 1976 working alongside a new producer called Martin Hannett , who, in keeping with the ethos of punk changed his name to Martin Zero on this occasion. The real hero of the session, however, is the uncredited Phil Hampson, the in-house engineer at Indigo who guided the band and the man at the controls through the three hours it took to record four songs, albeit it was Hannett/Zero who then spent a further two hours doing the final mixes….
………..except it has since emerged that just a few days later, in response to learning that Pete and Howard weren’t entirely happy with the end results, Hampson went back into the studio to do a little bit of remixing for free as the rest of the budget had to go on forming a label called New Hormones and pressing up the initial 1,000 copies.
It seems incredulous but while Hannett went on to form a production career with post-punk bands for the rest of his short life, Hampson went back to the bread and butter of what happened at Indigo which was comedy, cabaret and novelty records, most often driven by the demand from the nearby Granada TV studios. Spiral Scratch would be his only involvement with the punk/new wave scene – not that he was bothered as he thought the music was awful!
History shows that the EP quickly sold out its initial pressing and in due course would sell around 16,000 copies, initially by mail order but also with the help of the Manchester branch of music chain store Virgin, whose manager took some copies and persuaded other regional branch managers to follow suit.
Howard Devoto, almost as soon as the EP was pressed, announced he was quitting the band, going on to form Magazine, leaving the path clear for Pete Shelley to move centre stage and take lead vocal on a number of Top 40 hits in the ensuing years.
Yup…..the best-known of the four songs wasn’t seen by the band as being their best.