The Manchester punk scene was never meant to be a weighty chapter in history. Quite the opposite: it emerged as a short, sharp breath of fresh air. But looking back now it forged a few copper-bottomed legends, figures who helped construct modern Manchester and who are still talked about with great admiration and affection.
Richard Boon is one such figure. Originally from Leeds, he gravitated towards Manchester in the mid 70s, and swiftly became a key mover and shaker. On the face of it, his CV seems pretty specific: he promoted a few early punk gigs and fell into acting as manager to The Buzzcocks (a role at which he insists he was “crap”). He also launched and ran the seminal independent label New Hormones. But much more than this, he was part of the whole warp and weft of the Manchester music scene, up there with your Tony Wilsons and Martin Hannetts. His ideas, his attitudes and his enthusiasms proved very influential to others – Wilson and the Factory label amongst them.
On stage tonight at Manchester’s Gorilla, courtesy of MDMArchive with Lottery funding, Boon is guided through his career by DJ and writer Dave Haslam, as slides illustrating each juncture are projected behind them. It’s an unpredictable, whistle-stop journey. As an interviewer, Haslam is neither forthright nor tenacious, but fair’s fair, he certainly brings an unshowy, encyclopedic knowledge of his field. Boon himself in person is, by turns, articulate, intense, irreverent, bitchy, sharp, self-deprecating and hugely, dryly funny – all the characteristics, in fact, which make him, and the Manchester music scene as a whole, so distinctive and compelling.
Boon tells corking stories of writing lyrics for occasional Buzzcocks b-sides under the pseudonym ‘Alan Dial’; of encouraging designer Malcolm Garrett to reference the likes of Marcel Duchamp in Buzzcocks cover art; and giving the Buzzcocks’ ground-breaking debut EP Spiral Scratch the catalogue number Org1 – ‘orgone’, yeah? – as a sly nod to the theories of Wilhelm Reich. While it wasn’t strictly speaking in his job description, he even did his bit to nurture other important Manchester bands of the day – The Fall, The Smiths – towards their first professional recordings (there’s a recurring joke tonight about Boon’s reluctance to address ‘that book’, i.e. Morrissey’s autobiography, which presents him in a not entirely flatteringly light; it’s perhaps a shame, actually, that he never has his say on the subject).
Boon’s long since left Manchester and the music business and works in a public library in Stoke Newington. He seems entirely comfortable with this, though, and argues that his role as a librarian is much the same business as managing the Buzzcocks: both are about “turning people on to stuff”. By Boon’s reckoning, “punk was all about opening doors which had previously been closed” – it’s a refrain he comes back to several times in the course of the evening. This notion of almost wilful originality, of getting out there, generating and propagating ideas, still feels intoxicating nearly 40 years on. Present-day Manchester could probably do with a few more Richard Boons, mixing things up and making things happen. It’s an unalloyed pleasure to spend time in his company.
By Andy Murray
Images by Pam Lee
What: MDMArchive Presents: Richard Boon live in conversation with Dave Haslam
Where: Gorilla, Whitworth Street West, Manchester
When: February 13, 2014
More info: http://www.mdmarchive.co.uk/, http://www.davehaslam.com/