If I seem a little jittery… it’s because, having sat down to write a piece on the 40th anniversary of the release of Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch, it’s occurred to me that that’s just a rather dull thing to do. Counter to the ethos. Sure, Spiral Scratch was a landmark in ‘indie’ history. 4 songs, 3 hours to record, £500 begged and borrowed for 1,000 initial pressings, 16-track this, 4-track that, Martin ‘Zero’ Hannett… But who wants just a list of old numbers?
Boredom. B’dum B’dum.
What’s far more fascinating is the story of the autodidactic John Maher (pronounced “Maaaaar” – like that other Mancunian Indie legend, Johnny).
In 1976, he decided he wanted to be a drummer. A few weeks later he taught himself to drum and he’s in Buzzcocks. He’s 16. A few months later he’s on the first British independently released ‘punk’ EP. And then the whole thing takes off rather spectacularly. European tour supporting Blondie, Top Of The Pops, a string of Top 40 singles. And then the scene became very humdrum and the individual ‘Cocks buzzed off into new musical “projects”. Devoto and Shelly went a little pretentious. Maher drummed for a while with Pauline Murray (Penetration) and Pete Wylie (Wah!) but must have grown tired of the same old music in the same old kitchen, and quit the music business. “Never mind the Buzzcocks”, he must have thought—before that phrase had even been invented—”I need a different kind of tension”.
He’d already bought a VW Beetle with a royalty cheque from the re-release of Spiral Scratch and that car became his obsession. When it had a breakdown (a breakdown, yeah), he fixed it himself. Soon after, without any formal engineering training (he’d dropped out of 6th Form to support the Clash on the White Riot tour—well, who wouldn’t?), Maher decided he’d like to start designing and building high performance engines for VW Beetles. And he was evidently good at it. And apparently still is. He later moved the business from Manchester to the Isle of Harris where, thanks to him, there is now a drag racing scene.
More recently, his thirst for knowledge has pulled him in yet another direction. Again self-taught, Maher moved to photography. And it’s quality stuff. Particularly impressive is his series of photos documenting derelict croft houses on the Isle of Harris. That was exhibited—as Nobody’s Home—around Scotland last year.
Never let it be said that he’s lived life in a straight, straight line.
UPDATE 5 February 2017: Very gratifying to see Spiral Scratch enter the singles chart at NUMBER ONE this week, almost certainly due to this Sad Paradise article.