There’s nobody like The Damned. You couldn’t make ’em up. A Nosferatu frontman, and a guitarist half Danny Kaye and half Honey Monster. Original punk innovators who did everything first but somehow got pushed aside, for not taking themselves too seriously. Amidst the posturing and posing of The Clash et al, they were the custard pie in the face of pretension (literally, with their debut album’s sleeve ‘Damned Damned Damned’). Yet they embraced the punk ethos of chaos to life-threatening limits, ferocious onstage and out of control off it. I was lucky enough to be dragged to Manchester’s Russell Club by older boys at the age of 15, to witness them in 1979. It was my first gig, simultaneously terrifying and the most exciting night of my life.
Now here I am again some 38 years later, and I’m feeling the same. I always thought my feverish state back then was down to youthful naivety, but now realise it was The Damned. My friends keep getting the beers in but I’m rooted to the spot, beside myself with impatience and excitement. The 8:30 stage slot comes and goes, then someone says they’re on at 9:00. It’s exquisite torture. I’ve not felt this at a gig in years, I feel strange, why should it be? I don’t deserve somebody this great.
The moment finally comes, and keyboardist Monty Oxymoron, a freaky blend of Tiny Tim and Jeremy Clarkson, strolls on and dazzles us with some riff virtuosity, a comic prelude to the main event, then suddenly they’re there and I’m filled with excitement, awe and, yes joy. Because The Damned are fun, it’s like being at a great party. They’ve been doing it so long it’s effortless, but still so raw that it could fall apart any moment. Captain Sensible could mesmerise a room on his own, but he has Dave Vanian by his side, a man who strolled off with the ‘Coolest Frontman in Rock & Roll’ award the day he first picked up a microphone.
‘Wait For the Blackout’ is the opener, then it’s tune after tune after tune. For an overlooked fact about them is they are masters of melody, and have dabbled with psychedelia, garage, pop, and grandiose orchestration, whilst equally still more than able to pummel you to death with Punk classics like ‘New Rose’ and ‘Neat Neat Neat’.
Every song is a winner, dipping into their vast back catalogue, impeccably played but with banter and high jinks in-between. ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, ‘Fan Club’ , ‘Antipope’, ‘I Just Can’t Be Happy Today’, the list goes on, as well as a couple of tracks from the excellent new album ‘Evil Spirits’.
Drummer Pinch announces it’s the best gig of the tour so far…unless they somehow manage to fuck it up at the last minute. Typical Damned, irreverent, incendiary at times and inclusive; these guys could be your mates, but equally they feel like the last remaining link to a time when music battered you senseless, singed off your eyebrows and left you roaring and ecstatic and glad to be alive.