The Damned | Louise Distras
Chester Live Rooms
18th Sept 2015
One of the all-time great rock and roll acts came to Chester last night. Louder Than War’s Dave Jennings reports back from another pitch perfect Damned show.
Music, the soundtrack of our lives and our lives shaped by music. As the Damned enter their fortieth year, with one hell of a birthday bash planned at The Royal Albert Hall (yes, that’s Royal), they will still pack venues full of devotees who will have their own tapestry of memories woven from the fabric of the career of one of the great rock and roll bands.
There is an added poignancy to their dates this week due to the sad passing of former bassist Bryn Merrick last week at the age of 55. I first saw Bryn at their infamous gig at The Metro Cinema in Ashton under Lyne in 1983. As usual the performance trod the perilous line between pure brilliance and self-destruction and Bryn ended up with a custard pie in his face as a welcome from the Captain. An unassuming man and a superb bassist, Bryn was also a perfect fit for this group of free spirits.. The Damned were outsiders in 1983, shunned by the music business and media and without a record contract would you believe? However, as so often is the case, the people are the best judges and they still came loyally to support the band, rushing the door of the Metro in 1983 and filling venues pretty much everywhere for the next thirty odd years. If The Damned play, people will come because people know what they like and they like The Damned.
Time passes and things change. These days you enter a Damned gig confident rather than hopeful that you will emerge unscathed but when the band take the stage in a room packed full of loyal followers, the room still crackles with an intensity and celebration that could have been bottled in 1977. Tonight the venue is crammed and it’s great to see so many familiar faces, fellow survivors of the rock and roll wars. First up is Louise Distras and what a performance she delivered. John Robb described her as the best upcoming protest singer we have and it’s easy to see why tonight. Armed only with an acoustic guitar she delivered songs of venom and power, channelling her anger into some great tunes that went down a storm in the room, which is refreshingly packed to see her.
The band appear to the theme from Bond’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to a reception which couldn’t have been bettered if 007 himself had parachuted in to announce the downfall of David Cameron. With Captain Sensible resplendent in sailor’s uniform, they kick off with the first three tracks from Machine Gun Etiquette – Love Song, Second Time Around and I Just Can’t Be Happy Today. They follow this with the first three from the gothic masterpiece that was The Black Album, Blackout, Lively Arts and Silly Kids Games and then History of the World and 13th Floor Vendetta. The third in the triptych of punk-gothic-psychedelic genius albums, Strawberries, is represented by the air punching, guitar bending delights of Ignite and Stranger on the Town. Bassist on the latter two of those albums Paul Gray told Louder Than War that this was “a magical time” when “the ideas were unstoppable….we could easily have made a triple album with no loss of quality control” and the fans have always known this. Quite what the music press, and record company moguls of the time, were thinking of leaving such talent to wither on the vine is anyone’s guess but it’s all part of the legend now. That’s the thing with legends though, they survive and each classic delivered, alongside every joyous bounce of the moshpit is a collective V sign to age and conformity.
Two Sixties covers, Love’s Alone Again Or and Eloise are popular tonight and when the Captain mentions the Fortieth Anniversary gig, it seems like the whole room are going so you better book the Albert Hall for the Saturday night too chaps!
New Rose and Neat Neat Neat end the set in typically raucous fashion leaving the stage set for encores that perfectly sum up the career of The Damned. The post-punk perfection of Disco Man gives way to irresistible riffs of 1977’s Fan Club. Before Nasty, Captain takes the opportunity to remind us of the band’s appearance on The Young Ones to perform this song and that Bryn Merrick was with them. The spontaneous applause that fills the venue in his memory is perfect and Captain sums it up perfectly by saying “he lived life in the fast lane and good on him”. The finale is inevitable, even more so when the Captain has to tell a heckler that it’s coming in 45 minutes. Nevertheless, the promise that “the whole place is coming down, brick by brick” metaphorical as it is, is fulfilled in everyone’s virtual rock and roll reality as the foundations shook to the sound of Smash It Up as they have thousands of times before.
This story is not over yet, not by a long way judging by the power, precision and energy of the performance. Go and see The Damned whenever and wherever you can and celebrate one of the all-time great rock and roll acts. The Damned – the outsiders that became an institution; isn’t that the sweetest irony?
Images: Phil Newall