“I’d like to take you back in time to 1977, when all you had in the British music scene was Little Jimmy Osmond, the Partridge Family and 20 minute drum solos,”Â says Captain Sensible after striding onstage for The Damned’s 35th anniversary show. “This is the album that changed all that.”Â
The crowd’s anticipatory buzz turns into joy as Neat Neat Neat’s up-for-it Duane Eddy bass intro kick-starts this celebratory performance of Damned Damned Damned ”â The Damned’s classic debut album from February 1977 and the first to be released by a UK punk band at the height of post-Bill Grundy ”Ëpop filth’ tabloid hysteria.
It’s instantly clear that Sensible is on top form, snugly wrapped in a familiar oversized pink and yellow fluffy outfit he resembles a yeti-fied Hendrix, blasting away the years as he unleashes the raucous but always uplifting guitar noise that underpins The Damned’s heady mix of energy and passion, pop hooks and rollicking chaos; the ability to touch emotions as well as turn a crowd like this into a surging mass of grinning faces.
Meanwhile, Dave Vanian is heroically cool in head-to-toe Elvis vamp black, suavely belting out Fan Club, I Fall and Born To Kill in that dark trademark drawl, his voice back to its best and backed up with flawless precision by Pinch, drummer since 1999, relative newcomer (2005) Stu West on muscular bass and Monty Oxy Moron, keyboard wiz since 1996, adding the splashes of colour and texture that have always set The Damned apart from their contemporaries’ buzzsaw murk.
Then, just as you think they’ve settled into a groove, they crank things up another notch, storming through Stab Your Back with a startling urgency… and yes – oh yes – you can tell they’re having fun! This is no lazy, money-spinning re-launch of past-its-sell-by-date stock, The Damned are here to prove a point and this they do by re-igniting their long undervalued debut with an explosive energy that takes everyone here by surprise and sends the packed audience into rippling rapture.
As New Rose fizzes and combusts you’re reminded that, removed from the confines of punk rock’s stifling context, the first Damned album always was and remains a storming collection of high-octane rock ”Ën’ roll songs in the tradition of earlier yob-rockers like the Stooges and MC5, stripped-down messy guitar tunes played at speed with scant regard for niceties and primed to thrill.
The band briefly leave the stage and the excitement lifts a further notch as the now gasping crowd prepares for part two of this much anticipated punky knees-up – a full run through of The Damned’s remarkable fourth long-player, 1980’s The Black Album, which saw Sensible, Vanian and co evolve abruptly and surprisingly from top-notch garage-rockers into a band unafraid to expand into orchestration and an increased use of the Captain’s ear for a gorgeous melody.
When The Damned reappear, visibly buzzing from the energy generated by tonight’s opening 30-minute salvo, Captain has abandoned his dayglo suit and, less physically inhibited, he seems better equipped to let rip with the kind of brilliantly catchy licks and solos that have long marked him out as one of the UK’s best but least appreciated guitar talents. Wait For The Blackout positively hurtles along, fuelled by his trademark happy/sad riffing. Meanwhile, Vanian’s sinister-smooth vocals are fiendishly perfect.
Silly Kids Games on the other hand suddenly dazzles as a standout perfect pop song, sung with a touching sweetness by Captain, then followed as on the album by a moody piano motif that links into the crash-bang-wallop of Drinking About My Baby, possibly the band’s ultimate power-pop moment.
The party continues with a string of encores, and as we tumble out into the cold we’re struck by the feeling that tonight The Damned have been reborn via the past, thrust into the present with music that finds itself freed from the shackles of history and liberated, sounding fresh, timeless, perfect.
If they can use this retro-fuelled momentum to inspire and propel themselves into further musical adventures, their next album should be truly special.