tue 23/07/2024

The Damned, The East Wing, Brighton | reviews, news & interviews

The Damned, The East Wing, Brighton

The Damned, The East Wing, Brighton

The punk perennials gleefully play their two most critically acclaimed albums

The Damned, still delivering punk thrills with panache

“Whose idea was it to do the gig in this shithole?” asks Captain Sensible towards the end of the night. He’s right. The East Wing is truly an atmosphere-free venue, a carpeted, low-ceilinged conference room that’s part of the much larger Brighton Centre complex. It’s easy to imagine it filled with municipal administrators milling about, the stink of coffee and the rustle of paperwork.

Instead, it’s packed to the gills with men and women, mostly in their late forties and early fifties, mostly clad in black, lots of leather and badges.

The Damned have undoubtedly played worse. They’ve had a ramshackle career. Despite being one of the original UK punk groups, releasing the first British punk single, launching the first British punk US tour, and even a brief moment as Eighties pop stars, they remain under-appreciated, sometimes classed as also-rans rather than being filed alongside the likes of the Sex Pistols and The Clash where they belong. Currently, to celebrate their 35th birthday, they are touring their debut album Damned Damned Damned (pictured below) alongside possibly their best work, The Black Album.

They are introduced by the rousing theme to the old war flick 633 Squadron then Captain Sensible, looking as he always has in tacky shades and a beret, asks, “Can we take you back to 1977?” This is exactly where the men in the audience want to go and roar a positive response. Singer Dave Vanian appears, a vision in black tie, black jacket and waistcoat, and they tear into the single “Neat Neat Neat”. The rest of the band consist of bassist Stu West, wild-haired keyboard player Monty Oxymoron and drummer Andrew Pinching (Rat Scabies is long gone – he left in the mid-1990s).

Almost the whole of Damned Damned Damned was written by long-departed guitarist Brian James, a fact Sensible acknowledges, and it stands up well, ragged punk rock riffing with a bawdy pop sensibility. Songs such as “I Fall”, “So Messed Up” and, especially, the doomy slowie “Feel the Pain” punch above their weight. The album also illustrates what set The Damned apart from their British punk peers. Where much UK punk reinvented its New York predecessor, adding boredom, politics and nihilism, The Damned simply continued the legacy of bands such as the Ramones, The Dictators, and Johnny Thunders whose idea of punk – and, indeed, theirs was the original Seventies punk – was simply raw, goonish, amphetaminised rock’nroll, rude and liberatingly juvenile.

During “1 of the 2” Sensible’s guitar cuts out and they have to complete the song with only a rhythm section and Sensible leaping about, acting up. It works surprisingly well. Afterwards the technical difficulty takes a while to sort out and Sensible decides we should all sing the theme to Jim Davidson’s long-defunct Big Break TV show. Fortunately the problem is resolved before that can happen and they sign off with The Stooges' “It’s Alright”. Sensible leaves the stage saying, “See you in 1980” (the year The Black Album came out).

I hadn’t heard The Black Album since the late Eighties, and it was a real pleasure to reacquaint myself

When they reappear, they burst straight into “Wait for the Blackout” reminding everyone that The Damned can write smashing guitar pop when they choose. The Black Album was the product of Sensible’s growing fixation with Sixties psychedelia and, especially, Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett, and Vanian’s increasing Gothic influence. Where the first half of the gig was for pogoing blokes, the second half sees the girls, a sea of heavy mascara and black lace, singing along. Monty Oxymoron comes into his own as there’s plenty of harpsichord-like fills. “Monty’s from Brighton,” announces Sensible at one point, “so if you see him shuffling from bar to bar with his Tesco’s bag, buy him a drink because his wallet is only full of moths.”

I hadn’t heard The Black Album since the late Eighties, and it was a real pleasure to reacquaint myself with it. Why the hell did I leave it so long? Songs such as “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” and “Twisted Nerve” have the zip of a band at their peak, and “The History of the World (Part 1)” is contagious and brilliant. As with so much great rock’n’roll, on paper the lyrics are gibberish but blasted out at decent volume “The History of the World (Part 1)” becomes an insouciant existential shrug in the face of all history. The Black Album finishes in outright psychedelia and so does the set as the Captain and Oxymoron are silhouetted against a swirl of green lazers for the twisting, lysergic 15-minute “Curtain Call”.

For an encore they return to play “Disco Man” – truly a song from another era as the idea of a “disco man” seems antiquated – “Love Song” and, the one the crowd have been baying for all night, “Smash it Up”, a paean to the joys of destruction. “I don’t even care if I look a mess/ Don’t wanna be a sucker like all the rest” is a delicious couplet to shout en masse and the gleeful “Everybody’s smashing things down” is a great note to end a gig on.

“We’re not gonna go quitting,” Sensible tells us before leaving the stage. “I want my pension, I want my bus pass.” Curiously, given their years of well-documented on-the-road rampage, both he and Vanian look younger than they might. Perhaps a life of goofy punk rock does that to you.

  • The Damned are on tour until 20 November

Watch the video for "New Rose"

The lyrics are gibberish but blasted out at decent volume they become an insouciant existential shrug in the face of all history


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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