Punk pioneers pull another rabbit from a hat
Pick a band from the ‘Punk’ era whose vitality, energy and frantic brilliance captured the essence of the whole movement on one bone-shaking, guitar-charged, adrenalin rush of an album. Now pick a band who manage to distil a range of influences from Rimsky Korsakov, through ‘50’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, ‘60’s psychedelia, Prog, and Glam with always the finest ear for a melody.
Now choose a band whose every album is a step into the unknown and almost always beating a path away from what is expected of them, yet is infused with the creative, risk-taking genius that is all but dead in music. You may find the same band is shunned by the ‘right-on’ music media, and operates in an occasionally chaotic void beyond the parameters of the industry norm. You may well feel they are all the better for it
Now choose a band whose live performances take on a life of their own, the one band you would trust to go out there and play for your life. Well, here they are in Wrexham tonight, in a club that could easily have been pulled straight from the heady days of 1977 and is therefore the perfect setting for the first part of the show; the performance of Damned Damned Damned in its entirety. New Rose, Neat Neat Neat, fan Club and I Feel Alright are regularly played live but it’s great to see them alongside lesser aired gems such as Fish, See Her Tonight and Born to Kill. Seeing this album played live nearly 40 years after release confirms that the songs sound as fresh and urgent as ever and that, if you were looking for one album to sum up Punk, you really need to look no further.
However, while some bands found a formula and stuck to it (and good luck to them), The Damned never released two albums the same and the rest of the evening was a testament to their spirit of adventure, creativity and desire to please themselves over the years that followed their seminal debut.
Having kicked off with their earliest work, they then proceeded to work backwards from the Phantasmagoria era with a raucous Street of Dreams and Eloise followed by Nasty. Strawberries is an album that is arguably their most under-rated, demonstrating as it does the versatility and range of influences that coalesced during one of their most creative periods. Maybe no song illustrates this better than Under the Floor Again, originally featuring a sitar alongside the booming Vanian vocals and now perfectly showcasing the guitar genius of Captain Sensible.
It’s a real pleasure to see the two original members, Captain and Dave Vanian, so obviously content as they wise-crack their way through yet another triumphant performance. It’s also worth remembering that this is by far the most enduring line-up in the Damned’s history, and a damned fine one it is too.
It was half way through Ignite that a moment arises that possibly sums up the band perfectly. A hat is tossed onstage with ‘bunny-style’ ears, Captain takes the bait and Vanian utters a couple of familiar words. In a flash the band are into a storming version of White Rabbit; a rarely played slice of genius that allows full scope for the Vanian vocal range ad Sensible guitar pyrotechnics, but also demonstrates the spontaneous brilliance of their live act. Not to forget a quick burst of Pretty Vacant that saw Vanian doing a better impression of Johnny Rotten than he actually does himself.
Through Machine Gun Etiquette with the sublime Plan 9 Channel 7, a dedication to Welshman and former bassist Bryn Merrick before Love Song before the inevitable ending of Smash it Up concludes yet another perfect night. The encore was Curtain Call, which is fast becoming every bit as essential as Smash it Up and New Rose in the live set.
With that they were gone. The travelling medicine show rolled out of town leaving another audience a good deal better than they found them. The tour continues and there is the promise of a new album next year. Now that’s enough to ward off the winter chill surely.
To read my interview with Dave Vanian go here
To read my Brian James interview go here
Photo from The Damned’s Albert Hall Performance – credit Dod Morrison