The Damned can fairly claim to be the “Genesis” or (avoiding any accidental Prog Rock references) the “Ground Zero” of punk rock. In 1976 their single “New Rose” was the first Punk Rock single. Their debut album Damned, Damned, Damned released in early 1977 was the first full-length Punk Rock album. They are the first Punk Rock band to undertake a 40th anniversary tour, who would have predicted that in 1976?
Dave Vanian (vocals) and Captain Sensible (guitar) are the sole remaining founder members. They are ably supported by Pinch (drums), Stu West (bass) and Monty Oxymoron (keyboards) all of whom have been band members for pretty much half of the bands existence.
Whilst the band performed at the Royal Albert Hall in May 2016 as part of the 40th Anniversary tour, the Phoenix in Exeter is closer to the sort of intimate venue the band will have played in the early days, allowing the band and the audience much greater opportunity to interact (as was certainly the case tonight). As the lights dimmed the opening chords of “Fanfare for the Common Man” by Emerson Lake and Palmer blasted through a PA system as an ironic nod to the Stadium/Prog Rock that Punk Rock stuck two fingers up to in the late seventies. Luckily, the band did not make us wait too long, emerging onto the stage before the track had got into full flight. The years appear to have been kind to them and they all look remarkably good. In fact, I cannot help thinking that Dave and Captain must have hideous portraits stored in their attics!
Captain stepped up to the microphone and introduced the first section of the concert as “Damned, Damned, Damned; this is the album the Sex Pistols wished they had made.” At that point, the band steamed headlong into the opening song from the album “Neat, Neat, Neat.” This first part of the set was a run through of the songs from their debut album in the order that they appeared on the L.P record. This was a brave move as it meant that the crowd pleaser and obvious candidate for encore material “New Rose” was scheduled relatively early in the evening. This speaks of the confidence that the band’s longevity and experience gives them. They were well aware that they had plenty more ammunition in their repertoire to keep everybody happy later in the evening.
The sound was fantastic. But I guess after multiple decades to perfect it you would expect this to be the case. Original drummer Rat Scabies’ thundering drums were a big part of the band’s sound but I am pleased to reassure you that with Stu in the seat, it is very much a case of business as usual. The three newer members provide a brilliantly honed tight sound that allows Captain the freedom to let rip with his guitar. If anything, Dave’s vocals have improved with the passing years and have a deeper more mature timbre. Overall the impression gained is of a group of musicians at the top of their game who are having the time of their lives. What’s not to like about that?
The rapid delivery of their debut album was interrupted for a short time due to a technical issue with the drums ahead of them performing “New Rose”. The drum fill introduction to the song is within Punk Rock circles as iconic as, say John Bonham’s introduction on Led Zeppelin’s "Rock and Roll" is to fans of that genre. This was a potential disaster! Pinch left the stage for a time whilst the road crew hurried to rectify the problem. Captain joked that Rat always managed to play the introduction to everyone’s amusement. Once it became apparent that a solution might take a number of minutes to complete, Captain (accompanied by Stu on bass) treated us to an impromptu version of his solo number one hit “Happy Talk” with the whole audience joining in with the chorus. With the technical issue resolved the opening (tongue in cheek) line “is she really going out with him?” segued to Pinch’s thundering drum introduction to “New Rose” (yes he can play it just fine thanks). If anything the delay had allowed the anticipation to build and the audience erupted.
At the end of the final track from the album “I Feel All Right”, Captain offered the audience a break before the second half but no one was in the mood to stop so we ploughed straight on. Monty Oxymoron joined the stage to take his place at the keyboards as the band ran through a selection of songs predominantly from the 1980s. Of these, “Disco Man” and “Ignite” were most warmly received by the audience (great Woah’s on “Ignite” Exeter). The inclusion of the Gothic hit “Eloise”, was a reminder of the bands diverse back catalogue and the way in which they have experimented with different genres over the years.
For the final part of the concert we returned again to the 1970s for a selection of songs from the album Machine-Gun Etiquette, culminating with “Smash It Up (Parts 1 and 2)”. As the band left the stage the house lights remained dimmed giving the audience hope of an encore and indeed they were soon rewarded. Dave took a break whilst Captain took over vocal duties on “Life Goes On”, lifted from the Strawberries album, following which we were treated to a further three songs from Machine-Gun Etiquette, including my personal favourite, “Melody Lee”.
Before leaving the stage for the last time, Captain joked they would see us all on the 50th anniversary tour. As the satisfied audience drifted out of the auditorium, it was clear that they'll be there if the band is!
1. Fanfare for the Common Man (Emerson, Lake & Palmer song)
2. Neat Neat Neat
3. Fan Club
4. I Fall
5. Born to Kill
6. Feel the Pain
7. Happy Talk
8. (Rodgers & Hammerstein cover) (Captain covering for problems with the Drums)
9. New Rose
11. 1 of the 2
12. So Messed Up
13. 1970 (The Stooges cover)
14. Street of Dreams
16. Disco Man
17. Elouise (Paul Ryan cover)
18. Under the Floor Again
20. White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane cover)
21. Wait for the Blackout
22. Stranger on the Town
23. Love Song
25. Smash It Up
26. Life Goes On
27. Plan 9 Channel 7
28. Melody Lee
29. Noise Noise Noise
Review by Kevin Barnes
Photography by Rhodri Cooper