The Damned are a punk rock/gothic rock band formed in 1976 in London by Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible. The first punk rock band in the UK to release a single ‘New Rose’ that year with a further eight releases making the top 40 charts over the years. Their first gig was as support to The Sex Pistols at the 100 Club, some years later, they were headlining the Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre.
Lead singer Dave Vanian has remained the one constant over the years with various band member changes. Captain Sensible left in the early 1980’s to pursue a solo career, which included a number 1 with the South Pacific ‘Happy Talk’. Captain returned in 1988, moving from bass to lead guitar, for what was thought of as The Damned’s final gig, this concert was released the following year as the live album ‘Final Damnation’.
It was during the time without Captain Sensible that Dave Vanian’s theatrical musicality came across in the albums ‘Phantasmagoria’ (1985) and ‘Anything’ (1986) – with church organs, thunder and Vanian’s distinct deep vocals. The Damned evolved in to the forerunners of the gothic rock genre with Vanian’s penchant for vampire-like appearance – the iconic black hair with grey streak, chalk-white make-up and long frock coat formal wear.
Sadly for me none of the ‘Phantasmagoria’ songs made the set-list, this is a favourite album of mine, but this was recorded without Captain Sensible and the band are more punk rock than goth rock now.
After a few more band member changes and time out over the years The Damned reformed in 1996 with Vanian, Sensible and former Sisters of Mercy bass play Patricia Morrison, who later went on to marry Vanian and leave the band in 2004 when their daughter was born. Morrison was replaced by former English Dog bassist Stu West, and with Pinch on drums and Monty Oxymoron on keyboards the current line-up is complete.
The sold out gig is an older crowd predominately male, more punk rock fan than gothic in appearance. There is one audience member with an excellent bleached spiky mohican, and it is enjoyable to see him pogoing around the crowd during the show.
Support act is local solo artist Rory Matthews know as Some Sort of Threat who rapidly plays through his set with no song lasting more than 2 minutes. Fierce guitar playing, at times vocals sounding a little shouty, but definitely putting some passion into his lyrics. Matthews sites Billy Bragg and Dead Kennedy's as influences and this is evident in his music.
As a solo artist he entertained the crowd that grew larger throughout the set. Towards the end he said, ‘I’ll play a couple more songs if you don’t mind. That’ll take a minute and a half!’ This made the audience laugh and gained a good cheer, clapping with a few whistles at the end. Some Sort of Threat have an EP called ‘Not The End of The World’ which I have enjoyed listening to with the extra instruments and I particularly like the guitar on ‘Henman’s Year’.
The lights dim and the smoke machine billows out ready for The Damned to take to the stage. Cheers cry out as Monty Oxymoron walks on and plays the keyboards as an intro to the band led on by Captain Sensible, with Dave Vanian appearing through the mist centre stage.
As they launch into ‘Disco Man’ from the 1981 ‘Friday 13th’ EP, the room erupts with the rock. I feel strangely transported back in time as if watching them for the first time in the early 80’s in a small punk club. Perhaps it is Captain’s perfect classic punk rock ensemble of black and white converse, red tartan trousers with chains, waist coat with thrown bleach effect and patches saying ‘BEST’ and tattered Union Jack, topped off with the now iconic red beret. Nothing about this feels dated though, more like I am there at the birth of the punk rock genre era with the passion and energy the band bring to the music.
Dave Vanian is as stunning as ever, the long black hair and white make-up have been replaced with impeccably groomed hair swept back and the beard and moustache teased to dramatic perfection. Vanian comes on in a knee length black leather belted coat, white scarf and black gloves. Apart from Monty all the band wear shades throughout the show.
The 20 song set flies by with tracks predominately from their earlier work, like ‘New Rose’ from 1977 ‘Damned Damned Damned’, ‘Love Song’, ‘Plan 9 Channel 7 ‘ and ‘Smash It Up’, from 1979 ‘Machine Gun Etiquette’, ‘Silly Kids Games’ and ‘13th Floor Vendetta’ from 1980 ‘The Black Album’.
By the second song Vanian has removed his scarf and the crowd are head banging and singing along to the rock energy coming from the stage. After the third song ‘Second Time Around’ the jacket is removed to reveal a slim fitted black top outlining Vanian’s physique. The gloves remain and Vanian uses dramatic gestures to accentuate lyrics or theatrical interplay with Captain.
Vanian is happy to take a back seat when Captain takes lead vocals, even holding a floor spot up to highlight Captain at one point. Or Vanian will stand in the back corner with his 1950’s chrome style microphone whilst Captain holds court. At one point Captain says, “Mr Cowell if you’re out there, put me back on Top of the Pops where I belong…granddad, what is Top of the Pops?” before launching into ‘History of the World’.
Later Captain is talking about how they have spent the day by the sea at Dawlish and says “Does anyone live in Dawlish, it’s the centre of the universe”. During one little talk someone shouted “Get on with it” to which Dave Vanian replied, “Quieten down in the cheap seats, we’ve got anecdotes for you here.” Much cheering followed by Captain saying, “That’s the last story you are getting out of me you c**ts!” – in a good humoured manner I hasten to add. Then we are treated to their biggest hit a cover of the 1968 song ‘Eloise’.
At times Vanian and Captain’s vocals harmonize and it sounds quite beautiful. Pinch is superb on drums keeping the audience dancing along throughout. Monty when not playing keyboards is singing and waving his arms about in his own trippy style in his purple tie-dye top and harlequin trousers. Stu plays it cool on bass with his shades and waistcoat. I was stood side stage with Stu’s lovely partner and it was great to hear her stories and comments between songs.
The Damned return for a 3 song encore that becomes 4 songs after Captain says, “There’s a million bands out there and the fact you came out to see us means a lot to us.” The audience start to chant ‘Happy Talk’ – so Vanian takes his microphone to the back and starts to sing ‘My old mans a dustman’ which leads into ‘Happy Talk’ complete with much cheering and singing along. Stu’s partner looks at me knowingly and says with a laugh “Any excuse!”
As Captain Sensible says, “And now we’d like to smash the place up to smithereens Exeter”, The Damned play their last song ‘Smash It Up’ to a pogoing rocking out crowd. Tonight has been FANTASTIC, as great as ever with such energy and stage presence, The Damned were there at the birth of punk rock and they're still here, rocking every venue with their classic tracks and loveable persona's that everyone just can't help falling in love with all over again!
Review by Molly-Mole
Pics by GCD Photography