Venue: Northampton Roadmender
Support: Devilish Presley
Many people will ‘know’ that the first UK Punk album was ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ by The Sex Pistols. However, it isn’t true. That distinction, as well as first UK punk single and first US tour by a punk band from these shores - even first UK punk band to reform! - belongs to The Damned. A fine addition to this in the early 80s, in the opinion of Ned Raggett, was: ‘Vanian's smart crooning and spooky theatricality ended up more or less founding goth rock inadvertently (with nearly all his clones forgetting what he always kept around — an open sense of humor)’ (The Damned at Allmusic). Quite a list of achievements, quite a place in music history, and after 30 years (give or take the odd hiatus, including a short solo career for original guitarist Raymond Burns – the one and only Captain Sensible of course), you would presume quite accomplished. However, none of this actually seems to matter to the protagonists themselves.
This was to be my second Damned gig and Ratty’s sixth, both of us looking forward to it with great anticipation. The group seem pre-disposed to a yearly tour just before Christmas. There is a family atmosphere to the proceedings. Little knots of Goth girls with their corsets just about keeping (most of) everything in will bounce around in certain areas, little knots of weathered old-school punks gather in certain other areas in their tartan and leather, the twain occasionally meeting. Middle aged men crowd the bar and know everybody else in clean jeans and t-shirts. The merchandising stall carries out a brisk trade. It is a curiosity to me to watch these little groups ebb and flow with little bits of animated chatter, pats on the back, large friendly laughs, far more intimate than so many gigs before the show starts. Then 300 or so of the faithful cram into the main hall, and the proceedings begin.
Support was from Devilish Presley. Guitars, Johnny. Bass, Jacqui. Loud, hard, fast, simple. Punk rock DNA. Their last number introduced another feature to punk, encouraging local talent. Up pops Ratty’s friend Mike (Motorbike Mike) to chug out rhythm to his own song as part of the Devilish setlist. I’d love to say instant cult-hero created, stage invasion, etc. but he actually looked scared witless. Set over, another dash to the bar, a chuckle or two, on with the show.
The Damned don’t have many formalities. Walk onto the stage, arrange instruments, click the drumsticks and off. In terms of music, they have loads of great music (this time around they were playing stuff off a new album, which made a great Christmas present for Ratty, and which interested Grahame enough to request a copy when he was round for dinner over the Festivities). Their style is a curious mix of punk and goth-rock, but it’s all held together really well by Dave Vanian. He’s been likened to a crooner, and from a pro’s perspective, would be a good character study for how a singer can hold an audience without histrionics, excessive movement, acting up, just economical theatric movement. If he’s not needed, he’ll vacate the stage, old enough and wise enough to know he doesn’t need to hog the limelight.
In this Sensible is the polar opposite. He will hog anything that is given to him, constantly hamming it up to the audience, keeping the banter going (the audience is very much a part of the show). This time round he saw fit to show his 50 year old backside, Nikki confessed she saw him totally nekkid a few weeks prior. Considering, though, that he’s pretty good on gee-tar, certain allowances can be made (I did have to resist using the statement ‘it’s no biggy’ there), especially when, as a special treat for us, he first gave a rare outing to ‘Happy Talk’, then hoiked a pre-pubescent youngster up onto stage to play guitar for the end of show (remarkably talented little ferret that he was), and by the look of him outside after the gig, about to embark on his own career, starstruck little sod.
However, my favourite band member has to be Monty Oxy Moron. The man just seems doomed. Last time we saw him, he had an elaborate Perspex barrier to protect his beloved keyboards, and set up at back of stage, so he got targeted for the beer chucking within 30 seconds. He spent the next five minutes right at the front of the stage, ranting at some random member of the audience, before the roadies moved in, soothed his furrowed brow, and shepherded him back to his set up, which promptly stopped working. This time, he chose to set up stage right, next to the smoke machine, which then proceeded to belch out fumes straight into his face. Quality. He gestured frantically to the roadies, ticked them off, got the smoke going anywhere but in his face… and then grimaced as his keyboards again went down. Cue again frantic gestures and some toys going out of the pram.
Highlight of the evening for Ratty was a ‘drum-off’ between Captain and Monty for one of their new tracks, and for me the frantic mixing of the sound engineer towards the end of the night. Vanian was obviously under the weather, and though it didn’t affect the overall show, his voice must have been all over the place. I say must have been, chiefly because of the work at the sound-desk. Its always good to see talent at work from close up, whether on or off the stage. The next days show was cancelled soon after the performance.
So were they any good? I suppose the best way I can explain it is as follows. The Damned have been playing for 30 years, and no longer have a recording contract, nor do they get much in the way of press. Very little of their back catalogue can be found in the major outlets. Yet they can still record kickass music (sorry KICK-AAAAASSSSS music) which doesn’t necessarily need to fit into any one particular genre. They’re not bored with it all, not regurgitating old standards, still showing a lust for life. The only thing that keeps them in the public eye is their tours. They’ll pop up all over Europe – I took a long weekend in Prague last year and missed them by a couple of weeks - and they are always well attended, their fanbase is extremely faithful, and new converts (such as myself) are continually being made.
Bring on the 2009 tour….