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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening… to the Damned May 9, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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The beleaguered population of the United Kingdom? Well, the Tories back, again. A supine centrist LP. Murmurs and more of the UK breaking up. It’s just like the late 1970s all over again.

What better time for a documentary on The Damned – punk survivors, but more than that? And here is the trailer…

Doesn’t it look great? And so it should because the Damned released the first British punk single, released the first punk album, were the first British punk group to tour the US. And yet others tend to have a greater prominence. It’s difficult to quite explain this. The documentary suggests that they should have released one album and had one of their number die.

I can’t help but think that it was a mixture of the sense they were messers (the names of various members Rat Scabies, Captain Sensible spoke of a sense of humour), that despite or because of the punk, later goth and garage stylings they achieved a fair measure of chart success as something remarkably like a pop group – even became, whisper it, popular… and that yes they stayed the course mostly, surviving and even prospering. And perhaps too their visual style, a most unpunk like tilt towards the melodramatic, Dave Vanian being exhibit A with his Hammer Horror movie look, didn’t help either for those who liked to keep it pure.

Perhaps it also was the duality of their output, particularly early on. There was a rigour to their singles – I Feel Alright being a good example, but also an underlying melodicism. Their first – that historic first punk single in the UK full stop – New Rose, was a perfect blend of rock and roll and punk, a combination of the energies drawn from both sources. But listen to their output as they progress and it was clear that psychedelia, garage, a pinch of prog, proto goth and eventually goth proper and other strands were as, if not more, important.

Messers they might be, and messers they were, but they could play – Vanian’s voice was great with a range that covered punk, crooning, goth, whatever – and they clearly had ambitions beyond the often self-imposed constraints of punk. Perhaps too it was that in some ways those ambitions were quite traditional. Look at that list again, psychedelia, garage, prog, goth and so on. It’s not that they never used sequencers – their goth phase and before saw them couple their sound to some fairly rigid beats, but when you’re releasing a cover of Alone Again Or in the late 1980s it’s fairly clear that your vision is one positioned firmly in a certain context. And perhaps that’s it, they didn’t go the post-punk route, not at all. They remained a rock group.

But what a rock group. It’s difficult to pick out individual albums. Damned Damned Damned was an abrasive burst of punk – guitarist Brian James, later of the entertaining and often excellent Lords of the New Church with Stiv Bator, brought a certain tortured aspect to the group on tracks like Feel The Pain. Roughly produced, raw, elemental, these are key document from the front line of punk.

But tellingly their next album, Music For Pleasure was almost an F.U. to punk tropes. Produced by – of all people – Nick Mason of Pink Floyd (and with an intriguingly New Wave styled cover by the peerless Barney Bubbles) it was goodish, perhaps hinting at rather than attaining the potential promise of their sound, but poorly received critically. Machine Gun Etiquette from 1979 had a much stronger welcome, not least due to tracks like Smash It Up and Love Song which seemed to crack the melodic/punk issue perfectly. The Black Album from 1980 was a two disc magnum opus – tinged with proto-goth numbers but not forgetting their punk past (check out the times of the tracks, most are under four minutes). Strawberries was excellent, a sort of distillation of its predecessor. Phantasmagoria was commercial, if by commercial one means a sort of goth pop with tracks like The Shadow of Love, Grimly Fiendish and so on. All tongue in cheek, but given a certain pathos by Vanian’s none more deep vocals. But by now Sensible was long gone and with him a certain oddness that added something intangible but important to the group. That said I’ve still a soft spot for the follow up album Anything, though it’s hardly a masterpiece and was a commercial flop.

An hiatus in the 1990s led to Rat Scabies releasing an album under the Damned name, with Vanian on vocals, though it seems to not be regarded as canon. The late 1990s saw Sensible return and with him Patricia Morrions, late of the Gun Club and Sisters of Mercy and now partner of Vanian. They released a good album Grave Disorder, that pushed back towards their garage/goth roots, and more recently, which is to say seven years ago Vanian and Sensible with assorted accomplices released the even better ‘So, Who’s Paranoid?’

Actually I’ve never seen them as an albums band really. Years ago I got The Light at the End of the Tunnel two disc/tape/CD compilation best of and while I’ve acquired a fair few of the individual albums subsequently it never struck me as a bad testament to the group – spanning the Brian James years, the Captain Sensible and post Captain Sensible period and on up to their surprising return to the charts in the mid to late 1980s. Indeed the sense of them as an excellent singles group comes across loud and clear – and not just singles. All the albums have non-single gems like Stranger on the Town, Disco Man amongst others. That said there are albums I do like, Machine Gun Etiquette, The Black Album, yeah, even, for all its gloss, Phantasmagoria (look closely at the cover, by the way, you’ll see a jet in the background of the none more gothic cover photograph).

Saw them three times, once in the SFX in 1984 or 1985, later in the Top Hat in 1986 and then in the Music Centre, as was, ten years ago. They were pretty great on all three occasions, though at a push the first and last gigs were most memorable – the latter perhaps because Sensible was back in the fold. They’re still going and I’m looking forward to the documentary. By the by, those interested in their garage/psych roots will probably like a spin-off album released under the name Naz Nomad and the The Nightmares.

New Rose

Love Song

Plan 9 Channel 7

Smash It Up

History of the World (Pt. 1)

Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde

I Just Can’t Be Happy Today

Stranger on the Town

Lovely Money

Shadow of Love

Eloise

Thrill Kill

Dark Asteroid

Comments»

1. ivorthorne - May 9, 2015

Didn’t they reform and release something on the Nitro label around 2000? Or am I confusing them with somebody else?

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WorldbyStorm - May 9, 2015

They did indeed, Grave Disorder. It’s pretty good.

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ivorthorne - May 9, 2015

I seem to remember reading an interview where they admitted to selling out in the late 80s. As I recall, the tracks I had from Grave Disorder were actually pretty cool.

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WorldbyStorm - May 10, 2015

Yeah, just listening to it today, it’s better than I remembered.

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2. Paul Wilson - May 9, 2015

First band I ever saw with the Adverts in support, I was knocked out. They were part of the scene centered around the Croydon Greyhound club near where i lived, others were the Banshees, Johnny Moped and the Fruit Eating Bears who appeared on the televised auditions for the Eurovision.

The Bears were crap even the hardcore punks would head to the bar when they were playing.

I was at the Greyhound on the famous occasion when Sensible bought everyone, several hundred people a drink, They had just got their second or third record contract. When he found out he didnt have enough money he did a bunk through the fire exit with the bouncers running after him. I think he got away.

Preffered the early stuff myself.

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WorldbyStorm - May 9, 2015

Yeah I’d have to agree that the period up to perhaps 82 was particularly good. Once briefly met Sensible, seemed like a genuinely sound person.

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rockroots - May 10, 2015

Seems like it, and a supporter of the Greens/SNP, or at least of their anti-nuclear policy (no room in Labour for such extreme notions these days). I also like that he and other band members have no problem turning up on tribute albums to Pink Fairies and Syd Barrett – they DON’T hate Pink Floyd, and they’re none the worse for it!

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WorldbyStorm - May 10, 2015

🙂

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