"Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make."
Bela Lugosi as Dracula 1931
Has it really been 35 years since the birth of Punk? It bloody has, you know! The Damned kicked off their 35th anniversary tour at Bristol's O2 and showed everyone that Punk, like Dracula, will never die.
"We want to take you back in a time machine to 1976, when it all began..." said Captain Sensible, at which point the air seemed to whirl and we spun faster and faster in a vortex until we arrived back at the year of The Damned's first album, the year they changed music and youth culture by being the first of the British punk bands to release a single and an album, have a hit in the UK charts and to tour the States. And you thought punks couldn't even play an instrument?
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So there I was, all dressed in black, at The Bristol 02, a cosy venue in the heart of the city where I watched with interest the eclectic crowd as they came through the doors. There were punks, old and young, with dyed mohawks and many more skinheads, mostly around the 40 something mark, though the audience seemed to range from about 10 to 60... give or take a few centuries.
The atmosphere was decidedly old school punk rock with a modern twist. At the bar I noticed a sign that said, 'Earplugs are available on request' and I wondered what kind of a night we were going to be in for.
Familiar faces but not all of the original line up took the stage to rapturous applause. Guitarist, Captain Sensible, in full costume so as not to disappoint the expectant crowd, was dressed from head to foot in a furry 'onesy' with his trademark red beret and white rimmed shades. He said, "It's my job to wear daft clothes and show off and drink lots of beer." He did his job well.
Lead singer Dave Vanian, his hair famously black with a white streak is now in his mid 50s, so I half expected it to be white with a dyed black streak. In full penguin suit he looked as dapper and debonair as ever; the charismatic Goth vampire punk boy all grown up; his voice and stage presence still as strong as they ever were, even if he wasn't quite as animated as he used to be. It was all in the hips way back when. Now it's mainly in his hand movements.
Ex drummer Rat Scabies was not there, though the Captain drank a toast to absent friends. Over-animated keyboard player Monty Oxymoron waved his hands excitedly throughout the first half hour and did little else – as there were no keyboards on the first album. He did treat us to some amusing jazz hands! He played an extended solo later on to crazy psychedelic light show which, for me, was the low point of the gig with its repetitive single note played over and over. Perhaps to calm the now frantic mosh pit of over-enthusiastic revellers.
The energy was instant, the music authentic, fast and loud. The spirit of punk is still very much alive, even if not all of the ideology remains.
They opened with songs from their debut album 'Damned Damned Damned', described by Q magazine as "One of the nastiest, most ragged and downright funniest records of the era."
'Neat Neat Neat', their second single from the first album and a stonking punk sound whipped the audience straight into a frenzy, closely followed by 'Fan Club' and the highlight of the first album, 'New Rose'.
The later 'Black Album' set kicked off with 'Wait for the Blackout', a decidedly different sound with much more of an evolved sound, less raw punk rock and more psychedelic and gothic in its feel with some great guitar riffs. The band seemed to be much more comfortable with this set of songs and the crowd loved the range.
Captain Sensible sang 'Silly Kids' Games' with his own idiosyncratic style but the highlight of this set was 'Sick Of This And That' which seemed to get the audience 'pogoing' higher than any other song. 'Curtain Call' sounded good, and though I was slightly disappointed they didn't play 'Smash it Up' I was glad they managed to fit both 'Love Song' and the brilliant 'Eloise' into their encore. For me, this really was the highlight of the two hour set.
Amidst the dry ice, red and green lights this was a gig with a great pace, full of memorable guitar solos with real character, calls of 'Hoy!' and a mosh pit of pogoing punks who all seemed to have a great night.
There was a frenzied climax at the end before the Captain's parting line, "Happy 35th anniversary! Bet you can't wait til the 50th! We'll be in our Zimmer frames!" Damned right and I still can't wait!
Damned Damned Damned
Neat Neat Neat
Born To Kill
Stab Your Back
Feel the Pain
See Her Tonite
1 of the 2
So Messed Up
I Feel Alright
The Black Album
Wait for the Blackout
Silly Kids Games
Drinking About My Baby
Hit or Miss
Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde
Sick of This and That
The History Of The World (Part 1)
13th Floor Vendetta
Images from: officialdamned.com