Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Damned @ Hammersmith Apollo, London

28 October 2022

Playing together for the first time in over 30 years, the punk survivors’ founding line-up focuses on their early material rather than gothic spectacle

The Damned

The Damned (Photo: Jill Furmanovsky)

The Damned are punk’s survivors. They may not have received quite the same recognition as fellow pioneers The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, The Clash and Buzzcocks – despite releasing the first British punk single and album – but unlike those bands the founding line-up are all still alive and kicking. The Damned’s covid-postponed, five-date UK tour features the original band members – singer Dave Vanian, guitarist Brian James, bassist Captain Sensible and drummer Rat Scabies – all playing together for the first time in over 30 years.

In the first of two consecutive gigs at Hammersmith Apollo they are supported by the almost equally venerable Scottish punk band Skids – albeit only front man Richard Jobson was there at the start in 1977. Jobson recalls: “This was the last place Skids played at with Stuart Adamson. It feels strangely emotional being back here.” Adamson – perhaps the most talented guitarist that punk rock produced – tragically killed himself about 20 years ago, but his spirit lives on in the music. Fittingly his place is taken by Bruce Watson – who played rhythm guitar in Adamson’s post-Skids band Big Country – alongside his son Jamie, both of whom also play in the re-formed Big Country.

Their 40-minute set is made up of songs from Skids’ first three albums, over 25 years before the band re-formed following renewed interest due to U2 and Green Day’s hit cover of The Saints Are Coming in 2006. Spirited accounts of that rousing song plus Into The Valley (Skids’ only Top 10 single) are the undoubted highlights of a punchy show. The band are all dressed in black, with the bare-armed, muscular Jobson doing his boxing-style dance moves, as well as entertaining the crowd with banter between songs. Introducing TV Stars as “the worst rock song ever written”, he encourages the willing fans to shout out “Albert Tatlock”, before the band close with a gutsy version of The Clash’s Complete Control.

After an intro of Doctor Who theme music, headliners The Damned enter the stage one by one. Now in their late 60s, it is an amazing sight to see the four – after various in-fights and personnel changes – back together some half a century since they first performed. Sensible quips: “This really is second time around!” More colourfully dressed than the others, his eccentrically upbeat persona make him a second front man to the more laconic and vampiric Vanian, as always pale-faced with slicked-back hair and all-black clothes, including gloves and a long steampunk overcoat which he removes after a few tracks so he can prowl around more freely. Recent returnees Scabies and James look more their age, especially the latter who stands rooted to the spot for the duration, unkempt grey locks visible beneath his trilby.

The Damned have just released the live album and concert film The Night Of A Thousand Vampires (a record of a 2019 London Palladium show featuring macabre circus acts) ahead of Halloween. But this gig focuses on their early punk rather than later goth output, and is all about the music rather than spectacle. It has to be said – perhaps not surprisingly in the circumstances – this is not one of the band’s best performances. They sound disconnected, rough and sort-of-ready. Their 70-minute set includes all the tracks of their iconic debut album Damned Damned Damned and half from their sophomore, the underrated Music For Pleasure – both released in 1977 – plus several covers.

They get under way with an aggressive account of I Feel Alright (The Damned’s version of 1970 by proto-punk rockers The Stooges), followed by a pulsating performance of You Take My Money and their speeded-up take on The Beatles’ Help! The insidious menace of Feel The Pain offers a respite from the full-throttle of songs like Problem Child and second single Neat Neat Neat. For You Know, Mike Smith joins the band on stage to supply squealing saxophone that adds another dimension.  

Encores start with the energy rush of New Rose, still sounding as urgent and compelling as when it kick-started British punk in 1976, followed by a more laid-back cover of Bo Diddley’s rock’n’roll Pills. Finally, there is a version of The Rolling Stones’ The Last Time – The Damned have played this in concert before but you can’t help but feel it has a special significance here. For this mini-tour will surely be the last time all of the original Damned will perform live together. Rather sadly, at the end a roadie unhooks the guitar from the seemingly exhausted James (who has been in poor health recently) and helps him exit, so that he doesn’t come to the front of the stage like the others to receive the crowd’s applause. But, as Captain Sensible remarks: “We made it – and no one died!” Unless of course The Damned are undead?

• The live album and film from The Damned, A Night Of A Thousand Vampires, is out now through earMUSIC. Listen to it here and watch the official trailer here.

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