Punk veterans The Damned have long had a reputation as an entertaining live band, and have been on my “to see live” list for a long time. After missing previous tours because of clashes with other gigs, their appearance at Reading’s Sub89 seemed to good an opportunity to miss.
Even for a Wednesday evening they still managed to pull a good-sized crowd for a school night, albeit notably older and more male than many a prog-rock gig I’ve attended in recent years.
The support band was Exeter’s The Computers. Ever had a band’s name and looks sets up expectations of how they will sound, then see them proceed to nuke those expectations? The Computers did precisely that. They came on stage in suits and skinny ties, leading you to think they’d be some kind of 80s new-wave revivalists. But from the moment they struck up the opening notes of “Bring Me The Head Of A Hipster” it became clear they were something very different.
The Computers have one foot in 1958 and one foot in 2013. While there are a whole load of other influences in there, the overall feel is very old school rock’n'roll with a contemporary rock makeover, with Hammond organ in the mix setting them apart from being purely retro rockabilly revivalists. They played with amounts of energy as well as being awesomely tight, with frontman Alex Kershaw adopting the style of revivalist preacher in much the same way as Hayseed Dixie’s Barley Scotch. They have to be one of the best “unknown” support acts I’ve seen for a long while.
After that excitement, there was some doubt over whether or not we’d actually get to see The Damned. As they took the stage, a knobhead in the front row took it upon himself to throw a full pint at Captain Sensible, who stormed off stage, followed by the rest of the band. After a worryingly long delay, with a stern warning from a roadie not to throw things at the band, they did eventually reappear and proceeded to deliver a storming set.
Like many acts of their vintage, The Damned are down to a couple of original members in the shape of lead singer Dave Vanian and guitarist Captain Sensible, supporting by three much newer and younger-looking recruits. Their greatest hits set featured numbers right across their career. They played oldies from the punk years like “New Rose” and “Smash it Up” alongside the later goth-psychdelia of “Grimly Fiendish” and an excellent cover of Love’s “Alone Again Or”, even though they avoided their 17-minute prog-rock epic “Curtain Call” (Bah!). Despite Dave Vanian being the only constant factor in the band’s lineup over the years, Captain Sensible seems take have taken on the role of band leader and effective frontman. It was The Captain who did most of the song introductions, and it was his guitar playing that dominated the sound, with more than enough soloing to please any classic rock fan, even on the punkier songs.
Rock’s historians have always looked down their noses at The Damned, a band who never took themselves too seriously, rejecting them in favour of the po-faced posturing from the likes of The Clash. But despite never having been one of the fashionable of the 70s punk movement, their enduring sense of fun makes for a great live band, even thirty-plus years on. The Damned have still got it.
(Photos from Steve Cotton/Art of the State, used with kind permission)