Where? University Main Hall, Plymouth
When? 3rd December 2016
Forty years! That went fast, didn’t it? The marketing leeches may have tried to suck punk dry since its momentous inception but a lot of the original ’76 punks who meant it, still mean it. Which leads us to The Damned. Forty years on, with probably the same number of line-up changes, and they’re still kicking out the darkly humorous jams. In fact, they’ve barely been away: reforming on a regular basis, dropping into near obscurity at times, yet still keeping some kind of faith. And it’s heartening to see half of the original line-up, namely Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible, still holding fort. But before The Damned take us on a trip down memory lane, Plymouth nu-punks, The Blowouts, put in a spirited and slick performance; one that is warmly welcomed by what, in another era, could have been a hostile crowd. This is the band’s biggest show to date but they hold their own and rise to the occasion with a clutch of songs that marry the wistful melancholy of The Cure to the anthemic punch of Brand New.
As any spiky aficionado will tell you, it was The Damned who released the first punk album. Tonight we get to hear that debut, ‘Damned, Damned, Damned’, in its entirety – although that isn’t as thrilling a prospect as it seems when you’re soon reminded that a third of the album was filler. Nevertheless, ‘Neat Neat Neat’ and ‘New Rose’ are held tightly to the bosom of 800 (mainly) punk veterans, reliving the old days as best they can whilst trying not to worry too much about mortgage repayments, errant kids and pension plans. With that album out of the way, the remaining hour features a few lulls, chiefly when they dip into the less inspired, goth-heavy croonage of their mid-’80s period. But those lulls only serve to indicate how amazing the band are when they play to their strengths. In other words, when they play songs from their third album, the stupendous ‘Machine Gun Etiquette’. The likes of ‘Love Song’ and ‘Anti-Pope’ are towering blasts of proto-hardcore, while ‘Smash It Up’ takes me back to a time when pogoing at kiddy-punk discos was all the rage. ‘The Black Album’, arguably the last great Damned album, gets a fair rep too, including a feisty rendition of ‘Wait For The Blackout’.
So, here’s to another forty years of defending punk from those who erroneously believe that it was a fixed period in time as opposed to a constantly mutating subcultural phenomenon. Cheers!
Photo of Dave Vanian by Alan Snodgrass