Over the weekend, I spent some time listening to the Damned. They always make me smile and it occurred to me that I have shared most of my life with them. If you haven’t spent time with them, you should.
It goes back to 1985 for me, I suppose. I was probably aware of them before this on some level, seeing shirts around Deer Valley High School or hearing the name associated with punk rock. I’m guessing Bill G. exposed me to them first as I clearly remember listening to the Black Album (1980) with him. It was the first record of theirs I bought, too, not much longer. I fell in love with the song “Drinkin’ About My Baby” first and my love for the Damned grew exponentially from there.
I remember thinking that I would probably never get to see them live but eventually they came to Phoenix in 1988 or 89. I think it must have been ’89 because I went to both of the shows that happened at Celebrity Theater in those days with my ex, Alexa. The Final Damnation record had come out and they came with the classic line up of Dave Vanian, Brian James, Captain Sensible, and Rat Scabies. It was out of control and before too long, two of my friends decided to do a stage dive.
If you were there, you remember what happened, but basically the show got cut way short and we all spent some time on stage. I got to ruffle Vanian’s hair and shake hands with Rat Scabies before I tried to get close to the Captain. We all had a wonderful time on stage and when the Damned came back and played “Smash It Up,” I thought the place was going to get destroyed.
I think it was about six months or so later, maybe a year, when they came back again and played with their regular lineup at the time which did not feature Captain Sensible or Brian James. It was still great, though, and if they had never come back to town again, I would have been more than satisfied. I don’t remember that show as much as the first one but seeing the Damned is great no matter who is playing.
Over the years, I’ve had times when just about all their early albums were my favorite. As mentioned, the Black Album holds a special place in my heart and I go back to it, a lot, but Strawberries (1982) and Machine Gun Etiquette (1979) are also a must listen. A few years ago, the Damned played Machine Gun Etiquette in its entirety at Punk Rock Bowling and it was sublime. I usually don’t get too keyed up about those types of shows, but this one was special.
It was amazing to see the sheer joy on so many faces as the band tore through that record. It was also cool to see how much fun they appeared to be having with it, as well. One thing about seeing the Damned live is how much fun they have. I hope that it feels somewhat similar when people watch The Father Figures. If you aren’t having fun playing live music, then you shouldn’t be playing.
I actually have taken a lot of cues from the Damned over the years. I wish I had the type of riff writing talent Sensible, James, and Vanian have. There is probably not a more diverse punk rock band in terms of their discography as the Damned. They have the pure punk rock fury of the early stuff and then sort of morphed with Strawberries to include some tinges of mod, psychedelia, and pop. They also can play goth and garage equally well. I’m sure the Damned could please just about any alternative music audience if they wanted to but again, it really just seems like they are entertaining themselves.
I was fortunate enough to interview both Captain and Vanian at different times over the last several years. Both guys are pure class and are great interviews. Not to pat myself on the back, but Vanian was especially gracious and complimentary of our chat and told me I had asked him something that no one had ever asked before. If you figure that he’s been getting interviewed about the Damned for almost fifty years at this point, that’s awesome.
I asked Vanian about him starting to write songs on Music For Pleasure (1977) and what that experience was like for him. I think he was a little touched by my interest and talked at length about how intimidated he was, initially, because he was such a fan of Brian James’ writing. When you have bandmates like Sensible and James who are both epic songwriters, it would have to be difficult to throw your hat in the ring but thank the lord he did. Music For Pleasure is very underrated in my book, but one of my favorites on there, “Your Eyes” is the first time he wrote lyrics for the band.
The last several times the band has come through Phoenix they have been amazing. Very diverse sets and killer energy. When you have such a great discography, it must be hard to choose a set. Sensible being on lead guitar is just a treat and they are always hanging with the audience after the show saying hello. I think everyone was smiling after their last few shows here.
Someday I will do a Damned cover live, I’m sure. I’ve wanted to do a Damned cover band with Bill for years, but we haven’t found the right drummer and singer yet. Playing the bass parts would be a challenge, but I’m up to it. If any drummers and singers are reading this and want in, let me know. Would be great to do this in a secret way and just book a show as Plan 9, Channel 7 or Strawberries or any other cool homage kind of name and just rip through a set of Damned classics.
Putting it out there, universe… putting it out there.
See you tomorrow.
Rhondi took this shot of Mr. Vanian and myself at the Marquee a few years ago.