Review: The Damned

Richard Nevin gets punk nostalgic at Birmingham Town Hall.

The Union Flag bunting, stretched across the top end of New Street, fluttered in the spring breeze calling to mind royal occasions of the past, notably the Jubilee of 1977, forever linked with punk. Underneath, a battalion of ageing punks walked, shuffled and let’s face it, limped towards the Town Hall to pay homage once again to the original punks. Not the band so inextricably linked with that 70’s Royal Pageant, no, tonight was all about The Damned.

And The Nightingales. Birmingham’s own post-punk pioneers are the special guests on this tour, and playing the Town Hall was a dream come true according to drummer Fliss Kitson. Unfortunately, due to the rather antiquated entry system and a long queue at the bar I only caught the last ten minutes of this dream but came away more impressed than I was previously with Robert Lloyd and his charges. Their Sky Arts film, King Rocker, made with super fan and fellow Brummie Stewart Lee introduced me to the band but apart from a few cursory listens I didn’t pursue their music much more, something I intend to put right. Bands always sound better live, anyway.

I was too young for punk but rode the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, a genre that would never have come about without the likes of the Damned, who to me were a slightly camp, almost mock-goth outfit when they first came to my attention. Hits like Grimly Fiendish (the theme to Nick Meanwell’s late night quiz on BRMB) and the covers of Eloise and Alone Again Or belied their origins but to me were no less impressive. Once I discovered the more ahem, stripped down version I was a convert. So tonight was all about those early days for me, but I had to wait.

Kicking off with the opening track to 1985 album Phantasmagoria, Street of Dreams was swiftly followed by new track The Invisible Man and the bulk of the main set moved through the years plucking songs from their debut, their 80’s period alongside more recent material such as Standing On The Edge of Tomorrow, the penultimate track of the set. Captain Sensible now carries out the guitar-playing duties and for all the frivolity of his on-stage persona, demonstrated some brilliant technique on his Gibson SG.

Bass player and former UFO man (there’s your NWOBHM link again) Paul Gray aped the beret of the good Captain and perhaps it was his influence that made the band almost sound like classic hard rockers at times. Indeed, much as I love my retro rock, turning set closer Neat Neat Neat into an extended jam with solos was beyond the pale for me.

Frontman Dave Vanian resembled Claude Rains as The Invisible man, black fedora pulled down over his brow, dark glasses and pale complexion, weeping back and forth across the stage clutching his retro 1950’s mic in gloved hands. This trio were augmented by Will Taylor on drums and Monty Oxymoron (real name Laurence) in the role of mad professor on keys, the sound was pretty good. Classic concert halls like the Town Hall don’t always lend themselves to rock gigs but the soundman seemed to have it right from my position leaning up against a pillar at the back.

We had to wait for those punk classics and perhaps it was this that muted the evening somewhat. Brummie audiences are notoriously reluctant to make an unnecessary fuss, as noted by Vanian, but by the encores, kicked off by Eloise and followed by Smash It Up and New Rose, they brought the place to life and the curtain down in style.