Review: The Damned, Fibbers, York

Captain Sensible – the first voice heard as The Damned take to the stage at Fibbers. Photographs: Simon Godley
21 Sep 2015 @ 9.45 pm
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The Damned

Fibbers, York

Sep 16 2015

Fibbers website

We were smoking with the boys upstairs, for years it would seem, just lying there listening to Jackson Browne, CSN&Y, and Joni Mitchell.

But as gainfully as that time was undoubtedly spent, it was all to change rather dramatically when Billy Allen came down the road from Aberdeen one night with some 7” singles tucked under his arm.

We cranked up Kraw’s old Dansette and played them one after another and somehow our lives were never quite the same again.

It was early 1977 and those records were The Clash’s White Riot, Anarchy In The UK by the Sex Pistols and The Damned’s New Rose.

Each one was the debut single from a triumvirate of bands who had spearheaded the UK’s punk movement; each one was an incredible explosion of energy, electrifying urgency, vitriol, and nihilistic attitude.

That Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter stuff was all well and good but this music was something else altogether. It cocked the most fabulous of snooks at the establishment and felt like the passport to a different sort of life.

Hoisting the flag

Still looking like some Hammer arch-villain… Dave Vanian
Still looking like some Hammer arch-villain… Dave Vanian

Joe Strummer, sadly, is no longer with us and John Lydon’s first musical love is now quite rightly PiL (who, incidentally will appear at a sold out Fibbers on Tuesday).

It is left to The Damned to continue to raise that particular punk standard.

That men of a certain age should still be hoisting such a flag is probably open to question but there again The Damned were never a band who really took themselves all that seriously.

Of the original band singer Dave Vanian and the irrepressible Captain Sensible still remain and it is the voice of the good Captain that we first hear after all five men walk on stage to the stirring sound of John Barry’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Marvellous gothic pop from Dave and the Captain
Marvellous gothic pop from Dave and the Captain

He is knackered, he tells us, having just landed here from LA, before Vanian helpfully points out that their American departure point had actually been Chicago.

This fatigue may well have been a factor in The Damned taking some time to hit their stride.

Love Song, Machine Gun Etiquette and I Just Can’t Be Happy Today – also the first three songs from the band’s third studio album, their 1979 release Machine Gun Etiquette – are all perfectly serviceable rock songs but somehow lack the immediacy, snarl and incisive bite of their earlier work.

Yet slowly but surely they do shift into another gear.

Blistering thrash

The Damned fuel a ‘sheer adrenaline rush’
The Damned fuel a ‘sheer adrenaline rush’

Sensible starts to take every opportunity to impress us with his guitar heroics (this, after all, is the man who was once seen getting on stage at the sadly defunct Rhythm Festival to join veteran British blues-rockers The Groundhogs to trade some pretty incredible licks with TS McPhee during Cherry Red) and Vanian – still looking like some arch-villain from a Hammer House of Horror movie – finds his true range.

Their mid-Eighties decision to cover Barry Ryan’s Eloise still sounds inspired as they once more turn the original into a marvellous slice of gothic chamber-pop.

Another cover ensues – this time Love’s Alone Again Or – before The Damned sign off with their first two singles, the still irresistible buzz-saw riff that is New Rose and the sheer adrenaline rush of its successor Neat Neat Neat.

‘Our lives were never the same again’ after The Damned arrived
‘Our lives were never the same again’ after The Damned arrived

They return for a blistering five-song encore, culminating with an anarchic thrash through Smash It Up all of which seemed the most fitting of farewells to their former bassist Bryn Merrick who had passed away only last week after a long fight against cancer.

Sensible speaks of him with great warmth and affection as a man who had “lived his life to the full; with reckless abandon”. He could just as easily be talking about The Damned.