Music for pleasure
The Damned

The Damned

The Assembly Hall, Worthing - 14th August 2015
The Assembly Hall in Worthing is actually a pretty decent venue, the kind that Brighton lacks, in being just under a thousand capacity, with great parking, good views, and a small seated balcony if you are that way inclined. It is, however, notoriously under-used and this was our first visit there since February 1990 when we saw Hunter-Ronson, sadly the last date the guitar maestro was to play with that particular combination before his untimely death. It is impressive that the Damned, embarking on a pretty major tour and opening with the English seaside resorts of Weymouth, Worthing and Hastings, are a hair's breadth away from selling it out, some thirty-nine years since they played their first gig, and it is pretty clear there's still a lot of love for the band in these parts. People generally come to Worthing to die, so it is good to see such a turnout for a resurrection.

What the Assembly Hall doesn't have is either air conditioning or organisation. It's hotter than a heatlamp in Hades despite the rain that is lashing down and which apparently followed the band all the way from Weymouth. And in the airless and dense atmosphere it doesn't help that half the audience are kept waiting in a foyer until the support band have started playing. The mood improves when we see it is Red Raucous on the stage; the Brighton rockabillies who played for Isolation last year in support of the Inca Babies also made up the numbers the previous night, and they are having the time of their lives. They go down well with an audience that in large numbers appears to consist of The Damned's original followers.

It's easy to forget what a wide range of music this group released over their eleven years as a going concern but tonight's concert comes as a firm reminder and an object lesson in organisation. They begin with 1979's splendid Machine Gun Etiquette, playing three tracks, before advancing through their albums in order through The Black Album (1980) and Strawberries (1982) to Anything (1986), skipping 1985's Phantasmagoria which was recorded without Captain Sensible. They end the set by heading all the way back to 1977's Damned, Damned, Damned, the UK's first released punk album, before embarking on a mixed encore. There's two of the original members still present, namely Sensible and singer Dave Vanian, so drummer Rat Scabies is the only real absentee, seeing as The Damned changed bassists more often than their underwear. Given that, a new leaf has obviously been turned, as the remainder of the band, keyboardist Monty Oxymoron, bassist Stu West and drummer Andy Pinching, have been a part of the line-up now for between eleven and fifteen years. There are no beginners here then, and this is relayed by the tightness of the playing, even given the Assembly Hall's sound system which it must be said lacks a little dynamism.

Both Sensible and Vanian look in great shape, the former in his traditional red beret, shades and brightly coloured jacket, and the lithe latter obviously all in black. He's lost nothing of his voice, the best out of any of the punk generation, and following his dramatic late entrance it is straight into the classics as 'Love Song' leads in to 'Just Can't Be Happy Today' and 'Plan 9 Channel 7'. There's a break while a roadie brings out drinks to which Sensible declares, "Black coffee. This is pensioners' speed", and it is the guitarist who does most of the talking throughout the evening. It would be difficult to imagine The Damned without his flashy ebullience which hasn't altered in the slightest since the seventies. After playing 'Stranger On The Town' he looks at his guitar with confusion and asks, "Is that still in tune? Don't ask me."

The Captain may like to perpetuate the myth that punks can't play, but his actions prove it a lie. 'The History Of The World' sounds massive and glorious, as does 'Ignite' which has the whole audiene singing along. Cover versions 'Alone Again Or' and 'Eloise' are stunning but just when you think that middle and later period Damned was clearly a class above, Sensible announces, "Here's a song we wrote on the way down here," and the band launch into 'New Rose'. It's actually quite moving to hear the first ever punk single, and how Vanian not only fits in the words but manages to sing them is beyond belief. The Damned always believed punk should be played fast and loud, and fast and loud they play it. After the song ends to general jubilation, the band rest while Sensible offers, "Hold on, there's several granddads on this stage ... oh f*ck it, let's play 'Neat Neat Neat' " which they do with utter magnificence. The first song on the first ever punk album played at twice the speed of their amphetamine-fuelled debut is a complete joy. It's drawn out, slowed down, and speeded up again with the Captain playing the guitar behind his head without missing a note. I suppose if you have to close a set, there are not many better ways of doing it.

The audience howls for more and eventually The Damned return, the Captain beginning 'Happy Talk' before the booing drowns him out, and the whole band embark on 'Nasty', famously first aired on The Young Ones; 'Fan Club', which the Captain dedicates to Brian James "without whom I would probably still be cleaning out turds"; and the two parts of 'Smash It Up', the obvious set closer and a true call to a generation:

Smash it up, you can keep your krishna burgers
Smash it up, and your Glastonbury hippies
Smash it up, you can stick your frothy lager
Smash it up, and your blow wave hairstyles


The Damned
Words and Pictures by Adam Hammond
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