The lights dim at Cambridge Junction. “Fanfare for the Common Man” by Emerson, Lake and Palmer plays over the PA. It seemed odd to have this prog-rock classic playing on The Damned, one of the original punk bands of the 1970s. The ELP song continued, much to the distaste of those around me – not so much anger, but confusion. Wasn’t this overblown music the antithesis of punk?!
“Get this shit off!”
Captain Sensible – the loveable cheeky-chap guitarist of The Damned – shouted at the sound guys to finally turn ELP off, igniting cheers amongst crowd. Wearing his trademark beret and double denim, the Captain explained to us that back in 1976, those at the forefront of punk were sick of Yes and Genesis, and wanted to create something more meaningful. The result was the band’s second album, Damned Damned Damned, which they were touring in full in celebration of the band’s 40th anniversary. Charismatic frontman Dave Vanian – a man that somehow straddles an identity as both punk legend and New Romantic hero – took hold of his Shure microphone and led us straight into “Neat Neat Neat”. This three-chord wonder set the pace for the next half-hour, with tracks such as “Fish” and “See Her Tonite” acting like 90-second adrenalin shots.
The crowd didn’t make things easy for the band. Swearing and insults between songs were common throughout the night, but this was more to do with punk aesthetics than any ill will towards Dave and Captain (who, by the way, definitely gave as good as they got). Following the Damned Damned Damned set, we were treated to two hours of their music from the 1980s onwards, a period that found the band expanding beyond three-chord punk to become post-punk and goth rock pioneers. “Street of Dreams” from 1985’s Phantasmogoria was a prime example of this change in direction, making great use of long-time keyboardist Monty Oxy Moron. Later tracks that explored this new direction included the jangle-pop of “Lovely Money”, the music-hall-come-New-Romantic stylings of “Eloise” and “Life Goes On”, which the Captain dared us not to associate with Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” to no avail.
However, despite these stylistic forays, we were still treated to mosh-inducing punk tracks such as “Disco Man” and “Anti-Pope”. The absolute highlight though was the band’s anthem “Smash It Up”, which – despite the Captain’s continued disavowal of his new amp and flange sound effects – still did the trick for the party faithful after 40 years in the business.
Words from James Proctor