The Damned have always been one of those bands that I knew who they were but outside a few songs, didn’t really know much about them, despite their importance and position in the 1970s UK punk scene. To be honest, I’ve never been that much of a fan of UK punk music; never thought much of the Sex Pistols, and unless there’s some sort of later-life, light bulb moment of realisation, The Clash will always be one of music’s most over-rated bands to me. I’ve always preferred the music coming out of the US at that time, bands like Television, Blondie, Patti Smith, Richard Hell, Pere Ubu and the like (although, as said before, I’ve never, ever got Talking Heads and also commit the cardinal sin of not thinking much of the Ramones; you’ve heard one song, you’ve heard them all, which essentially makes them the Status Quo it’s ok to like). When I think about it, not being anywhere near old enough for the UK punk movement to have had an impact on me, even as I got older the songs didn’t really do anything for me, and it just seemed like a bunch of annoying teenagers getting a bit shouty at the unfairness of their lives, whereas the US music was always so much more glamorous, sophisticated and cool. It wasn’t until a few years after the initial wave of punk bands, that the UK scene became really interesting; I’ll take PIL over the Sex Pistols any day of the week. Regardless, although I didn’t know a great deal about The Damned, I just fancied going to photograph them playing at The Hi-Fi, knowing that it was probably my one and only chance of going to see them play.
The original bill for the night had Hits and The Wrath supporting. Hits were a good fit and although The Wrath were probably less so, having enjoyed photographing them before, it was a good line-up. However, earlier in the day it filters back to me via Facebook and Mess+Noise that neither band would be playing. As there was no official update on any of the venue’s sites about replacement support bands, I decide that I would just go in later, nearer the time that the headliners were due to start. When I get to the venue the set times pinned to the wall of The Hi-Fi had the support acts as being a magician and a band I’d never heard of. It would have been fun and different to have photographed a magician (who does make a quick second appearance straight before The Damned take to the stage to do strait jacket escape routine – I didn’t get any good photos though) but I’m sure I would have been less than happy if I’d been an advertised support act given the boot from the show for a replacement magician.
Although I’ve been using a severely compromised camera for over a month, one that doesn’t have a working LCD screen and one where the anti-shake hasn’t worked for months, the problems are further compounded by having a lens that isn’t working properly and which won’t focus on anything less than about two and half metres away. This is a big problem in a smallish venue but especially in one that has a photo pit and a fairly low stage, like The Hi-Fi. It’s even more of a problem in the three songs I get to photograph The Damned in and frustrating as Captain Sensible is pulling loads of great poses perched on the edge of the stage that my camera just can’t focus on. Other than that there’s the usual Hi-Fi problems with poor lighting, something that gets even worse in the third song when Dave Vanian leaves the stage and Captain Sensible sings Silly Kids Games from his very dark corner of the stage.
From the photo pit (and presumably for everyone at the front) it sounds terrible. The mix is awful and Vanian’s vocals are buried under everything and barely audible. It doesn’t get a whole lot better outside the pit after the three songs, although I find a spot near the exit from the main room where the sound seems to be better and where I watch the rest of the show from. It’s a shame as the times when you can hear his voice more clearly over the instrumentation, it sounds fantastic. The handful of songs I do know sound superb; New Rose is dropped into the set early on and is probably the highlight of the whole set. Eloise and Video Nasty (the song that was the introduction to the band for my generation through their appearance on The Young Ones are played towards the end of the night, before the band encore with Smash It Up and Captain Sensible treats the crowd to an impromptu, acapella version of a bit of Happy Talk. Although Vanian is the band’s lead singer, the real front man is Sensible; he’s the one doing all the between song banter, which includes a couple of shout-outs to The Saints, one for being the first punk band, even though The Damned themselves were often called this in the UK music press and a second one for the Brisbane band being “a hundred, million times better than The Sex Pistols ever were”. They’re nice touches and also hard to disagree with; I’ve listened to those first three Saints albums far more times than I have Never Mind The Bollocks or The Clash’s London Calling.
In a way, given that it’s a week night, I surprise my self by staying until the end, rather than the 45 minutes to an hour that I’ve lapsed into doing in more recent times at venues that start late and finish late. It’s easy to do tonight as despite the sound issues, and even though I’m only familiar with a smattering of songs, it’s such an enjoyable show. Although the tour is celebrating the 35th anniversary of their first album, there’s not a hint that it’s an old punk band going through the motions for a quick payday; they sound like a fresh, vital new band that can still entertain. It’s a bit of a surprise and a shame that they didn’t get the band out to play this year’s Soundwave festival, happening just over a month after their tour. They would have been a worthy addition, more than able to keep their own and with the opportunity to play to a whole new generation and show them what punk music really is.