The Damned’s place in history is secured as one of the triumvirate of London bands that kick-started the punk rock revolution.
And yet despite being first out of the traps with a bona fide punk single, New Rose in 1976, they’ve often been dismissed as the jokers in the pack.
For the sheer effrontery of having a sense of humour, they’re not always afforded quite the same reverence as John Lydon‘s snarling Sex Pistols, or Joe Strummer‘s Situationist, sloganeering Clash.
Now more than 40 years on, the time to correct that injustice is long overdue.
On stage founder members Captain Sensible and Dave Vanian may look like living cartoons, but behind the outfits and the giggles, there’s a skill and substance to what they do.
With a brand new album Evil Spirits to plug, The Damned showed a home-town audience just how far they have expanded their musical blueprint from those heady days of the late ’70s.
Strolling on at Camden’s KOKO to the strains of Gustav Holst‘s The Bringer of War, The Captain’s clutching a snotrag – he’s feeling a bit under the weather.
“That’s what you get for going on tour in February,” he sniffs, before tossing his tissue into the crowd, as the band launch into Waiting for the Blackout.
It’s the start of a rollicking 23-song rocket through their back catalogue, with songs from the new LP settling in comfortably with older material.
By his own admission, the Captain – or Raymond Burns as his family know him – may be a ringer for Paul O’Grady these days, but he remains the consummate showman.
He takes charge of most of the banter, riffing on everything from Trump (“how did a pillock like that get elected?”) to Coronation Street’s Albert Tatlock.
Gun Fury (Of Riot Forces) is introduced with an entreaty to dance on the grave of Margaret Thatcher, while the crowd get a thumbs up for their participation in the whoah whoahs of Ignite – “They’re so much better than Manchester, aren’t they?.”
Vanian is, as ever, bedecked in full 18th century vampire regalia, black gloves gripping his vintage mic as he strides around the stage throwing shapes.
The frock coat soon gets ditched though, as things start to heat up and the frontman’s gothic baritone remains in good nick, particularly on futuristic new single Standing on the Edge of Tomorrow.
New/old bassist Paul Gray (Eddie and the Hot Rods, UFO) looks like he’d never been away and the set is sprinkled with tracks from The Black Album and Strawberries – the two albums he figured on during his previous tenure with the band.
The music is tight and often more sophisticated than you might expect, with elements of psychedelia and even (gasp!) prog-rock.
Keyboard whizz, the spectacularly-monikered Monty Oxymoron, gives the band a Doors-esque feel on new songs like Devil in Disguise, while drummer Pinch (English Dogs) powers the whole charabanc along nicely.
He may have started as a bassist, but the Captain’s got plenty of chops as a guitarist, effortless interspersing elaborate arpeggio’d intros, with lightning fast, string-melting solos.
The red beret’d maestro even goes the full Hendrix on Neat Neat Neat, chucking his Gibson SG over his shoulder to pick the notes blind from behind his head.
All the classics get an airing, from the aforementioned New Rose to Love Song and their mid-’80s hit cover of Paul Ryan‘s Eloise.
A sizzling Smash It Up is the highlight of the first encore, before the band return one last time.
“Do you remember that time in the ’80s when I was a pop star?” asks the Captain, teasing the prospect of a rendition of Happy Talk, before taking lead vocals on Jet Boy Jet Girl – the song which famously shares a backing a track with Plastic Bertrand‘s Ça Plane Pour Moi.
Finally, after a well chosen exhausting and exhaustive two hour-plus set it’s all over.
“Lend us a fiver,” The Captain says, as the band troop off.
Any time, mate. Any time.
Words Matt Catchpole, Pictures Sam Wells
- Produced by Tony Visconti Evil Spirits is out on 13 April through Search and Destroy/Spinefarm Records. Pre-order from their website here
- The first single from the album Standing On The Edge of Tomorrow is out now to stream and purchase (see video below)