The Damned, Motion Bristol, November
In the summer of 1976 I’m guessing that many of the early punk gigs took place in sweltering heat. Not so for the Bristol leg of the 40th anniversary tour of The Damned. Seeing them in sub-zero temperature I have never been so cold. The Motion nightclub closely resembles what I imagine to be a Gulag experience. But it was kind of fitting for the occasion, seeing Dave Vanian in his Dracula garb prowling around the stage and members of the audience breathing out mist.
There’s also a lot of what I would describe as punk vintage in attendance, who are on the whole surprisingly urbane, and I forgive the few who do push rudely to the front as jumping up and down in a frenzy is one option for keeping warm. And Motion does work in a way for this gig; squashed and often scarily intimate. Captain Sensible revels in this setup, addressing his audience often and even offering the mike stand at one point.
With Vanian being the more reticent of the two (like the Buzzcocks who are doing a similar anniversary thing, The Damned only retain guitarist – although original bassist in actuality – and lead vocalist from their first line up), it is Sensible who acts as spokesman for the band. When they enter to a background of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Fanfare for the Common Man he barks “turn that shit off!” Although the man next to me who’s been dancing to it has clearly missed the irony. It’s clear from the outset that they have retained their sense of humour. They have also kept their cartoonish aspect, and Sensible with his trademark red beret is a strange offset to Vanian.
The Damned launch into a full set of their debut album. Neat Neat Neat, I Fall, Born to Kill and all the rest of it. It’s superb, and obviously over in half an hour or so. What struck me, during the Damned, Damned, Damned set and later, is what a fine guitarist Sensible is. He does slip into guitar rock cliches from time to time but it’s welcome, although this does take the edge off his ELP antagonism. A strange mixture of styles unfolds during the rest of the set, which demonstrates the various flavours of the Damned that followed over the decades after their 1977 album, including an excellent version of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit.
Sensible and Vanian, now in their early 60s, look remarkably well. They fared better than I did, and I slid away before the end of the evening giving up against the cold. But all in all seeing the Damned in concert was a better alternative for marking the occasion than setting light to my collection of punk memorabilia. And with only a handful of 7 inch singles to my name, it wouldn’t have kept me warm.
Location to view: by the door.
* if you were expecting 2016 in Concert Part Two I have simply got ahead of myself and this instalment will follow.