RON is the Damned's tour manager. And this Ron. if we are to believe the
original schedule for this freezing Thursday a.m. (so cold that pedestrians
stagger like arthritic penguins through the backstreets of West London),
should have arrived smartly at Stiff Records HQ at 11.30 to bundle into the
trusty transit the shivering members of the group and shuttle them along
the frozen motorway wastes to Middlesbrough where - to the combo's
immense chagrin - they are due this evening to open a British tour.
Well: it's now one o'clock and Ron's arrival is still no more than a vague rumour.
Not that the Damned have any substantial grounds for bitter complaint, having themselves
displayed no profound appreciation of the virtues of punctuality.
When yours tired and emotionally stumbled like a bleary waltz into Alexander Street to find the
Stiff office in a state of predictable panic with the telephones ringing with irritating persistence
like a chorus of operatic confusion, only Lu, the Damned's second guitarist, and Jon Moss,
who only last week replaced Rat Scabies as the ensemble's resident skin-beater, were present.
Lu cut a particularly individual presence amid the morning confusion, dressed in a ridiculous
overcoat (only three sizes too large, its shoulders hung loosely about Lu's skinny elbows), and
a battered black bowler.
It is, initially, uncertain whether Lu is decked out in such an absurd fashion to promote a crude
eccentricity or evidence of an essentially idiotic temperament. It will later emerge that the latter
is the more plausible excuse.
We are joined shortly by the black-caped figure of Dave Vanian, limping this morning from some mysterious growth on his thigh - "
Something got in an' bit me, I think," he explains to Brian James, who follows him into the increasingly impatient atmosphere of the Stiff office.
Captain Sensible finally graces us with his idiosyncratic presence, his arrival prefaced by the noisy clanking of the chains he wears about
him with the panache of the delighted victim of some heavy metal bondage escapade.
Allan Jones takes to the road with the
Damned and gets burning cigarette ends
thrown down his neck, chewing gum
smeared in his hair, etc...
(Melody Maker Nov. 26th 1977)
SO, WE come to the geeg, mes braves: and
it's a blaster. Now, it's become fashionable of
late to dismiss the Damned - as one critic so
amusingly put it - as "the showbiz end of punk"
(as if the whole schmear had any more
profound significance - hoot, bloody, hoot).
Such observations, however, provoke a wider
debate (interested parties should send SAE's
to this address), not entirely relevant here: for
the moment, let us be content with an account
of the Damned reducing Middlesbrough to
I am not exaggerating when I say that this was
the best gig I've seen them play (neither can I
be accused of replying to any hospitality or
courtesy extended by this gang of menaces -
ever had chewing gum smeared sideways
across your hair?)
No, it's with cautious enthusiasm that I
recommend to you this revived version of the
To be sure, with the departure of Rat Scabies
they've relinquished some of their anarchic
charisma, but Moss is a more organised drummer and adds a provocative thrust to the music, a quality occasionally lost previously with
Rat's narcissistic thumping.
And, although their new alburn, " Music For Pleasure", is no masterpiece - as Mick Lowe has suggested, there are too many good ideas
masquerading as finished songs - the adventurousness of its better songs is more fully realised in a live context, where the guitar interplay
between James and Lu is approaching a more mature understanding,
"Idiot Box," " Don't Cry Wolf," " Politics " and "You Know," from the new album, were especially effective vehicles for Brian James' current
perspective on his group's development (and it should be said that Damned standards like " Neat Neat Neat," "Fan Club" and " I Feel
Alright," the first of their four encores, have rarely sounded so purposeful).
Vanian's lack of distinct personality - he lacks a crucial vocal and physical presence - was, last Thursday, mitigated by the instrumental
strength of the band, and, anyway, Sensible is a pantomime on his own, and offers enough visual distraction (though he was considerably
more subdued than I've witnessed previously).
Predictions on the Damned's future in the context of the disintegration of the momentum that brought them and their new wave
contemporaries to the attention of popular audiences, would be premature at best.
Let's just conclude by saying that they are, under Brian James' direction, seeking an intelligent aIternative to the tiresome attitudes assumed
of late by most of the bands with whom they have been associated.
Certainly, they are to be preferred to the inane rantings of the Clash, the calculated - and laughable - chauvinistic belligerence of the
abominable Stranglers, and they are immeasurably more entertaining than the tedious nouveau-pop posturings of such as Generation X.
Simultaneously, though, they lack the beguiling penchant for publicity and amusing misanthropy of the Pistols.
So, I don't know whether their current course will assure them of future commercial success. I'm not even sure that I care. I'm just sitting
here, picking chewing gum out of my hair.
(MELODY MAKER NOV 26TH 1977 - reprinted from the DC Archives)
With Ron's arrival still as unlikely as the prospect of :Lu mastering the art of articulate conversation, we retire to the boozer, where Captain
Sensible briefly describes the procedure the Damned applied to their search for the replacement for the departed Scabies.
"Most of the people who phoned were cunts," he reflects succinctly. "First thing we asked them was if they was the best drummer in the
world. If they paused we'd hang up.
" If they said yes, we'd ask them if they were
obnoxious. ' Awright,' we'd say, ' abuse us.'
Most people couldn't handle it." He wanders
over to the jukebox, flips in ten pence and out
comes Fleetwood Mac. Jon Moss is appalled.
"I hate Fleetwood 'Mac," he declares with
fashionable vehemence. "They remind me of
velvet curtains and cushions on the floor. You
don't really like them, do you, Captain?"
"Not really," muses Sensible. "I just like groups
with boilers in."
Ah, the true voice of musical appreciation.
WELL, this is a novel experience: we're actually
on the motorway and - would you believe it? -
we're actually heading north. The right direction
, that's all!
It's only taken a two-and-a-half hour wait at Stiff,
one stop-over in Weymouth Street while Vanian
seeks professional advice on his infection
(turns out the boy's got a carbuncle on his
thigh caused by an infected hair follicle -
yeeuch), and the Captain scoots down
Weymouth Mews to the toilet, and one more lavatory-stop -' for Brian James, this time - but at last we're on the case and heading (oh! the
dread in our hearts) toward Middlesbrough's bleak embrace.
SOMETHING'S burning" screams Marty, the Damned travelling security agent, as the transit skids through Mill Hill.
No cause, really, for concern: it's only your reporter that's smouldering here, a victim of Captain Sensible's pyromaniac inclinations. The
Cap'n, you see, is one of those endearing individuals who constantly inhabit an alternative universe, his mental state divorced entirely from
immediately conventional considerations of reasonable behaviour, where every passing moment has to feel occupied by some desperate
prank or mischievious jape.
So, the Cap'n, in collaboration with the hopelessly bewildered Lu, transforms the journey to Middlesbrough into an approximation of a St.
Trinian's school outing.
This means the Captain and Lu, flicking blazing matches the length of the transit, followed by the occasional burning cigarette end flying
down the necks of unsuspecting victims (most often the neck of your hapless correspondent)!
The Captain and Lu, who otherwise occupy their time wrestling each other into various stages of temporary exhaustion, find this pastime a
source of considerable amusement.
Me? Well, I've been wound up by experts and after six days on the road with the Feelgoods such behaviour is no more outrageous than a
nun flashing her underwear in Oxford Street during the rush-hour. A little tiresome and juvenile, but tantamount to nothing more serious
than a minor irritation (though the Captain's habit of trickling wine down me back was a little irksome, 'I must admit).
Girls will be girls, though, and short of caving in Sensible's skull with a brick there seems no available method of preventing his imbecile
Brian James, though, makes a valiant attempt to calm Lu - who, by the time We hurtle through Watford Gap, is flushed with delirious
excitement (and smarting from a recent beating from Sensible).
" C'mere, Lu," snaps James, grabbing Lu by the hair and dragging him across the seats. Lu screams. Brian has just bitten him quite
ferociously on the ear.
Lu's ear is inflamed for an hour and the teeth marks are still visible as we scooter across Sheffield's smokestack landscape. A primitive, but
effective deterrent, you will agree.
It doen't, however, compromise Sensible's amateur attempts at outrage: tired, by Birmingham, of his incendiary activities (he's apparently
bored, by this time, of setting my hair alight), he resorts to surreptitious farts in, a laboured attempt to draw attention upon himself.
He offers some amusing relief, though, with his account of the Damned's recent abuse of Elvis Costello (to whom my sympathy for the
torment is genuinely extended).
Seems the Damned and Elvis and the Attractions were returning, by coach, from this
summer's Biltzen festival. Elvis had got uncharacteristically drunk on the night prior to departure
and was bundled on the bus the next morning close to death.
Jake .Riviera, manager then of both the Damned (or the Dimmed, as he liked to call them, and
EC), told Sensible, Rat and Co. in no uncertain terms to lay off our unfortunate casualty.
"Costello fell asleep with his mouth open," recalls Captain Sensible fondly. "We tipped an ashtray
into his mouth and then set fire to his shoe laces. He woke up with his shoes on fire, tried to
scream and nearly choked on the dog-ends."
I manage somehow to resist a smile. " I hate Costello, anyway,," the Captain continues. " WHY?
Stole our manager, didnee."
BRIAN JAMES has been reading one of the music papers. A writer closely connected to the punk
mob has decided, it seems, that the Damned have been assholes for the last year."
" We are assholes." chortles Captain Sensible. (He's honest, at least.)
" Yeah," replies James " I know. But I still don't like to see it advertised."
I MUST admit that I've been constantly amused by the constant bickering between the premier
new wave groups that I've met this last year and, as we trundle into the evening's darkness, it
transpires that the Damned - Sensible especially - are as hilariously bitchy about their
contemporaries as any of the Pistols or the Clash that I've spoken to over the past 12 months.
" I HATE the Clash," says the Captain. " They say they wanna white ryutt ana revolution . . . but
only after everyone's bought their poxy records. You know they only stay in Holiday Inns when
they're on tour. You should see some of the places we have to stay in.
" If THEY don't get colour tellies in their rooms they move out. Real revolutionaries, uh? "
"Paul Simonon pulls a lot of chicks, though," comments Jon Moss.
"Don't know how," returns Sensible. " Thinks he's God's gift to the nubiles. Can't play bass, though."
LEEDS is behind us and the sunset is a rust-coloured pastel blur on the horizon. The Captain wants to go home.
"Thought we were playing the Music Machine," he grumbles. " Sometimes I don't know who are the biggest cunts, Us or the audience. We
must be the biggest wankers. Driving all the way up the poxy motorway to poxy Middlesbrough to play for a lot of poxy idjits."
Middlesbrough, then, extends its mouldy arms to draw us deeper into its wild delights. " Shit," moans the ever-eloquent Captain. " Come all
this way and what do we find . . . BASS CHARRINGTGN PUBS! "
" Must be a real bummer, Cap," comments Ron.
" You fuck-off," the Captain replies. Rather annoyed, I fancied.
WE ARE backstage at the Middlesbrough venue - the Town Hall, to be exact, an uncomfortably draughty monolith in a town that deserves to
be locked up and forgotten.
The support band, Penetration (a fairly indifferent combo with a female singer reminiscent of Patti Smith with throat cancer), are still
ploughing through a set so unentertaining it almost provokes me to engage in conversation with Lu.
In through the door past Marty comes the lady promoter. There are fights, she bleats, breaking out in the bar downstairs (it's been used
formerly as a crypt, Dave Vanian, who's obviously well up on these things, informs us), that her bouncers can't control.
She gives us the impression that World War Three's broken out. Sounds like a night at the Roxy to everyone else, though.
She corners Captain Sensible and tells him that the Damned must adopt a responsible attitude.
"Eeeif youse goes on an tellsem that if thurs enny trooble there'll be nomoore poonk in Mid'iburroo," she screeches, " theys maaght stoop
faaghten. Tellum 'theys'll haw no moor poonk."
"Too right they'll have no more punk," Captain Sensible responds. " If they start fighting and throwing bottles we'll be straight off that stage.
They'll have no more punk and no more Damned. We'll be off home. Don't worry about that."
" Can I have a cigarette?" asks Jon Moss.