Put the needle on the record. Wait. There is a voice. The voice says one line – a line that had previously been a part of rock ‘n’ roll history, but here it found itself reinterpreted for a new generation. It says:
Is she really going out with him?
Ah!I got a feeling inside of me
It’s kind of strange like a stormy sea
I don’t know why, I don’t know why
I guess these things have got to be
It starts with Dave Vanian’s tribute to “Leader of The Pack” with his announcement of “Is she really going out with him?” before there is a thunderous sounds of drums, something akin to Animal from The Muppets, out of his tits on speed, head-butting the fuck out of them! Then this marvellously fuzzy, distorted guitar riff bleeds through. It sounds as rough as hell but the whole thing has a glorious energy and a don’t-give-a-shit attitude that immediately screamed what this new punk movement was all about. It was the energy of youth and it was fantastic to be young!
Listen to that energy here:
Of course, I was only either 8 or 9 when punk exploded onto the music scene of the UK in the late 1970s, so I have to admit that lots of the original punk movement passed me by – or maybe it is more accurate to say that it must have seeped into my DNA through my skin as I unconsciously absorbed it though some strange biological process. However, there was something about The Damned that was different. The Sex Pistols may have grabbed the hysterical headlines through their frontal assault upon the moral sensibilities of the Silver Jubilee celebrations, but I only got my culture through Radio 1 or my weekly dose of Top of the Pops where the Pistols were a lot less omnipresent than the likes of the NME would have you believe in retrospect. I learned to love them a little later. Similarly, The Clash would hold the political high ground of the righteous left as they built up their grass roots movement of politics and people, society and engagement. They were even less visible than the Pistols as a result of their decision not to appear of TOTP until the video for “London Calling” appeared when I was 11 or 12. I learned to love them too later. No, The Damned were different. The Dammed could appeal to the sensibilities of a young and wildly stupid boy. The Damned were my kind of band… well… if I ever got the hear them (oh NME, do you have any idea of what the reality was like growing up in a working class environment in South Wales? Nah, I didn’t think so).
The Damned were like a music equivalent of watching TISWAS on some serious drugs. I loved TISWAS although I didn’t get to watch it very often. Ours was a bloody Saturday Swap Shop house. You had to choose sides back in the later half of the 1970s, and my dad decided that we were very much a Swap Shop house because it was nice and educational and featured that nice John Craven who wore a migraine inducing variety of jumpers. In fairness, my eldest brother bore a striking resemblance to John Craven so that may have also been a factor in the decision. Whereas, TISWAS was just people chucking water at each other and smashing people in the face with custard pies, and starred Chris Tarrant when he was young and not dull, and Lenny Henry when he was still funny and not boringly aching for a bloody music career either as a soul singer, blues singer or whatever the fuck he will do next (drill ‘n’ bass DJ Lenny?). I loved the idea of TISWAS but, because I didn’t get to watch it, I also found myself slightly freaked out by it. It was just so damn different to what I was used to. The Damned had a similar effect upon me at that time. They didn’t look like anybody else and, to my ears, they didn’t sound like anybody else. They were just so different.
See the sun, see the sun, it shines
Don’t get too close or it’ll burn your eyes
Don’t you run away that way
You can come back another day
Dave Vanian had the Goth look long before Goth became a yoof sub-culture in its own right and had started to imagine what it might eventually develop into (indeed The Damned would become a key band in the development of the sound and look of early 80s Goth with the release of “The Black Album”). His slicked black hair and deathly white skin, sometimes mixed and matched with the ubiquitous black leather jacket, or even wearing cloaks like a punk rock vampire, was the very essence of death-like ghostliness and cool. Then there was Captain Sensible, initially on bass, before developing into the whirling dervish of guitar anti-heroics when he eventually transferred to lead guitar. I always wanted the red beret of Sensibleness. I still do. It appeals to my inner child. What a hero! Rat Scabies looked very much like his name suggested, and he generally treated his drum kits like shit and he pounded the living fucking daylights out of them. Fuck subtlety and jazz crap. Pounding basic drum stuff was what Rat delivered in spades. Finally there was Brian James who created the distorted scuzzy guitar riffs and wrote the gloriously trashy songs that went on to make the first album release “Damned Damned Damned”. They didn’t look like each other, and they certainly didn’t look like any other band on Earth.
“New Rose” has acquired a place in history as the first ever UK punk single. At the time it was a disposable gesture, recorded in a cheap and shitty studio, by a band who probably didn’t expect to reach the age of 40 individually let along achieve 40 years as a touring and recording entity. It is just over 2 and a half minutes of gloriously anarchic, joyful bloody noise that has possibly managed to set up the careers of an entire generation of so called punk bands who never really grasped the individuality of the original three: the Pistols, Clash and Damned. You could never confuse a Pistols record (with John Lydon’s whining, screaming banshee vocal) with a Damned record. You could never confuse a Clash record (with its carefully constructed shouty politicising) with a Damned record. They each held their own space. Out of all three, perhaps it is The Damned who have stayed truest to their original vision of just doing whatever the fuck they want – whether that is putting a Beatles cover on the B-side (ask yer granddad if you don’t know what they are) of their debut single as a glorious double fuck you to both the cultural dominance of the fab four many years after they had split into solo careers of varying quality and also to the journalistic pomposity of year zero proclamations that everything that had gone before 1977 was dead and buried. We are going to do what we want and none of you are going to tell us otherwise.
Ah, the glory of youth! What astounds and amazes me with complete joy is that they have continued this anarchic and chaotic journey through what they might laughingly call a music career with a wonderfully bratty and snotty attitude (and with tongue so firmly wedged into check that I’m surprised stiches aren’t necessary) into their allegedly older and wiser years. I had the best night in many years when I saw them in the sedate surroundings of Falmouth a few years ago. I had taken my eldest son who was into screaming metal as I thought it would just be a bit of fun. We found ourselves down the front within spitting distance of the good Captain himself. What I hadn’t considered was that the audience of mostly 40-something fat, bald blokes would instantly turn into a moshing mob of born-again teenagers. My boy, who was the veteran of many a metal mosh, looked like he had descended accidentally into one of the circles of Dante’s hell. We managed to survive the night with only bruises. It was a glorious riot.
I gotta new rose, I got it good
Guess I knew that I always would
I can’t stop to mess around
I got a brand new rose in town
If you have never listened to New Rose, well you have missed the original track / video at the top of this post – scroll back up right now – do it right now. Yes, this very second. Don’t even get to the end of this sentence. Just bloody well do it – and then get on with listening to the whole of the debut album. There is a new 40th Anniversary version out now. Buy it. Fuck it, buy two of them and give one of them to your mother (you might just get your inheritance early).
Ah, welcome back – now I’ve added in a live version performed by the current line-up of the band that still features vocalist Dave Vanian and guitar nutter Captain Sensible – aided and abetted by drummer Pinch, bass guitarist Stu West, and the wonderfully named Monty Oxymoron on keyboards. Enjoy the madness of a group still kicking against the pricks 40 years after the original slab of punk mayhem.
If this feels oh so very old fashioned to you… good. Bugger off coz then it is not meant for you. Go listen to your grime.
Punk changed the world. I could give you a detailed explanation of how it gave young people a rediscovered sense of hope but I need to get my malty drink ready, coz I have to go to bed early these day. If I pogo too hard, I’m likely to put my back out. And that is ok, because we all grow old just as we are all destined to die. No belief in any religion, or indeed belief in no religion, or belief in science or dancing or juggling bombs etc… nothing is going to change that. However, listening to The Damned and knowing they are out there somewhere playing a gloriously chaotic gig that is bound to end up going wrong at some point, just puts a smile on my face enough to put up with whatever shit is thrown in my direction by an uncaring society that lacks the empathy to care when it see people freezing to death on our very streets. Yes, grow up and face the truth. Society doesn’t care. Better to grow old disgracefully.
I look at the state of our nation today and feels like being back in the 1970s. Things in the UK are dire and depressing again. Schools and hospitals are struggling through a lack of government funding again. The young people feel again like they have been thrown on the scrapheap and see no future again. All we need is a return to three day weeks and energy blackouts and the sense of desperation and deprivation will be complete. I don’t believe that we will ever see another unifying force as seen when those original punk bands showed people of my generation that you could make something of yourself no matter how many times the bastards try to grind you down.
Fuck the establishment – now go and listen to The Damned.