Great Hall, Cardiff University Students Union, Fri 9 Feb
Who would have thought, when The Damned burst onto the fledgling punk rock scene in 1976, that they’d still be touring 42 years later? Even more impressively, they retain two of their founding members, Dave Vanian and the legendary Captain Sensible (both approaching pension age), and were able to persuade back local hero Paul Gray – their finest bassist, who played on the band’s acclaimed Black Album and Strawberries. Together with keyboard player Monty Oxymoron and drummer Pinch, they rocked Cardiff University with an energy and passion that belied their longevity and delighted their fans, both old and young – but most decidedly middle-aged.
Having not seen The Damned live for close to 30 years, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but they exceeded all expectations – from opening song Waiting For The Blackout to their third encore of Jet Boy Jet Girl, in which two teenage fans joined them onstage to sing along. Vanian, Gray and the Captain seemed ageless as they paraded across the stage, Vanian in a three-piece vintage suit and Sensible in his trademark red beret, whipped off later by a fan to reveal a surprisingly lustrous head of hair.
Lemmy of Motörhead famously referred to them as “the only real punk band”, and it was their punk-era material that the crowd really went wild for. I lasted less than a minute in the frenzied moshpit when New Rose blasted out with as much power and energy as it did in 1976, followed by Neat Neat Neat and Smash It Up. The crowd went mad and both teenage and 50-something Damned fans who should know better were seen flying across the front of the stage.
Elouise also went down well, as did Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, and the melodic new material from latest album Evil Spirits was well received. The Damned are obviously adored by their fans, and the rapport and banter between band and crowd was heartwarming. Captain Sensible had a series of anecdotes from their early days which the crowd listened attentively to (I even got told to be quiet at this point while talking, which has to be a first for a Damned gig) and the evening ended with the whole crowd singing along to Captain Sensible’s 80s solo hit Happy Talk.
The support act deserves a mention, too: Slim Jim Phantom of the Stray Cats and his band were fantastic, and it was well worth arriving early to catch them.
words SARAH THOMAS photos EMMA LEWIS