Image Pop-UpThe Damned.
Following both social and economic upheaval in England during the 1970s, disenfranchised youth responded by initiating chaos on the concert stage. The result was the beginning of the infamous British punk movement. One of the most significant groups to evolve from this genre was undoubtedly theatrical rabble-rousers the Damned. Birthed from the same notorious scene as the Sex Pistols and the Clash, the Damned stood their ground by presenting a mesh of music with dynamic performances topped with an intriguing gothic flair. They were the first British punk group to release a single and the first ambitious enough to perform in America. Most notably, however, the Damned has managed to maintain the attitude and spontaneity of punk rock without being limited by its combustible tag. The group's ability to sustain an audience for over two decades is a feat few groups have been able to accomplish.
The Damned was formed in London, England, in 1976. The group's members found each other while performing in an assortment of short-lived outfits during punk's initial days. Drummer Rat Scabies met bassist Captain Sensible in 1974 while they were both employed at Croydon Fairfield Halls cleaning toilets and working at the shows held there. Two years later Brian James and Scabies were playing in London S.S., a group that included future members of the Clash. Singer Dave Vanian had been previously acquainted with Scabies through another band they had played in together. The aspiring musicians finally merged to form an unnamed group, a precursor to the Damned. The lineup included future Pretender Chrissie Hynde on guitar, Sensible on bass, and Scabies on drums. Vanian, then employed as a gravedigger, was auditioned by the group to become one of their new singers. He nabbed the position mainly because he looked the part but also because Sex Pistol Sid Vicious, who was also set to audition, never showed up. The group never quite made it past the rehearsal stage, but it was obvious to most of the members that they had something special together. Hynde left the group, and Brian James was added on guitar. James christened the group the Damned after a 1969 movie of the same name. It was also a name said to be descriptive of the band's hapless state of affairs at the time.
Built Reputation on Energy and High Jinks
The group rehearsed for six weeks before playing their first show on July 6, 1976, as an opening act for the Sex Pistols at London's 100 club. The Damned quickly earned a reputation as a viable act on the circuit. Unlike many of their contemporaries, the group's songs were not fixed on politics. Instead, the Damned relied on their high-octane tunes and energetic performances to capture the audience. The group's shows were enhanced by the over-the-top high jinks of Sensible and the dynamic presence of Vanian on vocals. However, like most performances of the punk era, the Damned shows were reputed to be a violent and messy affair. The group earned this notoriety when a glass thrown at a show knocked out the eye of a patron. Years later, Sex Pistols singer Johnny Rotten claimed it was Vicious who was the perpetrator. Additionally, gobbing (or spitting at the group, a frequent occurrence at punk shows) was reported to be practiced frequently at the Damned's concerts. Fortunately, the group's reputation only added to their allure.
The Damned proceeded to play around England and at various punk festivals, one of which included the Mont de Marsan in France. This performance in particular caught the eye of producer Nick Lowe, who in turn helped the group garner the interest of fledgling punk label Stiff Records. Ultimately, the Damned landed a record deal with the label. In October of 1976, the group's first single "New Rose" beat the release of the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK," thus earning the Damned its spot in history as the first punk group to release a single. "New Rose" never charted (perhaps due to Stiff's haphazard distribution), but it did cement the Damned's position as a punk music leader. Shortly thereafter, the Damned joined the Sex Pistols, the Heartbreakers, and the Clash for the controversial Anarchy tour, which was often cancelled and plagued with problems. The band's frustration with the cancellations as well as turmoil between management companies caused the Damned's departure from the tour shortly after it started.
In 1977 the group released their first full-length album, Damned, Damned, Damned, which garnered positive reviews and anchored a steady fan base for the band. The fast-footed record eventually reached number 34 on the United Kingdom charts. The group proceeded to perform its first opening shows for glam rocker Marc Bolin, but the Damned eventually graduated to headlining status themselves. In April of 1977 the Damned reached yet another milestone when they played with The Deadboys at New York's CBGB club, becoming the first British punk band to play in America.
Tensions Grew Within Group
Despite their initial good fortune, the Damned soon started to show some of the self-destructive traits of punk in late 1977. James had expressed interest in adding a second guitarist because he wanted to free himself up for more sophisticated material, although the band was mostly opposed to this decision. They eventually relented, adding Robert Edmunds (better known as Lu) to the lineup. Tensions soon started to grow. Songs by James, the group's main songwriter, were slow in coming, and it was thought that he might be trying to discourage Sensible and Scabies from contributing material of their own. After completion of the group's second album, disgruntled Scabies left the band.
The Damned's Music for Pleasure, produced by Pink Floyd's Nick Mason, was largely considered a disappointment as it lacked the energy of its predecessor. As one critic described in a 1977 issue of the Record Mirror, "It's not that it's bad. It's just that it's relentlessly mediocre." The band moved through a succession of drummers (including Jon Moss, later of Culture Club) until February of 1978 when James decided to leave the group as well. Several weeks later, the remaining members officially brought an end to the Damned. In August, the group reassembled at the Rainbow in London, smashing their instruments as a grand finale.
The individual members of the Damned all embarked on various musical endeavors, none of which was particularly successful. They found themselves performing together again (without James) by September of 1978. Vanian, Sensible, and Scabies rejoined forces, and Sensible was moved to guitar. The group also sifted through a series of bassists before settling on Algy Ward, formerly of Australian punk band the Saints. The group performed a series of secret shows first under the alias Les Punks and later as The Doomed. James had apparently registered the Damned's name and officially held the rights to its usage. The group settled with their former guitarist, regained use of their name, and shortly thereafter was back to performing as the Damned.
In 1979, the band signed a new deal with Stiff competitor Chiswick Records and released Machine Gun Etiquette. As Steve Keaton explained in Sounds magazine, "the ridiculously fine Machine Gun Etiquette album ... reaffirmed their position in the premiere punk league ... establishing once and for all that they are a breath of fresh air ... in a consistently convoluted musical arena." The album included three chartclimbing singles, including "Love Song," the Damned classic "Smash It Up," and "I Just Can't be Happy Today." The group seemed to be riding a wave of success with eventful live shows and even more acclaim upon the release of their subsequent record, The Black Album. However, 1982's Strawberries (released on the Bronze label after the group left Chiswick in 1981), though a strong record, found itself competing for attention with Sensible's solo work, namely his version of "Happy Feet" from South Pacific, a surprise number one hit in Britain. The group again faced internal turmoil, which resulted in Sensible's departure from the group in September of 1984. Longtime keyboardist Roman Jugg then stepped up to handle guitar responsibilities.
Reveled in Success
Surprisingly, Sensible's departure did not dismantle the group. Instead, the Damned reveled in one of their most successful periods. After signing with major label MCA, the group released Phantasmagoria in 1985. It contained the Damned's biggest hit, a cover of Barry Ryan's 1960s smash "Eloise." Unfortunately, with the exception of a few tracks (notably the Love cover "Alone Again Or"), the group's next release, titled Anything, was widely considered uninspired. In the late 1980s, the Damned found themselves again with a fractured lineup and no record label. The group decided to disband and proceeded to launch a series of farewell tours, the last being the We Really Must Be Going tour in Britain in 1989.
The Damned reunited in splintered lineups and performed sporadically throughout the early 1990s. In 1995 Vanian and Sensible finally rejoined, shortly thereafter putting together a new and relatively stable lineup for the Damned. Joining the group were musicians Patricia Morrison (formerly of Sisters of Mercy/Gun Club) on bass, Monty Oxy Moron on keyboards, and Garrie Dreadful on drums. Dreadful was replaced by a drummer named Spike Smith in 1998, then again in 1999 by Pinch.
The following year the Damned inked a record deal with Nitro Records, a label owned by second-generation punk musician and longtime the Damned fan, Offspring vocalist Bryan Holland. The Damned released their first studio album in 15 years entitled Grave Disorder in August of 2001. Twenty-five years after their inception, the Damned remains one of the most inspired groups in punk rock.
Damned, Damned, Damned, Stiff, 1977.
Music for Pleasure, Stiff, 1977.
Machine Gun Etiquette, Chiswick, 1979.
The Black Album, Chiswick, 1980.
Strawberries, Bronze, 1982.
Phantasmagoria, MCA, 1985.
Anything, MCA, 1986.
Grave Disorder, Nitro, 2001.
Gimarc, George, Punk Diary 1970-1979, St. Martin's Press, 1994.
Lazell, Barry, Punk An A-Z, Hamlyn, 1995.
Savage, Jon, England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock and Beyond, St. Martin's Press, 1993.
Los Angeles Times, June 28, 2000; July 3, 2000; October 29, 2000.
Melody Maker, August 13, 1977; Novembers, 1977; November 26, 1977; December 24, 1977.
New Musical Express, August 10, 1977; August 13, 1977; August 24, 1977; August 27, 1977; September 17, 1977; November 5, 1977; November 26, 1977; December, 24, 1977; December 25, 1977; March 25, 1978; November 24, 1979.
Orange County Calendar, June 28, 2000.
Orange County Register, July 29, 1989; June 30, 2000.
Record Mirror, August 27, 1977; September 24, 1977; November 20, 1977; November 26, 1977; April 15, 1978.
San Francisco Weekly, July 5-11, 2000.
Sounds, October 15, 1977; November 5, 1977; November 26, 1977; December 8, 1979.
Another Great Website from The Damned, (June 16, 2001).
Damned Official Website, http://www.officialdamned.com (June 21, 2001).
RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com (June 21, 2001).
Totally Damned, http://www.thedamned.da.ru (June 21, 2001).
Ultimate Band List, http://www.ubl.com (June 25, 2001).
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