I FIRST saw the Damned at the Roundhouse last November. Shortly after the release of ‘New Rose’. Although the 45 had been successful the set wasn’t too hot – fresh from the clubs, the band couldn’t fill the half-empty hall with their presence. The playing was ragged and the images of the four seemed to be pulling in different directions – I thought they were on the verge of splitting.
Oh well, times change. The Damned were almost unrecognisable as the same band last night. New Wave is becoming big business and is drawing bigger audiences – tonight the Roundhouse is jam-packed. The Damned are emerging from the pack as a fine performing pop band; great – they’ve never got their motives confused. Still, most of the menace they had when they were desperate has gone: instead, with the success of the album and the T. Rex tour behind them, they’ve gained confidence and stature. No longer are they a part of the audience; tonight is a show.
Anyway, we get hyped up for a sense of occasion. The Adverts play first – altho’ they aren’t used to a big stage and their playing hasn’t (yet) caught up with their ambitions, there’s something arresting about them: they niggle into your memory. The music is full of changes, threatening, with Patti traces and intriguing lyrics – they have a fine sense of the dramatic. Two of the songs, at least, sound like classics in the making – ‘Looking Through Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’ and ‘Bombsite Boy’. It’s down to intensity and commitment, I suppose. And they’re getting better all the time.
Motorhead are the last sour remnants of the hippy dream – a three piece, they play (speeded up) Detroit-style Metal to a pitch at which it sounds like New Wave. Yeah, I know, once a punk, always a punk, but these guys have little finesse and less restraint – the set seems to go on forever, with simple numbers (‘Leaving Here’/’The Train Kept-A-Rolling’) stretched out by interminable guitar solos. Brain damage music. A good section of the audience loved it, I didn’t feel too charitable.
After Motorhead’s brand of excess, The Damned’s short, sharp attacks were welcome. Their entrance was well staged: the house lights dimmed, a banner (tax exiles return…Hurray For The Captain’s Birthday!) unfurled – lights flash; the expectation is intense. Good lads, but Stars. Johnny Moped introduces – the band file on. It’s the Captain’s night: he comes on in a ballerina outfit (Yes Gang!) and begins his party by volleying a brace of cream cakes at the audience and the singer.
Rightaway, they’re in command. It’s impressive – they’ve merged ino a powerful and coherent force which can now accommodate such antics as these were tonight without too much loss of power or sound. The material is familiar: the album plus ‘Help’. The two new tracks – ‘Sick Of Being Sick’ and ‘You’re A Stretcher Case, Baby’ don’t sound too special yet. It’s the show that’s the thing – the Captain pirouettes on the slippery stage, raising smiles, Vanian just rushes; Brian James, all shoulders and knees knocked together, and Rat, hidden behind an enormous drum kit, hold everything together. Naturally, everyone loves it – a good third of the Roundhouse floor is awash with pogoers. Flash, flash, flash – the pace doesn’t let up. They get called back for two encores – for the first, ‘Fish’, the Captain, having already shed his ballerina outfit (which is torn to shreds by the mob), yanks down his leotard. Called back again, they rope in Gaye Advert for a zippy ‘Neat, Neat, Neat’.
So they were great at what they did. They’ve reached the crest of their first wave – they now have to tackle the second. The paucity of good new material suggests that mightn’t be too easy…
© Jon Savage, Sounds, 30 April 1977