Damned good

It is 40 years since The Damned herald the punk revolution by releasing their first single, New Rose.

Now recognised as the first UK punk record, it preceded the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Jam, Buzzcocks et al and made singer Dave Vanian and co instant legends.

In the countless Damned gigs that have followed, they’ve played the song every night – except one.

“We always move stuff around to keep it exciting for us and the fans,” explains Dave. “But we came off stage one night and the Captain (guitarist Captain Sensible) said ‘We didn’t play New Rose’. It wasn’t that long ago either, we just moved stuff around and forgot it!

“The thing is it’s never automatic with us because we’ve never got blasé about it. Believe it or not, I still like the songs and each time we do it is the best we can. It’s not just nostalgia because we’ve changed it over the years – sometimes we strip it back and play it as it was originally and that way it’s even more exciting.”

The band’s debut album ,Damned Damned Damned, which includes the classic single Neat Neat Neat as well as New Rose, is also regarded as the first UK punk album and it’s being re-released to coincide with the band’s 40th anniversary tour. Dave says he’s still proud of it.

“We’ve been playing the first album in its entirety recently and sometimes you forget how good those songs were,” he says. “I don’t tend to listen to my own records, but I can be more detached from the early ones because I didn’t write them, I was just the singer.  I listen to them as not mine in a way – and I think those songs still stand up.

“People have thought over the years that the songs are deceptively easy to play, until they try it. Then they realise it’s a bit more complicated than they thought. That’s a good thing.”

The intervening years have seen The Damned have a string of hits like Love Song, Eloise, Just Can’t Be Happy Today, Smash It Up and Grimly Fiendish as well as about a dozen studio albums.

“It makes me feel ancient!” laughs Dave, a former gravedigger, looking back on his career. “I think anybody in a band who was told they’d still be going 40 years later wouldn’t believe it. What a terrible mistake I made!” He says he’s proud of just about all the music but admits the band have gone off course occasionally.

“Some of it I think is fantastic, some of it I think I screwed up there…but if you don’t make any mistakes, you don’t create anything great either,” he says. “I have different ways of feeling different things about different times. I look back and think why did we keep that manager or make that mistake.” He says the band never adapted as the music business changed and downloading changed the way people listen to music.

“If we’d worked a little harder in selling ourselves from the ‘80s to ‘90s, we’d have been in a better position,” he says. “We just hold it together financially even now. I often think – and I’m not complaining – but I think I could probably earn as much if I was a mechanic, and actually I’d love that if I could work on hot rods!

“I’m a jobbing musician. In this day and age there’s so much music around and it’s available but there’s not really any way to make money from it.”

The Damned are about to release a new album via PledgeMusic and the singer says: “Pledge has been amazing for us, to put out our new album we’ve been working on.

“The problem is, a lot of people may come and see us and think it’s a great show, but we’re a bunch of old men and there’s a lot of ageism in music. I think it’s worse than ever.

“If you’re in a certain type of music, you’re supposed to be 20 years old for ever. I don’t feel pressure to stay looking young because I’m going to look however I look, because that’s how I am. But there’s definitely a thing that works against old bands.”

So, The Damned won’t be changing their image for anyone.

“We’ve always been first and foremost us,” says Dave. “That’s who we are as people. That didn’t happen because we were in a band.

“I was probably more extreme before I was in the band. I was picked to sing in the band by (original guitarist) Brian James because he said I ‘looked like a singer’. We got on well and had similar interests but if I had turned up like a long-haired hippy (like everyone else was at the time) I don’t think I’d have got the job.”

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