You never forget your first love and with The Damned, they were my first love musically.
I guess I owe it to them for the musical path they led me down in March 1985 when I caught their live performance on BBC2’s ‘Whistle Test’ music programme, performing ‘Grimly Fiendish’ and ‘Shadow of Love’.
This year has been rather special for this band, celebrating 40 years since the band formed in 1976 – and for 31 of those years I have followed their musical career. I could go on about the history of this band but this is a more personal account of a band that I dearly love. This band was the wake up call that crafted my outlook on music for life. Prior to The Damned, I had been swaying towards slightly quirky and alternative bands like Strawberry Switchblade, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Echo and The Bunnymen and I’d been taking my visual inspiration from the Post-Punk and New Romantic scenes. But The Damned took it to another level for me. I totally absorbed myself into their impressive 9 years worth of back catalogue and I was completely fascinated with the 1976 punk scene. It became quite evident to me that The Damned played their part in this youth culture revolution but never seem to get the credit they deserve – something I still cannot comprehend to this very day. They were the first to release a single (New Rose, on Stiff Records, 22nd October 1976 – 5 weeks before the Sex Pistols ‘Anarchy In The UK’ single), the first UK punk band to tour America (April 1977) and the first to released an album (Damned, Damned, Damned on Stiff Records, February 1977). They even toured with the legend that is Marc Bolan.
I was soon hanging-out in my local second-hand record shop, purchasing any Damned vinyl records I could get my hands on, as and when my limited income permitted me to. I first bought Best Of The Damned as I thought that would be a good starting point, as well as purchasing their latest material from their ‘Phantasmagoria’ era. The Damned vinyl collection just grew and I somewhat became a little distracted with lead singer Dave Vanian.
The imagery/photography used during the ‘Phantasmagoria’ era also captivated me. These photographs were shot by the very talented but much missed Bob Carlos Clarke. His hauntingly beautiful photographs, compiled in his book ‘The Dark Summer’, of pale skinned, raven-haired women clad in black gloss PVC and rubber clothing has had a lasting effect on me, inspiring my self-indulgent passion for fetish photography. He remains one of my favourite photographers of all time.
The Damned were the first proper band I saw live, on 20th October 1986 at Newcastle City Hall. For the occasion I purchased a pair of black stiletto-healed, buckled pointy ankle boots from my local alternative clothes shop. I still have those very boots today. The Damned were everything I anticipated. I was just feeding off the raw energy of their performance, which is the same rush of excitment I get today whenever I see them perform. I still leave a Damned gig with my ears and heart buzzing. I have probably seen The Damned far more times than any other band – (with exception of Skeletal Family, whom I have photographed countless times thanks to them being clients of mine). I even mentioned to Trotwood from Skeletal Family that The Damned were gigging in Middlesbrough (my hometown) and in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire (local to Skeletal Family) back in 2013 and Skeletal Family ended-up supporting the mighty Damned. AAA passes for me 🙂
At the Holmfirth gig, I treated my mum to her very first Damned gig (after all she had heard enough of their songs over the last 30-odd years, through me constantly playing my Damned records). At one point during the gig, when Captain Sensible broke into his legendary hit ‘Happy Talk’, he hoiked the mic stand up to the 1st floor balcony to where my mum was seated and she sang back at him. She later met him after the show and no-doubt brought my hyped-up cool as Goth image down to ground level by saying, “Our Melli used to have posters of you all over her bedroom wall when she was a teenager…” Got to love her 🙂
My first real life encounter with The Damned happened in 2005 at Stormin’ The Castle motorcycle rally at Witton Castle, County Durham. I was freelancing for Back Street Heroes motorcycle magazine (I got into the motorcycle rally scene for about 10 years and also was once part of the editorial staff for that publication).
I spotted lead singer Dave Vanian and guitarist Captain Sensible wandering around the trade stalls. I felt my knees almost buckle from underneath me and nearly succumbed to girlie swooning incident. It was definately an OMG moment as I did not believe what my eyes were seeing and I was left speechless. My boyfriend at the time for once played the grown-up and approached them in a calm and friendly manner (unlike me who was on verge of girl-fan hysterics). “Hi”, he said, “my girlfriend would like to have her photo taken with you.” Oh my God! Any coolness, street cred and self-respect just went out of the window as I hid behind a rack of brightly coloured wooly festival jumpers. It was now or never. I sheepishly came out from behind the clothing and ticked this momentus occasion off my bucket list. Captain Sensible is everything you expect – witty, charming and outspoken – hence the ridiculous pose I did with him. Now Dave, questioned why I didn’t greet him in the way I did with the Captain. I just couldn’t. I had that man’s face all over my bedroom walls as a teenager. However I did try and entice him back to my tent to check out my Ducati Monster 600 Dark but he was having none of it.
I had another encounter with The Damned in 2015 at Whitby Goth Weekend’s 21st Anniversary bash. I was on official photographer duties for the event and was photographing some of the bands that were sound-checking. I just happened to meet Damned bassist Stu West. He recognised me from The Damned gigs when Skeletal Family had supported them 2 years previously. I found him really fascinating to talk to about his love for Watford FC and diesel trains. I mentioned I used to play bass. No idea why I stopped. Life kinda gets in the way of the things you want to do. Stu was really encouraging and I have to thank Stu for metaphorically kicking me up my backside and get back bassing it again.
On a more sombre note, I was deeply saddened to hear about former bassist Bryn Merrick, who lost his battle with lung cancer in 2015. The Damned have had number of bassists over the years, but Bryn will remain special in my heart as he was in The Damned when I first got into them back in 1985.
I regrettably missed the BIG gig at the Royal Albert Hall earlier this year due to other committtments in my life. Personally, never been a big fan of large venues with only being 5′ 1″, I always seem to get the tallest person stood in front of me. As the photos from fellow Damned Fans started to appear on social media, I have never been so jealous of so many people under one roof. It looked amazing.
I may not be the most fanatical Damned fan in the world. I have met those, whose devotion to this band is very impressive and who go to extraordinary lengths to see The Damned live and collect everything and anything about them – to name but a few, Nok, Violet, Lewis, Froggy, Sarah, Philippa, Barry and Neil. I aways make a point of getting to a Damned gig at least once or twice a year, just to pay respect to a band who has made me the person that I am today.
I thank you.