Pioneering UK Punks Celebrate 40th Anniversary

By Dave Pehling

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The Sex Pistols may have gotten more headlines thanks to the publicity-savvy machinations of manager Malcolm McLaren, but British contemporaries The Damned were actually the first UK punk band to issue both a single and a full-length record and the first to tour the United States.

Formed by guitarist Brian James (who had played in proto-punk outfit London SS) and drummer Rat Scabies (aka Chris Millar), the initial line-up of the band was filled out by singer Dave Vanian (born David Letts), and then bassist Captain Sensible (aka Raymond Burns). The quartet played its first show supporting the Pistols at the legendary 100 Club in July of 1976, but beat the band into record stores with the October release of their debut single on Stiff Records of their classic anthem “New Rose.”

The Damned would join the Sex Pistols along with the Clash and former New York Doll Johnny Thunders and his band the Heartbreakers on the notorious “Anarchy Tour of the UK” in December of 1976 that found a majority of the dates canceled by promoters or authorities. The Damned issued their proper debut album Damned Damned Damned in February of 1977.

Produced by pub rock veteran Nick Lowe, the album featured a raw set of blistering future punk classics like “Neat Neat Neat,” “Born to Kill” and “Messed Up.” The band’s maiden voyage to the U.S. that spring was marked by a tendency to ramp up the already fast tempos, a move that’s credited for inspiring early bands of the West Coast hardcore punk scene.

The band’s follow-up effort Music For Pleasure found the band making the unusual choice of Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason as producer after mentally fractured Floyd founder Syd Barrett was unavailable. Though now considered another classic, at the time it was dismissed by critics and fans. The group split up, but eventually reformed without James to record a string of influential ’80s albums that branched out into psychedelia and early gothic punk.

The band split up again in 1988 after a farewell concert, but it didn’t take long for Vanian and Scabies to reunite and tour with new recruits the following decade (Captain Sensible returned to the fold in 1996). The Damned have only issued three studio albums in the past two decades, but has toured regularly and remained a fixture of punk festivals on both sides of the Atlantic.

More recently, the group was the subject of the raucous 2016 documentary by director Wes Orshoski entitled The Damned: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead that explored the group’s early roots and took a closer look at the bond that keeps Vanian and Sensible on the road four decades later. The band’s current extensive North American tour marks not only the 40th anniversary of the band, but also celebrates the recent deluxe reissue of the Damned’s landmark debut as well as an online crowd-funding campaign aimed at financing the recording of their first new album in nearly 10 years. The punk progenitors return to San Francisco to headline the Fillmore Tuesday night along with support from all-girl Los Angeles pop-punk outfit Bleached.

The Damned
Tuesday, April 11, 8 p.m. $35
The Fillmore

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