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 Damned (credit: Steve Gullick)

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. Already at odds with each other during the tracking of the album, the failure of Music For Pleasure got the Damned dropped by Stiff Records and group split up for the first time shortly thereafter.

The individual members would delve into other projects before eventually reforming without James, initially with Motorhead bassist Lemmy Kilmister temporarily filling in for performances under the monikers Les Punks and the Doomed after Sensible switched to guitar before scoring a new deal with Chiswick to record as the Damned. The band rebounded with the garage-rock infused gem Machine Gun Etiquette in late 1979 featuring the hit singles and future classics “Love Song,” “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today” and “Smash It Up.”

The band would go on to record a string of influential ’80s albums, branching out into early gothic punk on the ambitious 1980 effort The Black Album (featuring the epic 17-minute track “Curtain Call”) and delving into a mix of goth rock and punk psychedelia with subsequent classics Strawberries (Captain Sensible’s last effort prior to an extended departure for his own successful solo career) and Phantasmagoria.

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, with Captain Sensible returning to the fold in 1996. While the Damned have only issued a handful of studio albums in the past two decades, the group has toured regularly and remains a fixture of punk festivals on both sides of the Atlantic.

More recently, the outfit 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 band’s early roots and took a closer look at the bond that has kept Vanian and Sensible on the road four decades later. Last year found the Damned celebrating its 40th anniversary with an extensive tour and completing their first new studio album in a decade after an online crowd-funding campaign.

Recorded with legendary producer Tony Visconti — who worked with David Bowie, T. Rex and Thin Lizzy to name but a few — as Strawberries-era bassist Paul Gray, Evil Spirits was released on Search and Destroy/Spinefarm records this past spring to wide acclaim, with some critics calling it the band’s best effort since the ’80s. Returning to the Bay Area for the first time since a headlining appearance at Burger Boogaloo 2018 in Oakland this past summer, the Damned are sure to draw a full house of fans to the Regency Ballroom on Halloween night. The punk progenitors will get support from Radkey, a rising punk power trio made up of three black brothers from Missouri, and all-girl Phoenix-based garage-psych outfit the Darts who put out their latest single on Jello Biafra’s local punk imprint Alternative Tentacles in June. DJ Sid Presley spins music before and between bands.

The Damned
Wednesday, October 31, 8 p.m. $30-$35
Regency Ballroom