Tag Archives: The Damned

Barry Hutchinson • The Damned – The Chaos Years: An Unofficial Biography [Book]

Not many books have been written on THE DAMNED. Luckily, über fan BARRY HUTCHINSON has just published a deep dive into the first twenty years of punk’s greatest group. The Damned – The Chaos Years: An Unofficial Biography is an exhaustive look at the band’s beginnings, its exciting first few years and its slow descent before re-emerging in the early 2000s as mainstays of the movement’s first wave.

Hutchinson created the book from “exclusive interviews from all band members past and present,” and indeed there are quotes from founders Brian James, Captain Sensible, Dave Vanian and Rat Scabies, as well as just about every other guy or gal who’s ever played guitar, bass, keys or drums with the perpetually unstable band. At 400 some odd pages, you’ll be thrilled by the wealth of info covered by the author, as he seems to not only know of every anecdote worth describing (and maybe even a few that could have been skipped), but seems to have witnessed the anarchy, chaos and destruction firsthand. The author’s writing style is pretty raw – he’s clearly more of a fan than a professional writer – and the book does suffer some from that. But there’s no denying that this guy knows his subject matter and is definitely qualified to tell their story. Some of the quotes sound like they came from question-and-answer sessions submitted via email (something a pro editor could have tightened up), but that unfiltered presentation allows the various band members’ true characters to come through loud and clear. I contacted Barry via Facebook and he tells me that, because the book was published via Lulu’s “self-publishing” platform, he can revise the book pretty much at will. “The handy thing with print on demand,” he says, “means its fairly easy to do.”

If you’ve ever wanted a better look at the band than Carol Clerk’s The Damned: The Light at the End of the Tunnel provided (it was severely shortened to serve as more of a tie-in to a late ’80s compilation than a serious book), Hutchinson’s book is worth checking out. Not unlike Wes Orshoski’s documentary, Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead (which I reviewed in this blog; read it here), it’s a telling of The Damned’s story by someone who really does give a damn(ed).

3.5/5 (Lulu.com; order the book directly at this link)

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The Damned • Damned Damned Damned [CD, LP]

Some anniversaries make you feel old. Some of ’em make you feel young. And some – like the 40th anniversary of this, punk rock’s quintessential and inaugural album – make you feel both old and young at the same time. THE DAMNED‘s first album, Damned Damned Damned, was released in late February 1977 on UK upstart Stiff Records and in the last year it’s been reissued on both vinyl (Drastic Plastic USA) and now CD via BMG UK. It’s one of those records that never loses its cheeky appeal.

Yours truly didn’t discover The Damned until 1981-1982 (via an IRS Records sampler featuring 1980’s “Wait for the Blackout”), and by then they’d undergone a bit of maturing. But on their debut disc, The Damned were a rowdy, youthful quartet just happy to be making noise and having someone record it. Producer Nick Lowe was that someone, and you don’t have to consult reissue liner notes or Wikipedia to tell that his job was primarily to keep the youngsters focused long enough to get a dozen songs on tape. Just listen to Damned Damned Damned and you can hear all the joy and energy these guys exuded. Whether it’s their debut single, “New Rose” (“is she really going out with him?”), followup single “Neat Neat Neat,” or any of the other punk classics here (I’ll cite “Fan Club,” “Born to Kill” and “Feel the Pain” as my favorites), this barely 30-minute “long player” charges out of the gate like a horse not just going for the win but running for its life. By the time closer “I Feel Alright” (aka The Stooges’ “1970”) finishes, there’s no doubt that this album deserves its inclusion in the top of the punk pops.

Damned Damned Damned still has a lotta life in it. Whether you pick up the late 2016 vinyl reissue on Drastic Plastic (available on 150 gram yellow or 180 gram black vinyl; excellently mastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio), or the brand new 2017 BMG CD (no weight or mastering credit), you can’t go wrong. I like the vinyl for Gray’s beefy mastering job (the CD’s a tad bit thinner-sounding), but the CD comes in a book-style package with some great liner notes and photos. Neither has any extra tracks, though, so for those you’d have to grab one of the compilations like 2005’s 3CD box set, Play It at Your Sister, et al.

There have been way too many changes in personnel, temperament and outlook over the last four decades to detail here, but in ’76-’77 The Damned were vocalist Dave Vanian, guitarist/songwriter Brian James, bassist Captain Sensible and drummer Rat Scabies; a buncha guys with colorful names making raucous rock ’n’ roll. Today only Vanian and Sensible remain (the latter having switched to guitar a long, long time ago), but the band – who have made a number of great records since 1976 – still tours regularly and this year they’re touring that killer record they made forty years ago. It’d be a shame to miss the chance to hear this punk classic performed nice ’n’ loud right in front of yer face by the only band that still matters, The Damned.

5/5 (Drastic Plastic DPRLP76, vinyl; BMG BMGAA01CD, CD)

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The Damned • Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead (Documentary)

damned_dontyouwish-DVDWes Orshoski‘s latest documentary, The Damned: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead, has just come out on DVD/Blu-ray – finally allowing über fans like me to get a look at it beyond the compelling trailer that’s been out for over a year. (You can view that below.) First seen at various film festivals and even in some theaters in the larger bergs, the documentary details the rise, fall, rise and plateau that The Damned has been through since they first formed in the mid 1970s. Unlike other bands in UK punk’s first graduating class, these guys weren’t fronted by a headline-grabbing, snot-nosed git, didn’t blow up in the press, weren’t managed by an egotistical svengali, and somehow missed the boats promising stardom, money, infamy or anything like it. What The Damned did do is legendary: they were the first punk band to put out a record, the first to tour the USA, and one of only a few that are still playing today. They were also one of the very few bands that actually looked like they were having fun playing their music, playing the press, or just generally sticking it to whoever needed sticking to.

Orshoski filmed the band for three years, with apparent carte blanche to document anything going on. Along with current interviews of the original band members (Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible, Brian James and Rat Scabies), there are appearances by most of the rest of The Damned’s roster (though for some reason Patricia Morrison is missing), as well as colleagues from the UK scene like Mick Jones (The Clash), Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols), Chrissie Hynde, Steve Diggle (Buzzcocks), Lemmy (subject of Orshoski’s other great documentary) and Don Letts (DJ, filmmaker), and modern scenesters and US punkers like Dexter Holland (The Offspring), Jack Grisham (TSOL), Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Jesse Hughes (Eagles of Death Metal) and more. The band didn’t always get along (really?) and to this day there are rifts in their friendships. Saddening, but not unexpected. Combining his own enlightening interview footage with archival footage from around the world, Orshoski has put together a highly watchable documentary.

damned-clowning-duoThe characters that make up The Damned, both past and present, are to the fore in Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead. You get a great sense of the enigma that is Vanian, the cutup clown that is Sensible, the real live punk that is Scabies, et al. You also see and hear for yourself that the reason The Damned never “made it” is because they steadfastly held to their belief that punk was about doing things your own way, regardless of what the press, the record label, or even Malcolm effing McLaren wanted them to do. So The Damned are rarely mentioned in the corporate/network/big business “celebrations” of punk… so what?! They did what they wanted to do, didn’t suck up to the press or major record labels or do anything just to get publicity, just to get a big paycheck, or just to impress whoever it was that needed impressing. And that is what impresses me. Sticking to your guns sometimes means that you don’t get to partake in the bounty of riches that others do, and that, unfortunately for The Damned, is the breaks. All of this makes for a story that is compelling even if you don’t give a, errrr, damn about them.

The film, which premiered at SXSW in 2015, is now available (at least in the US) as a combo Blu-ray/DVD pack that gives you the movie and a handful of extras that didn’t make the final cut. I’ve read interviews with Orshoski where he indicated there were tons of extra footage, so I’m surprised that there really isn’t that much included here. (I’m saying this without having access to playing the Blu-ray in the pack, so there may be more on that disc than on the DVD.) Yet, considering the film showed only once where I was living when it did play my town and likely only once (if at all) in your area, you can now see it for yourself. I’m frankly glad they aren’t dead, and you may end up feeling the same way.

4/5 (Cleopatra/MVD Visual)

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The Damned • The Chiswick Singles… And Another Thing (2LP)

damned_chiswicksingles-cvr Compilations of a band’s singles – both the ‘A’ sides and the lesser-known ‘B’s – can be a dodgy thing. Typically the ‘A’ sides are worth having, but the ‘B’ sides are throwaways that exist only because something had to occupy the other side of the record. But then there are bands like The Damned, who like few bands before and after them, put out 45s that killed. The Chiswick Singles… And Another Thing is a single CD/double LP that showcases most of the band’s singles from the fertile 1978-1981 period (for some reason “Wait for the Blackout” and its flip “Jet Boy Jet Girl” are missing), and it’s a cracker of a comp.

By ’78 Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible and Rat Scabies had already disbanded The Damned, farted around for a year, and got back together with a new bass player. Sensible switched to guitar after original guitarist Brian James left and the band flourished. I don’t know if that’s a coincidence but I prefer to believe it’s not. Anyway, here you get 24 tunes, 21 of them from their Chiswick Records, post Stiff/post-punk tenure which spawned the classic Machine Gun Etiquette (1978) and the almost as good followup, The Black Album (1980). The final 4 tracks come from their ’81 EP, Friday 13th. damned_drcula-billboardSpread over one CD or in this case, a really sweet 2LP set on red splatter vinyl, this compilation has quintessential tracks like “Love Song,” “Smash It Up” and “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today” as well as goofy/fun B-sides “The Turkey Song” and “Billy Bad Breaks,” plus experimental (read: filler [?]) things like “Sugar & Spite” and “Seagulls.” I’m not saying that everything here is a must-have, but I am saying that everything here is a must have for a Damned nut like me.

If you’ve had trouble filling your vault with The Damned’s faultless singles, look no further. And since it’s available on both CD and vinyl, you can now finally have ’em all in one handy format of your choice.
5/5 (you knew I wouldn’t rate it any lower!) (Ace [CD]/Let Them Eat Vinyl [2LP])

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Dead Men Walking • Easy Piracy

deadmenwalking_band_400pxwideI’m not gonna start this by trying to persuade you that Dead Men Walking are a supergroup, because they’re not—the last group that fit that description hasn’t made a record in over 25 years, and two of the guys aren’t even available to record again even if they wanted to. Besides, calling any group of musicians made up of people already known for other bands they’ve been in is just plain lazy. The only reason you read me using the term is because it’s already been used to describe these guys.

Made up of Captain Sensible from The Damned, Mike Peters of The Alarm, Slim Jim Phantom of Stray Cats, and Chris Cheney of The Living End, Dead Men Walking sound like a rock band with a lot of rockabilly and punk edges. And that’s what you’d expect considering the bands that got them to where they are today. There are a slew of great songs among the fifteen on Easy Piracy, the group’s first actual release. “The Weather Song” sounds like a rockin’ acoustic Damned song (it’s one of the few sung by Sensible), deadmenwalking_300pxwhile “Damned Damned Damned” starts off sounding like a take on Ramones’ “Teenage Lobotomy” until the melody kicks in. The lead off track “Rock and Roll Kills” has some great lyrics, like many of the songs here, while “Whatever Turns You On (Will Turn on You)” isn’t too shabby and wins the Best Song Title award for the album. I can go for “Dr. Henry,” too, but I need to do a little more research to tell you what it’s about. “Song for Eddie,” though, is definitely about rockabilly rebel Eddie Cochran (not the Heinz hit of yesteryear).

You can definitely hear each Dead Men Walking guy’s contribution to the band’s sound (especially if you already know their other bands), and that’s actually a good thing. Too often these “bands made up of dudes you know from other bands” suffer from trying to sound like “Triumph meets April Wine in an alley while Chilliwack channels Loverboy and Bryan Adams gets high.” (A big hello going out to all of my Canadian readers!)

I think this is an album I’ll listen to more than a handful of times. Let’s face it—how often can you say that these days?

3/5 (Slimstyle)

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