The last time I saw The Damned play live was on a Summer's day some years ago(!) in August at Brockwell Park in London. The crowd of mainly teenagers and twenty-somethings had come out to support a one-day free festival in support of The GLC! The Damned topped the bill that also included New Model Army, Spear Of Destiny and The Fall. Margaret Thatcher was PM, the miners strike was 5 months in and glue sniffing was still rife. There was an air of agitation throughout the day and a real sense of disillusionment amongst the disenfranchised youth of the day.
Fast-forward nearly 34 years, from South East London to the South East coast and Folkestone's Leas Cliff Hall, another Tory-led government still reigns and the unenthralled youth are still being seduced by the left wing, but The Damned play on (I dare say if you'd have asked them back in '76 if they thought they'd still be gigging you'd have got a different answer). The sexagenarians on stage were mirrored in part by those in the crowd. Messrs Vanian and Sensible looked to have weathered the intervening years splendidly though. The Captain may have gone grey and Dave's widows peak may have become a little more pronounced but they clearly hadn't lost their appetite to entertain.
With their first new album in 10 years, the Tony Visconti produced 'Evil Spirits', due out this year and on the back of last year's 40th anniversary celebrations of their (and arguably Punk's) first single release, The Damned were definitely buoyed up. Gustav Holst provided the theatrical opening score before the band arrived on stage to be met by a huge cheer from the crowd. 1980's 'Wait For The Blackout' kicked things off before two more from 'The Black Album', 'Lively Arts' and 'Silly Kids Games'. The lead single from their latest, crowd-funded album ("Thank you very much, you've paid for it", The Captain quipped) was the first of the new tracks to be aired. The reflective 'Standing On The Edge Of Tomorrow' slotted into the set with ease combining a vintage Damned sound with a refreshed vigour.
The velocity and intensity of the gig was ramped up to full tilt with a quartet of songs that raised the roof on the 90-year-old seaside venue. Firstly the anti-religion 'Anti-Pope' from '79's 'Machine Gun Etiquette', a blistering 'So Messed Up', a phenomenal performance of 'New Rose' and finally a fully charged 'Love Song'. All four sounded ageless and just served to reinforce what a fantastic back catalogue The Damned have amassed. If proof were needed, it was surely confirmed here, that the spirit of Punk lives on through these songs and the band's incendiary delivery.
The more Gothic leanings of the band manifested themselves brilliantly on the night with a crowd pleasing and anthemic 'Eloise' as well as new track 'Devil In Disguise', David Vanian channelling his inner vampire to the max. '82's 'Dozen Girls' was the penultimate track before the break, turning the speed up a notch before a terrifically potent 'Neat, Neat, Neat'. With a quite recent fillip, from its inclusion on the 'Baby Driver' soundtrack, to help deliver a whole new generation of appreciation, the machine gun momentum that propels the song sounded as great as it did in '77. A five track encore that included 'Generals', 'Evil Spirits' and a suitably exhilarating 'Smash It Up' closed out the night's set in style.
Folkestone played host to a seminal band in fine form. Delighting the old punks, the odd goth and a multi-generational crowd, The Damned were almost regal and statesman-like. Captain Sensible had enjoyed his day off to take in the town, only bemoaning the fact that the fish stall wasn't open and Dave, Pinch, Monty and Paul all looked like they had as much of a thoroughly enjoyable evening as the packed crowd before them. As the saying goes, 'Punk's not dead'.
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