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Tuesday, 15 November 2011

You Can’t Be Too Careful

I’ve just realised its Tuesday and I’ve not had to fight off any paparazzi yet. I’ve been lying low all weekend after our ‘Oscar’ win last week but now I feel it was perhaps unnecessary. Might you, you can’t be too careful.

In a rather last minute attempt to get fit for Sunday’s half marathon, I come in on the bike today. The shopping can wait or be forgotten about.

Tickets go on sale today, to members of British Cycling, for the World Cup cycling event which will be the first event at the new Olympic velodrome. I am a member but unfortunately I was little late going online. It was 10:40 by the time I logged onto Ticketmaster and by then British Cycling’s allocation had all gone. Not that it probably mattered than I was late, plenty of people who logged on at the time they went live (10am) didn’t get any either. So I’ll have to have another punt when they go on general sale on Thursday. Which is exactly what I had to do to get last years. This British Cycling membership isn’t really proving it’s worth.

Apparently I’m allowed out on the pull again tonight, so I pop down to Rock City.

The Damned downgraded to the Rescue Rooms last year but they’re back at the much bigger Rock City tonight to celebrate their 35th Anniversary. The occasion certainly seems to have pulled in the punters, the place isn’t sold out but there’s not a lot of space to be had.

The chap in front of me is doing his 571st Damned gig or something like that. I recall it was a very impressive number, he’s clearly their biggest fan as is proven by the fact practically everyone comes up to shake his hand. This is my third Damned gig but who's counting.

Up on stage first is a lass called Viv Albertine who hails from the same era. She used to be in the Slits you know. Isn’t there a saying ‘old punks don't they just go acoustic’. Perhaps. Although I do understand that Albertine plays as part of a band sometimes but tonight she brings just herself, a guitar, a good (and often dirty) sense of humour and some catchy little seemingly autobiographical songs to the party. Songs for which she pulls back on her punk years and everything in between for lyrical inspiration, if not for the musical side.

It also has to be said she's aged well, taking a twenty odd year break from the music industry probably helped, and there’s a steady stream of 40+ (or should that be 50+) blokes shuffling closer to the front to check her out. Damn their failing eyesight.

I wouldn’t say she gives the most inspiring of performances but she makes for a thoroughly entertaining support.

After a blast of 633 Squadron Captain Sensible strolls on stage, up to the mic and imparts a sort of opening speech. Sadly there is to be no ‘Happy Talk’ but instead we’re going to get to hear two records that changed the face of music... starting with ‘Damned Damned Damned’, the band’s debut from 1977.

I’ve never been sure about this playing a whole album business but then I’m also not keen on bands who just play the same songs year after year. So here goes... Enter a dapper Mr Vanian and cue ‘Neat Neat Neat’

The Damned re-enact their debut album in around 35 minutes with barely a pause between tracks. Delivering a rapid fire sequence of eleven simple, stripped back numbers, just as punk intended music to be played, with many old skool punks trying to remember how to pogo and probably wishing they’d left their lambswool pullovers at home. Yes I did say eleven, they skipped over the Rat Scabies penned 'Stab Yor Back' for reasons unknown. Perhaps reasons of a petty feuding nature perhaps... but no one’s actually saying for sure.

‘Is she still going out with me?’ asks the Captain, as is perhaps the new way before ‘New Rose’. ‘I hope so because she's working on the merch stand tonight’. So hello to Mrs Sensible.

The Captain is a laugh all night, introducing songs with increasingly more tenuous links as we go along. In fact they all seem to be having a ball. Monty the keyboard player is doing air guitar among other things, for want of something to do. He’s certainly not going to get much keyboard practice in on this album, so he hollers along instead. He’s so into it he’s bought the t-shirt.

It’s a shame when they complete the album and go off for a short break, having kept the crowd pretty much hanging an inch off the floor for the last half an hour, even those in the lambswool pullovers.

Less than ten minutes later we're in 1980 and its shades all round for ‘Wait For The Blackout’. The Damned haven’t actually been that prolific album wise in their 35 years. In that time they have produced just ten, ‘The Black Album’ was their fourth and it anything, they seemed even more in their element on this than on ‘Damned Damned Damned’. Certainly Monty was much happier, actually having some notes to play.

This is the album where they moved on from punk into a darker more gothic sound. It’s not as powerful of course; just simply compelling and with great songs such as ‘Lively Arts’, the Captain singing ‘Silly Kids Games’, ’Drinking About My Baby’, apparently they’re nearly all failed relationship songs, then ‘Hit or Miss’ get things lively again.

The band seem to having as much fun as we are. When a glass lands on the stage during ‘Sick of This and That’ and John the Roadie comes on to mop up, the guys block his exit. Eventually he escapes through Sensible’s legs.

The best though is still to come. ‘The History Of The World’ is simply superb and then there’s ‘Therapy’ which I wouldn’t have expected to steal the show but it may well have done. Though if anyone can make sense of the Captain’s story behind the song then they’re a better man than me.

Then there’s a dramatic closing ‘Curtain Call’, complete with impressive laser light show... at a ‘punk’ concert! The album was released as a double album back in the days of vinyl, with this one song making up the whole of side three.

It's so long that various band members wander off stage, nip to Sainsbury’s and then reappear seemingly at will. There’s just Captain and Monty alone onstage at one point, huddled over their keyboards, producing a wild electronic soundscape as laser warfare breaks out all around them. How very avant-garde. Very good though. It’s all good. The first album was as well of course but it's the ‘The Black Album’ that stands out the most tonight.

And there’s more.

They return asking for requests, which results in them playing part of Deep Purple's ‘Black Night’ for no obvious reason, amidst lots of messing about. Ten minutes later they decide to play 'Disco Man'.

Then they round proceedings off with three from 1979's ‘Machine Gun Etiquette’. ‘Love Song’ of course, ‘Anti-Pope’ and then 'Smash It Up' or if we prefer 'Happy Talk'. Decisions decisions.

After a bit of the latter, the former, with Mr Superfan on stage. Jonno, long time Damned fan and friend of the band. Turns out he's a bit of a local legend too.

The gig finally draws to a close a good ten minutes after the 11pm curfew. A pleasant evening.

(Tuesday 15th November)

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