The Damned @ The Roundhouse, London

13th December 2013
Review & Photography by Graham Hilling

The Damned seem to have a regular slot at the Roundhouse every December now, following their 35 year anniversary here in 2011; which was one of the best gigs I’ve been to, so I had high hopes for this evening too, especially given tonight’s very impressive line-up. All classic bands in their own right, but on the same bill – marvellous!

A wet December evening and a relatively early start doesn’t deter the London punker hordes from descending on the Roundhouse in time to catch Ruts DC.

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Starting out life as simply the Ruts, Ruts DC changed the name following the tragic death of singer Malcolm Owen who lost his battle with heroin addiction.

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The name change also heralded a slight change in musical direction to embrace the more reggae/Dubstep influenced music their earlier compositions had just hinted at.

They eventually split in 1983 only to reform (like so many original punk bands) in 2007.
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So I guess I was expecting a set of dubstep and reggae really…how wrong was I!

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Starting with “Mighty Soldier” I thought I knew where they were going but clearly playing with The Damned meant something a little more in keeping with their punk roots.
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Next up was “Backbiter” closely followed by “It was Cold”. Both sounded fresh and approppriate in 2013.

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The female vocals of Molara a welcome addition to their live sound, they then launched into the rather sad “Love in Vain”. “Smiling Culture/SUS” up next with Segs introducing it as “not a song about the police but about bad police….”. It’s a brilliant adaption of the original Ruts song “SUS” brought right up to date.

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Some more dub with “One Step” and then it is 4 classic punk songs to end the set – “Staring at the Rude Boys”, “Babylons Burning”, “Society” and the inevitable “In a Rut”. While some of the endings of these songs sometimes sounded a little ropey live, there’s no denying this was a very solid performance and thoroughly enjoyable.

No doubt much of the audience thought so too (although a shame we don’t get a rendition of “H-Eyes”. Rather than misplaced nostalga, this was genuinely impressive and sets the scene very nicely for Theatre of Hate.

Ruts DC Setlist:
Mighty Soldier
It Was Cold
Love in Van
Smiling Culture/SUS
One Step
Rude Boys
Babylon’s Burning
In a Rut

Theatre of Hate was the band formed by Kirk Brandon when the Pack broke up.
While I loved the Pack, ToH were a step up, with the use of sax making the sound really distinctive and adding an edge that many bands of the time lacked.

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This evening they have original members Stan Stammers back on bass and John “Boy” Lennard on sax.

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Opening with “Legion” is a brave move – this is one of my favourite ToH songs and sets the bar for the rest of the set very high indeed.

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Brandons vocals are as unique and edgy as ever although age has definitely taken its toll on him (with him looking on several occasions like he has completely run out of puff) – he manages to make it through the set, though, without letting himself down.

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It is Brandons vocals and John Lennards sax that really characterise the ToH sound, the sax cutting through the mix, haunting and disturbing in equal measure.

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“Legion” is quickly followed by “Original Sin” (the other side of this 1980 single). Classic stuff. “63” keeps us rooted in the same timezone and it is left to “Omen of the Times” to move us forward in time. The set is completed with “Propaganda” and “Westworld”. Both classics, both very well received. Stan Stammers looks like he is enjoying every second of it.

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“Do You Believe in the Westworld” is finished with a mass drumming session on the stage, with the audience joining in, clapping out the rhythm. It’s a great way to end the set, just a shame they didn’t have a little bit longer as classics like “Love is a Ghost” and “Conquistador” are conspicuous by their absence.

Theatre of Hate Setlist:
Original Sin
My Own Invention

So the final show of the night is left for The Damned.

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The Roundhouse now full to capacity with a mixture of aging punkers and the set this evening is well judged for the punk crowd that London has assembled. It reads (mainly) like a damned smash hits medley.

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The starter is a bit unexpected though – “Sanctum Sanctorum” from the Phantasmagoria album. Once this is finished, we’re treated to another rarely played live track “Don’t Cry Wolf” from the album Music for Pleasure.

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Vanian is on fine form, taking to the stage looking like some demented undertaker in a huge top hat, long coat, cravat and gloves. He’s greeted by knowing cheers. From the off, the chants of “Sensibles a wanker…” are in evidence, with the crowd and Sensible playing a familiar game.

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These playful chants used to be directed at Sensible and Scabies but since Scabies left, the honour falls entirely on Sensible. He’s on form too, effortlessly bashing out riffs.
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Indeed, as a unit, it’s difficult to fault the damned, they play tighter now than at any time in the past (when too much alcohol sometimes got in the way of musical performance!).

They are squeaky tight, and have the air of a group of people who all understand their roles and how they fit into the whole. Pinch on drums and Stu West on bass are a formidable rhythm section. The result is a performance that is like clockwork. From a band that the music press love to hate and everyone but the fans had written off many years ago.

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A bunch of songs from the Strawberries album keep the blood flowing, “Ignite” really hits the mark. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” showcases the velvetty vocals of Vanian beautifully.

Before we know it we’re into the last 5 songs which could not have been picked better, every one of them an almost compulsory play at a damned gig – “Love Song” flows effortlessly into “2nd Time Around”. “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today” followed by the the pounding drums of “New Rose”. “Neat Neat Neat” heralds the end of the show.

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Barely a 5 minute break and they’re back to finally close things off.

A shortened “Curtain Call” followed by a surprise rendition of “Jet Boy Jet Girl” has the packed Roundhouse bouncing off the walls. “Antipope” keeps the pace up with Vanian literally running around the stage and no Damned gig would be complete without “Smash It Up”, which finishes off another great gig made even more special by the inclusion of class support bands.

Same time next year? I hope so…..

The Damned Setlist:
Sanctum Sanctorum
Don’t Cry Wolf
Wait for the Blackout
Lively Arts
Silly Kids Games
History of the World
Stranger on the Town
Dr Jeckyl
Plan 9 Channel 7
Love Song
2nd Time Around
Just Can’t Be Happy
New Rose
Neat Neat Neat

Curtain Call
Jet Boy
Anti Pope
Smash It Up