Now deep into their fifth decade as a rock n’roll treasure, veteran punks The Damned turned up to headline the Warzone stage at Hellfest seemingly in good shape. Seeing the band these days can be a hit or miss affair, especially as far as vocalist Dave Vanian is concerned, but tonight everyone seems to be happy and in top form, which is nice for the assembled throng, many of whom at both extreme ends of the age spectrum look like they might be well past their respective bedtimes when the band takes the stage at FIVE PAST ONE IN THE PISSING MORNING.
Opening with Melody Lee from 1979’s Machine Gun Etiquette gets things off to a flying start, and, strange Gary Glitter interpolations aside, the band don’t really let up for their hour in our company. Vanian opens in fine form, dedicating Love Song to Lemmy, but it’s Captain Sensible who takes care of most of the between-song banter. Ignite is a particular treat, with Vanian – who has come this evening dressed like Peter Sellars pretending to be a ‘with-it’ middle-aged hippy, doing a great job ad libbing whilst Sensible, erm, burns up and down the fretboard with some great wah-wahed guitar.
So a third of the way through the set, despite having to prop up a fatigued Mrs Strickmann, everything seems to be going well, although I have to say I do miss the presence of the persona non grata Rat Scabies behind the kit; Former English Dogs man Pinch is a fine drummer and all, but he lacks the on-the-edge mayhem of the band’s original drummer – sometimes solidity isn’t everything!
But that’s rubbish talk really – especially when stage right we have the unhinged Monty Oxymoron on keyboards supplying all the on-the-edge mayhem you’ll ever need – and no-one around me seems to be suffering for a lack of scabies. Anti-Pope sees Monty go over the edge, flapping about like one of the roadies is putty five hundred volts up his jacksie every ten seconds, but he recovers to add some ‘tasteful’ church organ to the song’s mid-section.
Pinch then gets his turn to speak, introducing a tres punky Wait for the Blackout that is , to these ears at least, one of the highlights of the set, Sensible’s ringing, classic rock guitar phrases reminding the crowd just how good a band The Damned actually are, when shorn of the punk posturing and nostalgia pandering frippery that the guitarist occasionally gets mired in. Pinch proves his worth by adding some nice backing vocals too.
New Rose is great, a charging punk behemoth, and a few of the sleepwalkers in front of the stage commence a somnambulant pogo, whilst Vanian amuses himself by making what can only be described as ‘Mexican’ noises. It must be the time of night.
The band go back to The Black Album for the AOR punk of History of the World (Part 1) – one of my personal faves and one which, against all my fears, Vanian sings with power and authority. I’d heard tell of him running out of steam halfway through a few recent gigs but it’s not happening tonight, and it’s absolutely grand to hear the band belting this out.
Neat, Neat, Neat features Sensible playing guitar behind his head – never mind Anti-Pope, surely that’s anti-punk? – but things seem to be getting a bit strained onstage as the band head into the home straight with Fan Club… maybe it’s past their bed time too? Then before 1 of the 2 everything stops as the band have some sort of slightly aggrieved committee meeting onstage. However they pick things up again and round out with Disco Man and a (surely ironic given it’s now gone two) rousing finale of Smash it Up sending us all to whatever accommodation that’s waiting for us with weary smiles on our faces and aching limbs. Tidy work, old fellas…