The Damned: Englands “Enfants Terribles”

[Editor’s Note: Thirty years later, The Damned have regrouped to play a series of dates through 2023, so it’s worth having a look back at their rollicking legacy.]


From the barrelling opening hook to the thunderous drums that cement “New Rose”, The Damned emerged as one of the nastiest bands Britain had produced. They were punk, yet their music was equally indebted to metal, which drummer Rat Scabies was more than happy to admit to in an interview with this writer. But between Scabies’ cymbal work and Brian James’ incendiary hooks came Dave Vanian’s voice, crisp and angular as it was.

It sounded like an air raid siren, but the warring cry was a godsend for listeners aching for a change from the ornate silhouettes spearheaded by prog. The Damned were melodic and they were sharp. Their songs finished in the time it took Brian May to finish tuning his guitars, and the harmonies hit the mix, like the slap of a plasterer laying down cement. It was the language of the ordinary folk, and with anthems “Neat, Neat, Neat” and “Don’t Cry Wolf”, the band invited scrutiny through a series of choppy rockers that rippled with energy and anger. And in an England that was swiftly falling into bankruptcy, listeners needed an angry outlet in which to vent.

The days when John Lennon and Paul McCartney would espouse the virtues of love were over, and nobody seemed to care whether it was Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins who fronted Genesis. And yet The Damned generously supported the old guard, starting with covering one of The Beatles’ more revelatory tracks (“Help!”). They stood between two generations of music, celebrating the past, and pointing the way for the next generation.

They were canny, and quick on their feet. When James quit the band, bassist Captain Sensible took over on lead guitar, allowing a choppier, more serene form of guitar playing to filter through the airwaves. Behind Sensible sat Scabies, banging the drum with the thunder of Keith Moon and the adrenaline of John Bonham. Which left Vanian as the only one who enjoyed flirting with ornamentation, dressing like the Draconian character his rivals saw him as.

Often unfairly relegated to third place behind The Sex Pistols and The Clash, The Damned actually started the trend of punk, largely because of the urgency “New Rose” bellowed. Indeed, it’s the most important of the punk tracks released to the public, largely because it was so frenzied and accessible. The idea of punk was to invite audiences to join in on the action, as The Damned’s music carried an attitude that was zesty in its outlook and posture. If there was a manifesto at hand, it was internalized, demonstrating a more ordinary apotheosis to what Roger Waters and Neil Peart demanded rock should follow.

Captain Sensible has the last word: “Compared to some of our rivals’ more sedate debuts, Damned, Damned, Damned was a veritable blitzkrieg, a glorious frenetic flurry of riffs delivered in a raw unpolished Nick Lowe production. Whether that’s because he didn’t know what he was doing or that was his intention I cannot say, but compare the guitars here with the beautifully recorded ones on Never Mind The Bollocks. Brian’s are gnarled and rasping in places, it’s pure uncompromising rawk and not for the fainthearted – of the two rival records I know which album I prefer, which is the real sound of London in 1977: ours. And that’s what I want it to sound like when we hit the stage for these gigs.”

-Eoghan Lyng

Photo: Getty Images

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6 comments on “The Damned: Englands “Enfants Terribles”

  1. This piece is neat, neat, neat.

  2. Took me a long time to appreciate The Damned but I do now. The Pistols guitars DID sound more produced, which is probably why they were more accepted by the press and listening public at the time, even as there was so much hand wringing over the anger and lyrics.

  3. The Damned were great in my eyes, i.was only 10 when new rose was released, and my older sister by 5 yrs was dating a lad who bought this album round for her to listen to, I was intrigued by the cover, four blokes covered in cake looking like they just had a good fight…I don’t think my sister was to impressed with the music, but I played this over & over, I absolutely loved new rose…As I grew into teenage years I got into the punk music alot more and looking back now, I never really think the Damned were ever appreciated by their peers just how talented musicians they were. I liked the pistols and the clash, UK subs etc but for me The Damned will always be the best. I’ve seen various line ups at live shows over the years, and they always deliver a knock out performance..for me they were best musically around the Strawberries album time. I do wonder what would of happened if Brian had stayed and they had a few more years with the original line up..some of the later stuff is a bit hit or miss (excuse the pun) but for them to still be able to sound as fresh as 76 is bloody amazing…got to love The Damned

  4. Eric C Jaye

    Been listening to The Damned since the early 80’s…..saw them live for the first time in 82′. I also went to there 40th anniversary MGE tour in 2018! Great band with some serious longevity.

  5. Marcel Mischeaux

    The DAMNED – EPIC!

  6. Is there another reunion in 2023?

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