Cards on the table, full disclosure but The Damned were the second of my three life-changing first was The Beatles and the third was The Hellacopters. Growing up in Croydon during the 70’s and 80’s you couldn’t really avoid bumping into Captain Sensible either down The Dog & Bull or walking through the demilitarised zone in the Whitgift Centre. The same can be said for Johnny Moped, during their Big Band phase I was one of their Roadies, with original Moped drummer, Dave Berk, coming to my Wedding. So yes, you can call me a fan. At this point, you are probably thinking “If you’re such a fan how you can be impartial when it comes to reviewing them?” Fair point, but hard-core fans can be the most critical of a band that they love and over the years spent a small fortune on. Between the end of The Damned’s “Not of this Earth/I’m Alright Jack and the Beanstalk” and the “Grave Disorder” line-up, admitting to still being a fan was fraught with derision and plausible deniability and with the best intentions at heart; technology nixed The Mopeds “The Search for Xerxes” album.
But there I was travelling down from East Croydon, both The Damned’s and Moped’s former unofficial spiritual home, to Brighton their new one, for the first date of the “Evil Spirits” Pre Christmas Tour.
The Brighton Dome is like a scaled down Royal Albert Hall, also scaled down were the prices at the Bar, which pleased my wallet. Now for those of you Tom Cats that don’t know anything about Johnny Moped he would be the first to tell you he is 80% disabled. There is a Spectrum dedicated solely to Johnny, Chrissie Hynde was sacked from the band, twice, Dee Dee Ramone loved them and Michael Stripe cited them as influential, I kid you not. At the appointed time of 8’o clock Johnny Moped, the band, wondered on stage with guitarist Rock ‘n’ Roll Robot asking where their esteemed leader was, before Johnny Moped, the man, appeared from the wings like some papal figure. With a quick “One, two, cut yer hair” the band were off with “Incendiary Device” which led into another “Cycledelic” classic “Panic Button” that features probably the greatest line of all time “Picking off my acne ‘cause I haven’t had a meal”. The band didn’t rest on past glories with a healthy dose of material culled from 2016’s “A Real Cool Baby” album fitting in perfectly. Talking of culling; “Save The Baby Seals” from the “Xerxes” album made a welcome appearance. For “Darling Let’s Have Another Baby” brief keyboard playing member Francesca joined Johnny on vocals to replicate the Kirsty McCall and Billy Bragg version of it. Unlike Francesca, Kirsty had not discovered both the Moped’s and Damned’s alcohol quota for the whole tour and drunk the lot. Over a very short period of time. On an empty stomach. This was not lost on Johnny as he dedicated the next track “Catatonic” to her. Johnny Moped are very much a Marmite/Brussel Sprout band. You either get them and get them big time or you wonder what the heck just happened. With the band finishing with the Roxy Album classic “Hard Lovin’ Man” I think the partisan Damned crowd got them big time.
For a 9 year period, The Damned were happy to rest on their laurels, to gig and tour without a new product to promote, knowing that their fans, like me, were all to easily appeased, happy to hear live material that was mainly recorded during the chaos years of 1976 – 1986. All that changed with the Fan Funded album “Evil Spirits”, which raised enough money to be recorded in NYC with Tony Visconti on production duties. Cited as being what “Phantasmagoria” would’ve sounded like had Captain not left and with “Black Album”/”Strawberries” era bassist Paul Gray returning it was a win, win situation. An album fans bought and an album fans wanted to hear played live. However, it was “Born to Kill” from the band’s debut album that kicked things off with the somewhat apt “Democracy?”, from the band’s 2001 album “Grave Disorder” following on. “Standing on the Edge of Tomorrow” was the first of 4 songs taken from “Evil Spirits”, but nothing from “Music for Pleasure”, not even “Stretcher Case”, nothing from “Phantasmagoria”, “Anything”, “I’m Alright Jack” (as if, but please) or even “So, Who’s Paranoid?”. Early fans might’ve bulked at “Grimily Fiendish” and “Eloise” but these tracks introduced a whole swath of new fans to the Damned and their back catalogue, in the same manner as “Love Song” enticed fans of the NWOBHM back in 1979, so their omission was puzzling. (“Alone Again Or” from “Anything” was added to later dates). Much has been made over recent years over the maturity of David Vanian’s vocals, but the surprise for me were Captain’s vocals on “Silly Kids Games”; like Vanian’s they have become much more measured, warming and fuller sounding. I only wish that the demo lyrics of “Balls to Monkhouse, fuck off Forsyth, piss off Parsons” would be reinstated and I’m sure, talking of original lyrics, during “Smash it Up” Dave sang “I don’t wanna end up like Rudolf Hess” but I could be wrong. Original Damned guitarist Brian James lives in Brighton, with Captain, just before playing the James penned tune “One of the Two” asking if he was in the audience and if he was “to get up on stage where he belongs” Sadly he wasn’t. The Damned 2018 come across much more professional, I, thankfully, can’t remember the last-time I saw Captain strip off, even if for “There Ain’t No Sanity Clause” the whole band sported Father Christmas hats procured from the local Pound shop. Travelling back to East Croydon Train Station the next day I spotted around the Haywards Heath area some fantastically wealthy looking houses that backed onto a lake with their own wood. Slap bang in the middle of this private arboretum, with no noticeable access, was a 1970’s caravan that looked like it was missing its Robin Reliant. The caravan, with its burst corners, looked like some invisible giant foot had exerted just enough pressure to “pop” it rendering it this way. For some strange reason, this totally summed up The Damned and Johnny Moped the previous day.
Pictures by kind permission from Jamie Macmillan Photos
Author : Armitage Smith