About two weeks after The Damned played a sell-out gig at the 2,286 capacity London Palladium the man who gave birth to The Damned and arguably British Punk is playing 3 ½ miles South West in the considerably smaller basement of the Troubadour Club in Earl’s Court. That man, of course, is Brian James. Brian isn’t renowned for reeling off gig after gig in the same year. Normally, it’s just the one up at the 100 Club in July to mark the anniversary of The Damned’s first appearance there, but as John Wombat has just published his authorised biography of Brian, the subject matter is making an exception, with both before the gig signing the book and Brian putting his name to a veritable smorgasbord of memorabilia. Is it fair that Brian is consigned to such a small club whereas The Damned can play the likes of The Royal Albert Hall, Madison Square Gardens and The Palladium? The simple answer is no, but having been at the Palladium gig I have to say in all honesty Brian’s gig was what I want a Punk gig to be all about; people standing on tables, hands pressed against the low ceiling to keep balance and to get a half-decent view, with the line between band and audience blurred because everybody is on top of everybody else.
From where I was, if I’d had the devil in me, I could’ve put my hand out and detuned Brian’s Telecaster. Seeing Brian’s fingers almost drunkenly stagger across his fretboard with the strings vibrating unnaturally but still producing the most wonderful sound ever I caught myself muttering, as my jaw swung open, “Far. King. Ell”. Towards the end of the set when the opening chords of “I Feel Alright” rang out I had to look to see if the Ghost of Ron Asheton hadn’t descended onto the stage. The gig starts off with Brian playing a slow stripped-down drawn-out version of “Alone” that he tells us afterwards originally was written when he was in Bastard, his pre-Damned outfit. It’s not the first time Brian has reworked Damned songs in this manner as “Neat, Neat, Neat” got that treatment when played live in Tanz Der Youth. After “Walking About Naked” from his “Guitar That Dripped Blood” album and a blistering version of “Born To Kill” Alan Clayton, frontman with The Dirty Strangers, took to the stage to relieve Brian of vocal duties launching into Bo Diddley’s “Mamma Keep Your Big Mouth Shut”.
In the frontman stakes, Brain struck gold twice with Vanian and then Bator. Doing it for the third time I think is highly unlikely unless either Adam Becvare or Jake Hout wish to leave North America but Al, who pretty much is on home turf, knows how to work the crowd, welcoming everybody and then telling them to “Fuck off” with a huge grin on his face. His R’n’B vibe, when R’n’B actually stood for something good, is perfect for Brian’s live cross-section of a back catalogue that covers nearly all aspects of it; Damned, Solo, Lords of The New Church (Dave Tregunna was in attendance) and even The Stones get a look in, sadly no Mad For The Racket. Oh, to hear ‘Chewed Down To The Bone’ live and with his onetime London SS bandmates of Tony James and Brady in the crowd I wondered if they would join him for their version of “Fish”. Again this was not to be. However, author John Wombat donned a guitar for the set and show-closing song, “New Rose”. It was a perfect end to a perfect night.
Brian is in the throes of writing his autobiography that he hopes will be out in 2021. In conjunction with the publication, Brain told me he hopes to have his own anthology released that will collate his non-Damned and Lords works together, with some surprising additions. For me, neither can come soon enough.
Author: Armitage Smith