The Damned

From Academic Kids

The Damned are a rock band originally from the suburbs of London, England, formed in 1976.

The Damned were one of the original British punk rock bands. They have dissolved and reformed many times, and have incorporated many styles in their music -- most notably garage rock, psychedelic music, the British theatrical rock of Screaming Lord Sutch and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, and New Romantic. The Damned are one of the founders of gothic rock. In the phase of their career from roughly 1979 to 1984, they were also (uniquely among original British punk bands) foundational to the young American bands who created hardcore punk.

Members of the Damned were involved in the early pre-punk band, London SS, a unit that never played live, but whose members later helped staff The Clash, Generation X, and other original bands in the London punk scene.

The Damned played their first gig on July 6, 1976, supporting The Sex Pistols at the 100 Club in London. They were the first of the London punk bands to release a single -- New Rose, on the independent Stiff Records.

Original Lineup

"New Rose," The Damned's first single, remains a classic of early punk rock, described by one critic as "deathless anthem of nuclear-strength romantic angst untroubled by bad vibes." [1] ( It is a cheaply-recorded, but catchy and well-crafted pop song, 'punk' mostly in its volume and breakneck delivery. Vanian's deadpan intro--"Is she really going out with him?"--was later borrowed by Joe Jackson for the title of arguably his best-known song.

Their first album, Damned Damned Damned featured a stomping cover of The Stooges' '1970,' retitled 'I Feel Alright.' Scabies' powerful, Keith Moon-style drumming is prominent throughout. The Damned were not generally respected at this point, having been accused by punks of being opportunists and poseurs, and by the wider public of being one-hit wonders. The album, however, provided several more minor hits, and a crucial extra dash of credibility: Like the single, it was the first album released by a British punk band.

In March 1977 The Damned toured with Marc Bolan and T Rex on Bolan's final tour.

The Damned next recruited a second guitarist, Lu Edmunds, a move inspired in part by the ferocious dual-guitar attack of The MC5, but also reportedly engineered by Brian James in order to keep Sensible -- himself a highly talented guitarist -- on bass, where he wouldn't overshadow James. This expanded version recorded the second album Music For Pleasure, which was produced by Pink Floyd's Nick Mason and featured an appearance by free jazz sax player Lol Coxhill. The album flopped critically and commercially, drawing the near-universal critique that it sounded just like the first album, only toned-down and without memorable songs. It has gained partisans in retrospect, although for years the band would edit Music For Pleasure from their "official" discography, never playing any of its songs onstage.

James, until then the band's main songwriter, quit in 1978 (James would later co-found The Lords of the New Church). The band splintered, dodging derisive barbs from the music press; Scabies attempted suicide; and a complex series of brief side projects and solo recordings appeared and disappeared, making little impact.

The Damned soon tentatively reformed, blaming James for its decline and split, and performing at first as 'The Dimmed' and 'The Doomed' to avoid potential trademark problems. Sensible had switched to guitar and keyboards, and after a brief interlude with Lemmy Kilmister of Hawkwind and MotŲrhead recording studio demos on bass, the position was filled by Algy Ward, formerly of the early Australian punk band, The Saints. The weekly music press in London still considered the Damned a spent cartridge. The band recorded more demos, gained a deal with the strictly medium-hip Chiswick Records, and went back to the studio for an album, with the somewhat desperate notion that they had one chance remaining before being flung back into the London service economy (Sensible cleaned office buildings before 'New Rose' hit).

What appeared was a brace of rapid-fire singles leading to 1979's Machine Gun Etiquette, a radically more diverse and musically polished album than anyone expected, featuring a '60s rock slant (Farfisa organ is in effect in several songs), but with surprisingly strong and flexible songwriting -- and on the 'heavier' songs, an even more manic, full-tilt delivery than on 'New Rose.' The Damned had often been seen as a novelty act, but Machine Gun Etiquette forced critics and the public to make a reassessment. Sensible, at this point the band's main songwriter, emerged as a notable lead guitarist, easily the equal of many mainstream 'hot guitarists' of the '70s. Scabies had justifiably been called a great drummer since the band's founding, but with the arrival of Ward, a 'real' bass player, the band was now operating with a full, tight rhythm section, remarkable in its speed and power. Vanian's vocals, likewise, had expanded from the high-baritone barks of the early records to a range including a smooth, proto-Gothic croon. The press and the public reacted with astonishment, spinning a not-untrue Phoenix narrative around the band. British punk, circa 1979, was evolving into more progressive music (characterized by the Stranglers, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and many burgeoning post-punk styles), and the Damned had suddenly carved out a niche of their own -- a dark, melodic style, sometimes very fast (for the time), and often with very loud guitars, but also with an ability to play relaxed, almost atmospheric music with dominant keyboards.

A 12-inch single from the same sessions (Machine Gun Etiquette was recorded at Essex Studios at the same time The Clash were there recording London Calling; Joe Strummer and Mick Jones make an uncredited vocal appearance on the title track of the Damned album) was released later, and featured a version of Jefferson Airplane's 'White Rabbit' and a 17-minute song on the B-side, 'Curtain Call', with long passages of Prokofiev and Krautrock-influenced ambient sound. It was an explicit disavowal of many of punk's "rules", and came admidst the band's greatest success to date. Fans were, however, confused.

From the beginning of The Damned, Vanian had affected a vampire-like appearance onstage, with chalk-white makeup and formal dress. With the next album, The Black Album, the band turned into a proto-Goth ensemble, emphasizing Vanian's role over Sensible's clownish persona, with the rhythm section somewhat modifying their characteristic stoner-thug appearance (Ward had left at this point, to be replaced by the equally stoner-thuggish Paul Grey, formerly of the UK pre-punk band, Eddie and the Hot Rods). The medium remained (mostly) super-heavy, amphetamine-speed rock, but with increasing use of silence and musical 'space,' more acoustic guitar and keyboards, and a rising, dark New Romantic ambience. The Black Album is regarded as their musical peak.

After the subsequent (and more polished) 1982 album, Strawberries, and a brace of non-LP singles released by the band in absence of a record deal (in 1983-84), Sensible left to pursue a successful solo career. (Whereas with Spinal Tap, it was drummers that exploded, with The Damned, what exploded was record contracts. After the initial stint with Stiff, deals followed and collapsed with labels such as Chiswick, Bronze, and Big Beat with striking regularity).

The Damned had long been an influential cult band in the US -- beginning with their 1977 US tour, which inspired many later-notable bands in both New York and Los Angeles -- and the remarkably fast tempos of many of their harder-edged songs of the period between Machine Gun Etiquette and Strawberries, including 'Ignite', 'There Ain't No Sanity Clause' and 'Therapy' (the latter was essentially a slightly faster rewrite of Machine Gun Etiquette's 'Melody Lee'), influenced many of the younger US punk bands, circa 1980, who were starting to play what would later be called hardcore.

After Sensible's departure, Vanian's Gothic influence took over unimpeded. A contract appeared with MCA, and the successful Phantasmagoria album followed. The next album was a one-off side project featuring Sensible on guitar -- a soundtrack to an imaginary '60s movie called Give Daddy the Knife, Cindy, with the band billed as 'Naz Nomad and the Nightmares'. This album of '60s covers was popular despite limited distribution. But Phantasmagoria's official followup, 1986's Anything, was another critical and commercial flop, ending the band's record deal and original run.

James rejoined temporarily for a few live appearances, some of which appear on 1989's Final Damnation.

The Damned have remained active to the present, usually centered aroud Vanian and Sensible. New releases appear every few years, while the band has spent most of the ten years between 1996 and 2005 doing periodic tours. Patricia Morrison, previously of The Bags, The Gun Club and The Sisters of Mercy has played bass during this period, and is married to Vanian. They have a daughter, Emily, born Feb. 9th, 2004.




  • New Rose, 1976
  • Neat, Neat, Neat, 1977
  • Stretcher Case Baby, 1977
  • Problem Child, 1977
  • Donít Cry Wolf, 1977
  • Love Song, 1979
  • Smash It Up, 1979
  • I Just Canít Be Happy Today, 1979
  • White Rabbit, 1980
  • The History Of The World, 1980
  • There Ainít No Sanity Clause, 1980
  • Lovely Money, 1982
  • Wait For The Blackout, 1982
  • Generals, 1982
  • Lively Arts, 1982
  • Dozen Girls, 1982
  • Thanks For The Night, 1984
  • Grimly Fiendish, 1985
  • Shadow Of Love, 1985
  • Is It A Dream?, 1985
  • Eloise, 1986
  • Gigolo, 1987
  • Alone Again Or, 1987
  • In Dulce Decorum, 1987
  • Fun Factory, 1991
  • Prokofiev, 1991

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