The Damned returned to High Wycombe for the first time since their infamous appearance at The Nag’s Head in October 1976, with a headlining slot at the Town Hall on Wednesday 18th April 1979 – Support were local Chesham band The Beez plus up and coming West London punk lads, The Ruts. Auntie Pus, a one man target for verbal abuse from the crowd, was also on the bill for well attended Ron Watts promoted gig. However, the gig ended in chaotic scenes as punters were ushered out of the venue by the local police following The Damned’s refusal to leave after they claimed that former Manager Watts had massaged the band’s cut of the takings.
The Beez, who had first performed live in 1978, were playing their biggest venue to date in their short history after promoter Ron Watts had been impressed with the local following they bought along to a support slot at The Nag’s Head on 8th March 1979.
Their debut single ‘Easy/’The Vagrant’ – on their own Edible records label – was set for release around the time of this gig and they went down well enough with the expectant crowd that evening to be called back for an encore.
The Beez confirmed set-list from my own records was:
- Without You
- The Vagrant
- Back Street Love
- Do The Suicide
- Something Wicked
- Get Ahead With The Feds
- All You Need’s A Brain
- Questions and Answers (Encore)
The Ruts’ appearance in High Wycombe came just as they were gaining a wider audience following the release of their ‘In a Rut’ single in January 1979 on the People Unite label and the constant championing of this track by John Peel on his BBC radio show.
The Ruts had appeared at the Town Hall back in October 1977 as support to Wayne County and ATV but barely drew a cheer from the handful of punters who had arrived in time to see the opening act. Less than 18 months later it was totally different story. A John Peel session from January 1979 featuring ‘Savage Circle’, Babylon’s Burning’, ‘Dope for Guns’, Blackman’s Pinch’ and ‘Criminal Mind’, would make much of The Ruts set that night already familiar to the crowd. Damned drummer, Rat Scabies’ guested on drums during Blackman’s Pinch (later renamed to Jah Wars).
The Ruts line-up that night at High Wycombe Town Hall was Malcolm Owen (vocals), Paul Fox (guitar), John “Segs” Jennings (bass) and Dave Ruffy (drums)
The Ruts confirmed set-list from my own records was:
- Savage Circle
- I Ain’t Sophisticated
- H Eyes
- You’re Just A..
- Something That I Said
- Blackman’s Pinch
- Criminal Mind
- Dope For Guns
- In A Rut
- You’re Out of Order
- Babylon’s Burning
The Ruts were called back for an encore and played ‘Human Punk’ – a crowd participation number where lead singer Malcolm Owen passed the microphone along the front of the stage. Most of the songs that night would feature on their debut album, ‘The Crack’ – released in September 1979.
Warming-up the audience up prior to The Damned was Auntie Pus (real name Julian Isaacs). He had been on the punk scene since 1977, playing a one-man old style rock ‘n’ roll guitar act. Essentially between each ‘song’ he would lead the chant of ‘off the stage with Auntie Pus’ – if the crowd didn’t join-in he would continue. This carried on until Ron Watts took the stage and asked the audience, “OK, let’s get rid of this c**t”.
His short ‘set’ included ‘Halfway to Venezuela’ and ‘Blues Suede Shoes’. Some of his recorded material would eventually be released in 1980 with Chris Millar (Rat Scabies) credited on drums.
The Damned had been on a roller-coaster journey since their arrival on the scene in the summer of 1976. They had played twice at The Nag’s Head in the autumn of 1976 – their appearance in October 1976 being their first ever headline slot at any venue but that ended in chaos.
They had released a series of singles and two albums before playing a ‘farewell’ gig at The Rainbow, London in April 1978. Leader singer Dave Vanian went on to perform with Doctors of Madness, while Brian James, Captain Sensible and Rat Scabies formed their own bands, Tanz Der Youth, King and White Cats, respectively. The latter saw Scabies continue his taunts of the High Wycombe crowd at a Town Hall gig in July 1978.
But The Damned would not die, reforming originally as The Doomed in late 1978 and then returning under the original name. The new look band would be minus guitarist Brian James – Captain Sensible taking over the lead guitar role and ‘Algy’ Ward on bass. 20 year old Ward had previously been in The Saints. They coupled with founding members, Dave Vanian (vocals) and Rat Scabies (drums).
Their return to the punk scene had gained them an ever increasing following thanks to their boisterous live shows but they were still finding their feet and new musical direction by the time of the Town Hall show in April 1979. It would be fair to say that many of the audience were there out if curiosity value, rather than their recorded out of the time.
It was therefore with a sense of anti-climax that headliners, The Damned, eventually took to the stage to the sound of the traditional version of ‘God Save The Queen’, – not The Sex Pistols version.
The Damned confirmed set-list from my own records was:
- Jet Boy, Jet Girl
- Teenage Dream
- Stretcher Case Baby
- Ballroom Blitz
- Born to Kill
- Melody Lee
- Problem Child
- Lookin at You
- Love Song
- So Messed Up
- New Rose
- Neat, Neat, Neat
The set was played through with barely a break to breath. ‘Jet Boy, Jet Girl’ saw Captain Sensible take vocals on a song to the tune of Plastic Bertrand’s 1978 hit ‘Ça plane pour moi’.
The gig preceded the forthcoming General Election by two weeks (3 May 1979) – by this stage it was widely predicted that a Margaret Thatcher led Conservative Party would run out victors – hence The Damned had their own eloquent way of predicting the future of the country – including changing the lyrics to Sweet’s ‘Ballroom Blitz’, to ‘Great Big Tits’.
The set also included their recently released debut on Chiswick Records, ‘Love Song’. On the 10 May 1979, The Damned would make their Top of The Pops debut as the song climbed the charts.
The Town Hall set would finish with their two classic punk singles, ‘New Rose’ and ‘Neat, Neat, Neat’ before the house lights were turned on and the punters ordered out onto Queen Alexandra Road.
An explanation of the chaotic nature to the end of the gig eventually came to light in Ron Watts’ book. Watts commented: “[The Damned] probably hadn’t forgiven me for the way our business partnership had ended three years earlier, refused to leave the stage and the caretaker of the hall called the police, who were stationed next door. They arrived and lined the side of the hall, with the band finishing sharpish and their fans filtering out, although by now the average age of a Damned fan was about 15 so there was never any danger of a riot ensuing. The band were on a percentage of the door take and reckoned I’d fiddled them, even attempting to sue me.”
Watts claims that the financial situation was eventually sorted out but it proved the last dealings he had with The Damned as a promoter – although Watts does recall meeting Captain Sensible over 25 years later at The 100 Club where he initially said; “That tosser from The Damned is here. If he wants a fight, he can have one.” A few minutes later they were chatting away ‘like old mates’, recalling those early pioneering days of punk rock.
For your listening and viewing pleasure
The Vagrant – The Beez – audio of debut single ‘B side
In a Rut – The Ruts – live in Paris 1980
Half-Way to Venezuela – Auntie Pus – audio of 1980 single
Love Song – The Damned – live on BBC Top of the Pops – May 1979
References and further reading: