Three months into their career, The Damned stepped on stage at The Nag’s Head on Thursday 14th October 1976 to make their first headline appearance at any venue. By all accounts they didn’t fill themselves with glory as they subjected a rapidly diminishing audience to a torrent of abuse and then Manager Ron Watts threatened to get his shotgun if they didn’t behave.
Nag’s Head promoter Ron Watts had been impressed with The Damned after seeing them support The Vibrators at The Nag’s Head just a few weeks earlier. It prompted Watts to take on the management of the band. Watts recalls the decision to take on band management in his autobiography – 100 Watts – A Life in Music – “I managed the Damned for a while, right back when they first got started. Management wasn’t something I ever enjoyed but I did it as an occasional favour so I agreed to help the band out.”
However, after the band ended up in jail following a gig in Luton, their return to the Nag’s Head in October 1976 proved the catalyst for Watts and The Damned to go their separate ways. Watts was unimpressed with the attitude of his new band towards a sparse audience mixed between new punks and the Nag’s Head regulars. The bitching by the bands eventually drove the remaining numbers in the audience down to around 30.
Watts recalls the evening: “Brian James was trying to antagonise the crowd, shouting, “Call yourselves punks?” I’d had enough of this so I shouted back, “Keep it up and I’ll fetch me shotgun. We’ll see how much of a punk you are then.”
The events of that infamous evening were also reviewed by Jonh Ingham writing for Sounds magazine. His review was titled ‘High Wycombe – Village of The Damned’, where he said: “The Damned never do something simply if it can be accomplished with a grand gesture. They don’t ask for a beer, they scream for a blanket-blank beer. They don’t tell the beard ‘n’ denim set they’re antiquated or silly looking, they scream the most abusive sewage they can dredge up”. But Ingham was impressed with their musical output, commenting: “Musically, though, there’s no stopping them. Starting where ‘Search and Destroy’ leaves off, they smashed and stormed through an inferno of blazing numbers, ‘Neat, Neat, Neat’, ‘Born to Kill’, ‘So Messed Up, ‘Fish’, the energy level was phenomenal.”
Luckily for The Damned, Watts didn’t get out his shotgun at The Nag’s Head but by the next morning the two sides had agreed a parting with Jake Riviera of Stiff Records the new man assigned to try and control Captain and Co.
A week later The Damned released their debut single ‘New Rose’ the following week on Stiff Records – regarded now as the first ever ‘punk’ single in the UK.
It would be a while before The Damned returned to High Wycombe.
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