As a huge fan of the Eighties, it is fair to say that my familiarity with music from that decade can sometimes border on the obsessive. From stellar writers and performers such as Elvis Costello and Paul Weller, to the cheesey tracks that drove us all crazy (St. Winifred’s School Choir’s “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma” immediately springs to mind!), if it relates to the 1980s, chances are I know some weird and wonderful fact about it. My brain is crammed full of 80’s trivia I’m often not even aware I possess, until it sneaks out in the guise of “interesting fact” or a quoted lyric I feel to be pertinent to the conversation (some, nay most, friends may disagree with my interpretation of pertinent!). If the discussion happens to actually be about music, rather than one I am attempting to steer that way, as is my habit, then so much the better.
It was during one such chat about music, that I recently discovered a gaping hole in my knowledge of the era’s sounds. When a friend stated that his favourite band of all time was The Damned, I was at a bit of a loss how to respond. Of course, I remembered their 1986 hit “Eloise”, and then managed to dredge “Grimly Fiendish” and “Is It A Dream?” (both single releases from the 1985 album, “Phantasmagoria”) from the recesses of my mind, but that was all I had. So, when he offered to educate me in the melodies of Mr. Vanian and Co., I jumped at the chance.
As the CD I had been given began to play in my car stereo, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My recollections of The Damned were of a band that was almost a parody of Gothic culture. I needn’t have worried, as any preconceptions I may have had quickly evaporated, shortly after the first track had begun. What I should have been worried about, was the fact that a band like The Damned had previously bypassed me! As the hauntingly exquisite “Sanctum Sanctorum” resounded throughout my little Suzuki, I found myself on an emotional rollercoaster of angst and elation, the intensity of which I had not experienced since my teenage years. Seeing as I went on to play the song on repeat for half a dozen times, and have been loath to stop playing it since, it also appears to have made me revert to teenage behaviour (let’s hope the acne and door-slamming tantrums don’t return too!).
My reaction to “Sanctum Sanctorum” is similar to the first time I heard Ultravox’s “Visions In Blue”, on their “Quartet” album, thirty years ago. I will always be able to recall exactly where I was the first time I heard both songs, so profound has their effect on me been. The whole of “Quartet” was played excessively during my youth, but “Visions In Blue” was played so much, the vinyl on that track eventually became unplayable. That one song led me to become a big fan of Ultravox, and resulted in me owning every album and single they released. I can feel myself going the same way with The Damned, and have already begun to negotiate my way around their wonderfully diverse back catalogue.
Whether it is the theatrical drama, comparable to a contemporary Rachmaninov composition, of “Beauty of The Beast” (from the 2001 “Grave Disorder” album) or the student band charm of the lyrically questionable “Shallow Diamonds” (from the 2008 “So, Who’s Paranoid?” album), with lines such as “compressed carbon is what they are, no more use than a candy bar”, I am having a lot of fun discovering this “new” band. The excitement I feel when listening to some of The Damned’s tracks is something I thought had deserted me at the end of the Eighties, and with more material for me still to uncover, there is plenty to look forward to. Although I have a sneaking suspicion that, as is often the case with the first exposure to any band, nothing will be able to surpass “Phantasmagoria” for me.
So, it is only right that I should end this piece by saying a huge “Thank You” to my friend, for bringing The Damned into my life. Not only have you led me to discover a new musical passion, you have made me feel like a teenager again, and that is no mean feat!