JOHN WALTERS: That was October ’76 when we took that first step [of playing punk on the programme], but then the Damned did come in in November and do more of a sort of straight punk session: and jolly friendly pleasant boys when they came! I was a bit apprehensive, but the session they did for us then, was very short sharp numbers…but they afterwards went on to be a kind of psychedelic band: they changed completely. But did you feel that those very early sessions were perhaps nearer to what punk was about?
JOHN PEEL: Well, I like the fact that some of the bands, after they’d recorded the sessions (and, of course, it’s easy for me to say this, because quite clearly, I’m not involved, and, as it were, my career isn’t anything to do with this)…would break up, feeling that, having recorded a Peel session was as far as they wanted to go: or sometimes they’d just make a record, and, once the record had been played on the radio, again, they would break up, feeling that that was enough: and I quite like the idea of that, because, for something like 6 or 7 years prior to the advent of punk, we’d rather suffered from the fact that we were caught up with a number of bands who clearly saw what they were doing as part of a lifelong career structure that was going to take them into old age, still churning out the hits…
The punk attitude seemed to be entirely appropriate, where being in a band and making records was only part of an entire lifestyle, rather than being just an end in itself: it was something that people wanted to do, but having done, would then discard. And I like that idea. [Peeling Back The Years, 1987]
As a demonstration of this ideology, Walters then played an excerpt from the session recording of Neat Neat Neat (FF 1977 #41). The Damned seemed destined to follow the rest of the early groups that JP was talking about into punk archival oblivion. Their original line-up lasted only two years before their second LP Music For Pleasure was a commercial and critical disaster and original guitarist Brian James (all the band had a.k.a.’s: his real name was Brian Robertson) left the group, leaving Dave Vanian (David Lett), the lead singer, Captain Sensible (Raymond Burns) and Rat Scabies (Chris Millar) in limbo. However, they were the prime energy that moved punk into the limelight: they released the first single clearly idenitifiable as punk, New Rose (FF 1978 #13, 1979 #10, 1980 #8, 1981 #12, All-Time 1982 #13, and All-Time 2000 #39), had the first album out (Damned Damned Damned), and the first to tour the USA, where their fast tempos are said to have inspired hardcore punk (Jeff Nelson from Minor Threat described them as ‘the punk Beatles’, although The Boys were also saddled with that label at one point). Their dark persona , with Vanian usually dressed as an anaemic vampire and Sensible in a dress picking fights with the audience led indirectly to the Goths of the 80s. Listening to those early songs still gives a shudder of excitement and a strong clue as to why Peel got so excited about their new sound and its visceral mixture of clashing chords and thundering drums.
True, the opening line of New Rose was borrowed from the Shangri-Las, but the context had changed: an earthquake was erupting, and not in Orange Street. Their 1980 Christmas shindig is over here.