Gig Review: The Damned / The Nightingales – The Great Hall, Cardiff (31st March, 2023)

Rapidly approaching their 50th anniversary, The Damned still manage to pack out venues of the size of Cardiff’s Great Hall with ease. 1500 souls pack into the University building on a damp Welsh Friday evening. It’s a curious mix. The old school punks are in limited supply, the odd mohawk and some anti-establishment slogans on tees seems about the most extreme, whilst a large percentage of the males in the audience are dressed in polo shirts, turned up jeans and Doc Martens. There are those who saw the band in 1977, and those for whom this is their first encounter with the band. Throw in a few metalheads, and a wide range of music fans, and you have an eclectic audience who are intent on a good Friday night out.

The Nightingales © Paul Hutchings
The Nightingales © Paul Hutchings

There’s a faint whiff of recognition as The Nightingales stroll onto the stage. Three gents suited and booted, and a female drummer in sparkly boots. It’s the vocalist who is the main point of attention. It’s Robert Lloyd, who formed The Nightingales in 1979 and who was part of punk outfit The Prefects, who are third in the highest list of sessions played on the John Peel Radio Show (just behind The Fall and Half Man, Half Biscuit). The Nightingales have a lengthy history, splitting up in 1986 before reforming in 2004 and releasing a slew of albums and singles since.

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It’s fair to say that much of the crowd are unimpressed, with little applause between songs and the level of chatter at the back and sides of the venue challenging the post punk on stage. Lloyd doesn’t appear to care, with little interaction with the audience noted. He’s an interesting figure, almost aloof to the point of disinterest, although he does manage to whip out a harmonica and kazoo at times. Alongside him at the front of the stage, drummer Fliss Kitson (ex-Violet Violet). She’s perhaps the most animated, not only with her irregular patterns but regular backing vocals that provide a contrast with Lloyd’s lower level delivery.

Tucked almost out of sight is guitarist James Smith, who rarely looks up, and on the other side bassist Andreas Schmid, who is as focused on his bass as Smith is on his own instrument. The band play 11 songs over their 45 minute set, before leaving to polite applause. I’m not sufficiently knowledgeable about the band to know whether this was their usual delivery, but if so, they are a band who are an acquired taste.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen The Damned. 2009 in fact, supporting Motörhead in the now defunct Newport Centre. The band are regular visitors to Cardiff and South Wales, so it’s somewhat remiss of me to have waited 14 years to catch them again. They are worth the wait.

The Damned © Paul Hutchings
The Damned © Paul Hutchings

No indifference from the audience as The Damned hit the stage. Monty Oxymoron and Paul Gray are followed by Will Taylor and Captain Sensible, dressed as always in trademark red and white stripped tee and red beret. The band kick into “Street of Dreams” as singer Dave Vanian makes his entrance.  They spread their catalogue across the evening, but concentrate early on a high percentage of new tracks  (nine in all I think) from forthcoming album Darkadelic including already released singles “The Invisible Man” and “Beware of the Clowns”. The audience is a little subdued, unsurprising given that only two of these are currently available. It’s a brave move, but although there is a little restlessness, a Damned crowd is generally appreciative and supportive.

There’s plenty of opportunity for the crowd to get involved though, with much noise and jumping as staples including “Waiting for the Blackout” and “Born to Kill”  take many of the audience back to a different time. It’s a fact that many here were here for the “old stuff”. That a band like The Damned have the guts to not only continue to record but play a huge slab of a new album so far down their musical journey speaks volumes.

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There’s not a huge amount of banter with the audience, although Vanian and Sensible clearly retain that early chemistry between them. The whole band is at ease, confident, and polished. It’s smooth; a long 22 song set which seems to race by. Sensible acknowledges that time is catching up; “Anyone 68 or older?” he asks. “We used to offer a pensioner discount!” He laughs: “We’d be fucked if we did that now. We wouldn’t make any money!” Despite their age, Vanian is now 66 with both Gray and Oxymoron also qualifying for bus passes, there is no shortage of energy. Gray is content to stride back and forth, but Sensible and Vanian are restless blurs of motion for much of the evening.

As much as the newer material is appreciated, it’s a night where nostalgia rules, and the response to “Love Song”, “Second Time Around” and a raucous “Neat Neat Neat” all confirm that it’s the older numbers that really get the crowd going. The band return to the stage for their biggest hit, their version of Barry Ryan’s “Eloise”. Inevitably, the old school purists turn their noses up at this a little, but are soon smiling again as “Smash it Up” gets the venue pogoing once more. The Damned may not have the rawness they had in their pre-gothic days, but as  the crowd lose their marbles for one final time to the concluding song “New Rose”, it’s hard to argue with the fact that they are still a fantastic live act. Maybe I won’t leave it quite so long before catching them again.

The Nightingales: official | facebook | twitter | instagram

The Damned: official | facebook | twitter | instagram | spotify | youtube

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