If you ask most people what was the first single released by a London punk band you’ll likely hear the Sex Pistols mentioned most often. But in fact the first single to be generally recognized as UK punk is ‘New Rose’ by The Damned. Here they are, in a video that looks like it was shot inside a graffittied phone booth:
The Damned were indeed one of the earliest punk bands, forming in 1976 and releasing the first UK punk album, Damned, Damned, Damned. They were formed when drummer Rat Scabies and guitarist Brian James invited two singers to audition for their new band: Dave Vanian and Sid Vicious. Only Vanian showed up so he got the gig. They added their mate Captain Sensible on bass and became The Damned.
Punk was new in those days and despite the image we have of the Sex Pistols, a mohawk or safety pin in the face wasn’t a requirement. Dave Vanian was a full on goth before such a thing really existed, you might say he invented or at least popularized the look. This lip synch of ‘Love Song’ proves that in the early days of punk you could have a guy in a fur suit and bowler on guitar, a bass player in a trucker hat and Count Dracula on vocals:
Unlike a lot of punk bands, The Damned weren’t really political. They just sang about the same things rock bands have always sung about: rebellion, love, angst and just the sheer joy of rocking out.
The Damned have had their ups and downs over the years, weathering the ’80s and ’90s, still performing with various lineups but always including Dave Vanian and usually one or both of Rat Scabies and Captain Sensible. A few years ago a wistful Craig Ferguson presented them on his show with Vanian looking dapper as ever, complete with a monocle.