Director: Wes Orshoski
Writer: Wes Orshoski
Starring: Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible, Rat Scabies, Brian James
Duration: 110 mins
BBFC Certification: 15
The Damned were one of the originators of UK punk, playing alongside the Sex Pistols and The Clash. They released the first UK punk single, first UK punk album and were the first UK punk band to tour the USA. However, they never had the success and critical plaudits that their peers did. This was due to a combination of bad luck, multiple line-up changes and a stubborn refusal to ‘play the game’.
Formed in 1976 by lead vocalist Dave Vanian, guitarist Brian James, bassist Captain Sensible, and drummer Rat Scabies, the Damned released New Rose followed by their debut album, Damned Damned Damned, in 1977. After the poorly received second album, Music For Pleasure, James split up the band not expecting the other three to reform a few months later. With Captain Sensible moving to guitar, the new look Damned released their best album, in this reviewer’s opinion, 1979’s Machine Gun Etiquette. The Black Album and Strawberries followed, and after solo success with Happy Talk, Sensible left the band. Vanian and Scabies continued with a revolving door of musicians eventually disbanding in 1995. In the early 2000s, Vanian and Sensible put together a new line-up, which continues to make albums and tour to this day.
Directed by Wes Orshoski, who also directed the documentary Lemmy, The Damned: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead starts out as a standard biography, showing the origins of the band alongside archive footage, band members and musical contempories (including Lemmy, The Clash’s Mick Jones, Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra and Billy Idol among others). There is also a lot of recently shot live and backstage footage.
As good as the film starts, the second half feels disorganised as the linear timeline is rejected and the narrative flits back and forth between the years. There is some good interview footage, with Orshoski managing to get the usually reticent Vanian to open up (slightly). It’s obvious Orshoski is a student of music and it’s history, and he is keen to learn more about where the band members come from. Captain Sensible is the star of the show, moving from humorous stories (including one about his time as a toilet cleaner and how he had to remove a persistent deposit with a knife and fork!), sadness and regret about the band’s bad luck and an unfortunate lingering animosity towards Scabies.
It may have it’s flaws, but Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead is a well directed labour of love for the director which finally tells The Damned story the way it should be told. Hopefully, a new generation music fans will discover The Damned and the influence they still have on music to this day.
The Damned: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead is distributed by Platform Entertainment.