Wes Orshoski: The Damned: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead

Documentary on ‘the first English punk band’.

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The Damned were the first UK punks to release a single and album. They’re also arguably the longest-lasting, although not in their original iteration.

In fact theirs is a tale of two factions, with Dave Vanian/Captain Sensible in one corner and Brian James/Rat Scabies in the other, as director Wes Orshoski demonstrates superbly in this documentary, featuring numerous top-name talking heads, including many of the American hardcore bands (Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys, Ian MacKaye of Fugazi) who were influenced by The Damned.

The film reaffirms the band’s importance after decades of being seen as a camp-punk novelty, and also explores the reasons for their split in two, with episodes both comical and poignant. It’s an unexpectedly moving account, one that sees the totemic Scabies reduced to tears at one point.

Indeed at a Q&A following its London screening, attended by Scabies and James, the former responds to an enquiry as to when these “perpetual juvenile delinquents” might re-form with a question of his own: “Do we really want to wait till one of us dies before we get back together?” The cheers from the audience provide the answer, and prove the enduring appeal of this troubled quartet./o:p

Paul Lester is the editor of Record Collector. He began freelancing for Melody Maker in the late 80s, and was later made Features Editor. He was a member of the team that launched Uncut Magazine, where he became Deputy Editor. In 2006 he went freelance again and has written for The Guardian, The Times, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, Classic Rock, Q and the Jewish Chronicle. He has also written books on Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Bjork, The Verve, Gang Of Four, Wire, Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, the Spice Girls, and Pink.