The Damned live at Newcastle University, probably 1988*. A small and intimate venue, like a school assembly hall, with a low stage, and the barrier to the backstage area made only of tables – I sat on one, plastic beer-glass in hand, and watched the band walk in only a few feet from me, close enough that I could see Dave Vanian’s make-up. Captain Sensible had recently rejoined the band after going solo, so it may have been a small reunion tour.
Raucous, disorganised, sweaty, standing-only, it was all that a punk gig should be. A few times the Captain flung his famous beret into the crowd, and it was thrown back with a cheer, but then one time it didn’t return. The Captain waved and shouted, but still the cap was chucked from hand to hand in the crowd with no-one returning it. The show stopped.
The Captain appealed to the hilariously drunken students who made up most of the audience, but it had become a schoolboyish game by now, and a chant started, to a Conga tune: ‘The Captain wants his HAT BACK, the Captain wants his HAT BACK, na na na na, OI! Na na na na, OI!’ Laugh-your-arse-off funny at first, but increasingly uncomfortable as Sensible refused to play on without his cap. The rest of the audience getting bored, the rest of the band looking fed-up.
The proper punk response to the snatching of the beret would have been to dive headlong into the crowd and wrestle it from them, with much swearing and mild fisticuffs. Failing that, he could have smashed his guitar on the stage and stormed off. Instead, the once-iconic, one-and-only, once-in-a-lifetime headcase that was Captain Sensible stood on that amateur stage like an ineffectual supply teacher, saying “Come on guys, it’s not funny. Give it back and we’ll get on with the show, OK?” Disappointment seared our teenage rebellious hearts. Punk would never be the same.
(* My memory is possibly playing tricks here. I did see The Damned at that venue in Newcastle, but I also saw them at the Hummingbird in Birmingham (or was that The Mission? Good God I’m getting old. Maybe it was Nottingham Rock City), and a couple of other places, so it may have been a different gig where the Captain lost his beret, and his credibility. I have the clearest memories of the physical surroundings of the Uni gig though, so the story works best for me there. Anyway, it all happened, wherever it was.)