When punk exploded in London, one of the igniting factors was the onslaught of arena-sized dad rock. The punks perceived bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead and a host of other huge acts selling out arenas and charting their albums as mutant incarnations of everything that was wrong with music. Those band championed musicianship and pure artistry over connecting with their audience on anything visceral from their real lives. It was here that punk erupted.
Bands like The Clash, Sex Pistols and, arguably, one of the best of the group, The Damned, moved to make music that shook the very soul of their audience in the quickest and cheapest way possible. Songs with noodling solos and aggrandising drum fills were soon sent packing as the punk rock revolution preferred three-chord firestarters capable of burning the entire music scene to the ground. Both the classic rock bands and new punk acts were operating in the late seventies but rarely did their paths cross.
There was one iconic gig in 1977 that saw the convergence of two powerhouses as The Damned, performing at the punk mecca Roxy nightclub, were berated by Led Zeppelin who were in the audience attending the show. When we say ‘Led Zeppelin,’ we actually mean that The Damned were on the end of a volley of abuse from Zeppelin epic drummer, John Bonham. Accompanied by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, the trio made their way through the disgruntled crowd to watch The Damned, a favourite band of Page’s.
Bonham began sending shots at the punk rockers after their first set had ended. In fact, he jumped on the stage and started berating the band while they recuperated off stage, ready for their encore. The drunken drummer was at a critical point of his own career, when the balancing act of being in Led Zeppelin and the heinous hedonism it promoted began to shift and leave Bonham in a mess. The vision of Bonham stumbling on stage to throw shade at The Damned is a sad one.
“John let out a tirade of abuse at [The Damned],” Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock told John Bonham’s brother Mick for his book John Bonham: The Powerhouse Behind Led Zeppelin. “He was shouting, ‘Where’s the fucking band gone? They’ve only been playing for 15 minutes. We play for three fucking hours because we’re real men and not a bunch of wimps. Where’s that Mouse Scabies?’”
Speaking of The Damned’s drummer Rat Scabies, Bonham seemingly called the entire band out for their miserly set. To put it into context, Led Zeppelin were famed for their monstrous sets, with Bonham even providing his own drum solos that could sometimes last for half an hour at a time. When you consider The Damned’s songs were largely around three minutes long, the drummer’s comments make more sense. Bonham seemingly forgot where he was and that, at a punk show, a set that lasts more than an hour is a terrible one. Scabies was hesitant to return to the stage, and that saw Bonham threaten to play his own set.
It was at this point that the audience began to turn on Bonham. His work with Led Zeppelin as their furious percussionist had graced him with some favour, but after his tirade of abuse, the audience readied themselves for action. Led Zeppelin members and entourage tried to hook Bonham off stage but to no avail. Speaking with Rolling Stone, Damned lead singer Dave Vanian remembered the event: “All the punks were throwing things at [Bonham], and he was very, very pissed. Unfortunately, he didn’t manage to play very well and made a bit of a mess of things.”
Andrew Czezowski, who founded the Roxy club, remembered the furore surrounding Bonham’s attempts to hi-jack the gig. “He had to be dragged out of the club.” Luckily, the rest of Led Zeppelin were perfectly well-behaved and enjoyed their time out of the spotlight. Jimmy Page would note The Damned as one of the pioneering figures of British pop culture, and it’s hard to disagree.
Watch The Damned play ‘New Rose’ to a rabid audience in 1977 and try to imagine just how unwelcome John Bonham was when he made his attempt to gatecrash a Damned gig.