Damage - Manchester M.E.N Arena - 15.6.02

If there's one thing I hate about being British its that celebration of mediocrity which seems to be drummed into us from day one and at the moment seems to be the prevailing cultural movement of this generation. Everyone must have sat down at least one point in the past few years and asked when did pop music become so bland that the likes of Westlife and Will Young are hailed as the best of British while the true talent has its degree of success, yet never seems to be part of the nations consciousness. I say this because tonight were watching Damage - a band who truly have proved their worth constantly over the past decade, but who have had to struggle every single inch of the way to get their music heard and are currently in the process of looking for a new record deal.

Again supporting Gabrielle, after their successful tour last year at the end of last year promoting British Soul, they truly are out here doing this for the fans. In a world where tour dates are booked around the release of your latest single its good to see a band who work by old skool rules of simply performing for the simple pleasure of spreading love and good vibes through the power of music. And love and good vibes is what its all about tonight as the beats kick in for "Ghetto Romance" and Noel Simpson, Rahsaan J Bromfield, Andrez Harriott, Coree Richards, Jade Jones hit the stage. It's R&B perfection and while Damage may hail from North London they can cut it with Usher, R Kelly or any of their American counterparts with ease...and this is just a support slot as well.

Following a few choice cuts from the Since You've Been Gone" album, Jade announces "Were going to be something a little bit different now" and before I give them chance to answer thoughts are whirling through my head. Full on garage anthems, stripped down acoustic harmonies, maybe bring on James from Starsailor as they've been promising for the past 12 months. No, its better than than as I spy the Noel, Russ and Andrez walking over to the guitars, keyboards and drum kit set up behind them. Not only do they sing, dance and look fantastic they've added the fact that they now all play instruments to their bow of many talents - 15,000 women swoon while the men simply shrug and realize however much time they gaze in the mirror they're not going to compete with Damage tonight. During "Diamonds & Pearls" the guys debate whether you can buy love or it's simply a case of good old fashion lovin' that wins over the ladies. Of course when you're Jade Jones its not really a case of winning over the ladies, more of how you're going to fend them off with a stick.

And then the highlight of the night comes with the new track "Scum". A dirty sleazy bass line while the guys place the cross-hair over everybody who had put them down over the years and told them they'd never amount to nothing. This is what real soul music is about and shows that the guys are maturing from good old fashioned lovin' to hopefully a direction which will take them down Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" via a touch of So Solid Crew UK realism.

Now is the time to choose whether you want the bland or the brilliant. I don't need to say why we need a group like Damage because if you've read this far you'll know already that the world would be a far duller place without them. You can sit there a celebrate mediocrity all you like but its getting to the point where parents will actually be complaining that music was much louder in their day and how culture seems to be bland. When that starts to become a possibility its time to celebrate our true British heroes and at the moment we need to look to the likes of Damage before its too late.

Alex McCann

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