Outside, it betrays its origins as the Regal Cinema, a stark, plain and grimy object from an era when people uttered the words â€śshopping precinctâ€ť as if such a thing were the height of sophistication, and thought nothing of stripping the old Palladium Picture Playhouse of its baroque Edwardian faĂ§ade. Inside, it is dirty and seedy, a big sweaty pit. Leather-jacketed goth girls in fishnets are selling fanzines. Carpets are sticky with beer (I hope itâ€™s beer). The crowd is a seething mass packed so tight it threatens to burst through the walls. An ever-present threat of violence. In 1983, cigarette lighters are for lighting fags, regardless of the hairsprayed, tinderbox of spikes sticking into your face, not for waving in faux-emotional, middle-of-the-road, Coldplaying sing-a-longs.
In 1983, gigs are lit by fury, not the glow of a mobile-phone screen.
I have never been in such a crowd before. I realise there is no way Iâ€™m going to get to the front. Years later, I will see photos of the interior of the venue, close-ups of its architectural details. Tonight, any such details are lost in the darkness.
This is the best imaginable venue, I think to myself. A perfect balcony for those taking it easy, a gently sloping floor for the more active. The acoustics at the rear of a cinema are just right, too â€“ engineers will tell you about the effects of a gently curving rear wall and a circle above and, tonight, you can genuinely feel it.
The air is thick with smoke, some of it legal, some not. The only people moving are the bouncers â€“ dangerous-looking men, some clutching small plastic bags of grass that they hold up to potential customers. You can hardly make out what theyâ€™re saying, but choose your drug, theyâ€™ve got it.
Iâ€™d known this place by sight from earlier visits to the area, and its status as the location for Channel 4â€™s Whatever You Want. Iâ€™d left school early, travelled fifty miles by coach, and made my way to south London. I was excited. Outside the gig, everything was as Iâ€™d expected: loads of scruffy, desperate-looking punks, then arty punks, then proto-goths, then old-school gig-going â€śleather jacket and combat trousersâ€ť types (probably all working in the City these days). Some waiting in vain hope of getting a ticket, some trying to blag their way in. Later, Iâ€™d read reports that 1,000 people were turned away; I was glad Iâ€™d got a ticket.
And this for a band who had been written off by critics five years earlier. If The Damned werenâ€™t fashionable any more, no one had told the crowds around me.
Now suddenly, the stage. It is time.
Noise strikes my ears. The crowd erupts. Thereâ€™s someone else up there too, on top of the speakers â€“ a man, half-dancing, half-crouching. Crouching so he doesnâ€™t lose his balance and topple down, or so his Mohican doesnâ€™t hit the ceiling, perhaps. Next thing, heâ€™s on the stage, being hustled away by bouncers.
Constant stage invasions by pissed punks follow. Dance for a few seconds, wait till the bouncer gets close, jump back into the crowd. People sitting on other peopleâ€™s shoulders, people walking across the crowd. Chanting. Screaming. Singing along. Band insults audience â€“ audience insults band. Blokes staggering out â€“ shirts in tatters â€“ eyes wide open, staring, get out of their way.
And then a crush. Not going forward this time, but coming back towards me. This isnâ€™t right. Iâ€™m pushed up some steps behind me. I can see two men on the floor below me now, fighting. Suddenly, one runs wildly into the crowd â€“ is that blood?
His opponent, now standing alone, a knife held threateningly in his hand. Two thousand eyes on him. The exit door opening. A gang of burly men pushing through towards him. The knifeman is wearing a familiar T-shirt, one that matches those of all the men around him. If bouncers arenâ€™t already scary enough, now theyâ€™ve started stabbing people. Word goes around: a drug deal gone wrong.
The men walk away as if nothing has happened. Their power goes unchallenged. The crowd fills the space and I notice that, amid the chaos of violence, the band havenâ€™t missed a note. And so it continues. More stage invasions and stage diving. Two encores â€“ three encores? Does it matter? â€śThree Years of Anarchy, Chaos and Destructionâ€ť, The Damned said; this is one hour of the same.
Three decades on, I know that it was probably the best gig I ever saw. The perfect band in the perfect venue for anyone not on the wrong end of a blade, on a March night in 1983, in Brixton, at The Ace.