When punk burst on the scene in the mid ‘70s none received more recognition than the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Ramones. Although punk progenitors The Damned hardly received the recognition and praise of their contemporaries in the mid ‘70s, they have proven just as influential. The Damned is a name on the list of bands from the UK that would influence and define generations to come. Lead singer Dave Vanian’s love affair with vampiric stage costuming coupled with his use vivid gothic horror imagery in his lyrics set the band apart from bands like The Jam, and The Buzzcocks, while their fast-tracked highly energetic songs embraced the punk aesthetic.
Getting their start in ‘76, the outfit consisted of Vanian, guitarist Captain Sensible, Rat Scabies on drums and Brian James as second guitar. Playing their first gig supporting the Pistols at the British club The 100, The Damned cultivated a sound and released what is hailed as the first punk single “New Rose,” in Oct. of ‘76. The following February Damned, Damned, Damned hit shelves marking another milestone in the punk scene. Although that record is noteworthy in its own right, it was only after a brief stint apart resulting in the departure of Brian James, that the band really came into their own sound. Machine Gun Etiquette, is a blend of punk-psychedelia pop tunes that really defined the sound of The Damned.
The band would go on to release music throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s returning in the 2000s with Grave Disorder and So, Who’s Paranoid. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Damned, Damned, Damned and the band is fully charged and ready for the world tour. The current lineup includes Vanian, Sensible with the addition of Pinch, Andrew Pinching, on drums, bassist Stu West and Monty Oxymoron on keyboards. Metrosphere had the chance to chat with Captain Sensible via email, where he recalls nostalgic memories of the early days, life on tour and what is next for The Damned.
M: How is the current tour going?
CS: The gigs are fun, and traveling to new places can be very illuminating. Tells you things about yourself, and by comparison with wherever you are about your hometown too. My recent trips abroad suggest Britain is comprehensively f***ed.
M: After 40 years what keeps you going?
CS: We never made enough cash to retire to country estates… We are still hungry and have something to say. Even if it is just being brutally honest when doing interviews. I just can’t stand all those bands that say nothing at all except how great their new album is. What a wasted opportunity.
M: What are some of the hardships of touring this time around?
CS: There’s two chaos merchants in The Damned… myself and keyboardist Monty. We should be employed to road test equipment, because anything we’re given ends up broken within a couple of days. But that’s the poor old crew’s problem, whereas all we have to worry about is whether our preferred tipple is available backstage.
I’ve stripped the guitar rig down to Dunlop wah, preamp (TC Nova System), Marshall power amp and speakers. There’s no pedal board for the singer to dance over and demolish… which used to happen all too frequently.
M: What are some of those rituals/regimes you have while touring?
CS: As soon as we hit town the band all head in separate directions, as we are living on top of each other day in day out. Bassist Stu will be out taking photos of trains, trams… whatever’s available. He gets published in UK railway enthusiast mags. Monty will search for vinyl records, Pinch a Tiki Bar, while if there’s an aviation museum Dave will be there like a shot. For me it’s about the food, so I check trip advisor for veggie restaurants.
M: Do you have any fond memories of Denver?
CS: I remember getting smashed at the Falling Rock Taproom, where there is this long LONG bar with pumps all the way along. I thought it might be a good idea to work my way through the lot of them, a glass at each tap. Luckily it was after the show as I ended up quite a mess.
M: Crowds are different around the world, where are fans most eager to see you? Does that affect where you prefer to play?
CS: No, touring is a big adventure, it’s good that it’s different every night, and the venue affects the show as much as band or audience. Some rooms have awful acoustics – I hear it when the supports acts are playing and think, why don’t the owners acoustically refurbish the place? Luckily we have one of the best live sound mixers in Britain with us. The audience can influence the show with a well timed heckle between songs… which we actively encourage.
M: What are some of the most memorable moments on the road?
CS: The Stones sending beer and cakes to the venue on our first trip to New York was a nice touch.
Falling off stage and breaking my ankle somewhere or other was not so good.
Jamming with Sky Saxon from the Seeds was amazing… “Pushing Too Hard” has a reasonable claim to be the first ever punk song.
And the stage invasion in Phoenix has gone down in Damned history as one not to repeat as anything grabble left the venue, including guitars mics, various drums, etc.
M: As time passes songs songs change and mean new things, what are some of the different meanings you have behind some of your earlier work that is different from when you wrote them?
CS: Although I was brought up a Catholic, so know a little about all that, these days we usually introduce our song Antipope as an equal opportunity anti religion song… we’re not fond of any of them. But you’d expect that from the Damned, I’d guess. I’m an atheist and would prefer to live in a peaceful world – it makes my blood boil to see politicians and the media use religion to excuse armed conflicts.
M: The punk movement overseas was created out of necessity, a way to communicate the frustrations with the government at the time, what parallels do you see in punk (or other) music now?
CS: ‘70s Britain was very class structured – we were supposed to know our place and not have ideas above our station. Punk said to hell with all that – use your anger and creativity to fight your way out of all that. Everyone has some kind of talent within, turn off the TV and find it. That’s as true now as it was then.
M: As a “band of firsts” how do you keep the legacy going?
CS: We’re very tough when it comes to choosing what material gets used… I have Pet Sounds and Sgt Pepper in my record collection. There’s no crap on those albums and I’m going to make sure none gets on any Damned records. I have shelves full of demos that didn’t quite make it…. and if used would’ve doubled our tally of albums. But undoubtedly diminished the quality.
M: How has the band-members solo careers, ventures outside of the band (while broken up or not), being married etc… affected the approach to the music?
CS: Dave has an occasional band called the Phantom Chords.. while I dabble in psych tinged pop when not with the Damned. It’s the collision of his darkness and my light that you hear when we collaborate. We are opposites in so many respects.. not just music, and on paper you’d say it’d never work, but onstage there’s a kinda magic.
M: Is there a concept or main focus on the music you’re making now?
CS: By listening to our previous albums, it’ll be evident we don’t care to repeat ourselves. Each one has a different vibe. So new direction is important, while retaining the essence of the Damned. The energy, passion, melody… and that important touch of melancholy.
Lyrically? Well the world is a petty mad place at the moment so there is no shortage of topics to rant about.
M: What has inspired the creation of this record?
CS: The spotlight having swung our way seeing as it’s punk’s 40th anniversary has led to all sorts of interesting offers… one of which is to make a special album to mark the occasion.
M: How was the process for the current record different from the previous ones?
CS: We’ve acquired a manager who told us about this Pledge Music thing, which I’d no idea about, but when told it allowed us to make the album we wanted to make… without a record label bloke watching over your shoulder, I was there. So we can pretty much do what we like – which in the 80s would’ve meant getting comprehensively sloshed and wrecking the studio and getting thrown out of a few along the way for those sort of capers. Probably not this time though being considerably older… and marginally wiser.
Pinch, Stu and a Monty are such great players though… they’re going to get a chance to flex their muscles musically. This is a band that can break out of a song structure and really jam it up.
M: What is the future of The Damned?
CS: We’ll do it while it’s still fun… but being of ‘a certain age,’ I’d say the big tours are unlikely to happen again, so anyone who wants to catch the Damned in Denver, this may be your last chance.
M: What current music are you listening to?
CS: Ganglion Reef by Wand… phenomenal psych pop, and they’re out there gigging now.
The Best Of Sly & The Family Stone, r&b with a tinge of Burt Bacharach. Wonderful. El Perro Del Mar, self titled, beautifully melancholic pop from Sweden.
The Damned are in Denver April 19 at the Summit Music Hall. For more ticket information click here.