The cover you won't see - spot the deliberate mistake?
If you're a regular or even occasional browser of this blog, one name you may have noticed popping up on repeat play is that of The Damned. I've been a Damned avid since bagging Love Song in '79 - then absorbing the albums and submerging slowly into the tunes 'n' chants atmosphere of their supercharged live sets. I've given The Damned a lifetime of unconditional support and they've never let me down. Not one howler of an album, never a half-hearted performance or limp squib of a gig - from my first (their fifth Anniversary gig at the Lyceum '81) - to my latest (their 35th anniversary at The Roundhouse last month - review here..)
Punk was the poisoned apple that tempted me away from our long-held, stately family favorites: Elvis, The Beatles, disco, budget pop comps - luring me into a songbook of short, sharp shock-rock. The Sex Pistols were the atomic-age sonic blast that had already levelled everything by the time I clambered aboard the bondage bandwagon. But The Damned were different. By Love Song they were in their mark 2 lineup, reformed, re-energized and expanding to fill the new wave void – adapting, exploring, colonizing and cross-breeding with punk's inspirations and influences to create strange new worlds. It was a now-wave experience that unfolded in real time for both of us with me buying every new release and press piece on the day of release.
Four years and four albums on from the 30 minutes of slab-handed riffing compressed into the debut album, Sensible, Scabies, Vanian and Gray unwrapped The Black Album - a double LP set and a journey through a multi-mirrored hall of pop, punk, and psych to the centre of the album's dark heart - a 17 minute epic Curtain Call, that presents The Damned's widescreen genius at it's most progressive and polished.
In a thirty five year career that collects most of punks 'First Place' medals, sets the tempo for US punk, pre-dates and preempts several 80s fads and fashions - the business end of the back catalogue: the albums, singles and supporting tours - have never had the financial underpinning or safety net of any major label investment. All of which for my record vouchers - makes The Damned the Greatest Indie Band of All Time…
So to be offered the opportunity to do 8 pages on them and their 35 year career of Anarchy, chaos and destruction is a teenage dream achieved. A huge thank you is due to all at Vive HQ :Eugene and Jim for the full bodied support and advice. And to Damned members past and present Captain: Rat, Brian James, Paul Gray - for their hours, answers, honesty and accessibility.
Due to space restrictions - not all of the interviews could be squeezed into Vive Le Rock and what lies below are the out-takes and extras. Think of them as a side salad to main course available in issue 5 of Vive Le Rock.
So Damned fans and perhaps non-Damned fans, buckle up and behold the untold tales from The Damned Reunited.....
'I just thought, well - you have to stretch yourself'
Captain with The Damned at Croc's Boxing Day 1983
Expanding on the MGE template, the Black Album is widescreen listening that no one else (certainly punk bands) were doing then - and is almost a template for the 80s psych revival and Goth. Were you deliberately distancing yourself from Oi and contemporary punk of the time or was this an album that evolved in the studio
I just thought, well - you have to stretch yourself, do the best record you can so if the progsters of the early 70s could do a whole side of an album containing one epic song then why couldn't we. When Dave came along with Curtain Call that plan went very much into action. After all night brainstorming sessions for about 5 days the monster lurched into life. We couldn't believe what we'd created ourselves when we played it back. Epic stuff.
For a band themselves with the line 'anarchy, chaos and destruction' and were notoriously boisterous - the Black album is self written and self produced - you must have been fairly disciplined for these sessions
It has to be said that because of our reputation the label was not inclined to put us in the studio without someone to keep an eye on us - which is why we found a producer called Alvin something or other sitting in the Rockfield control room when we strolled in. He didn't last too long because if I remember correctly after disappearing for a band meeting we marched back in, Mr Vanian having a black cloth over his head, which harked back to the so called 'good old days' when that would be an Old Bailey judges attire on announcing an execution. Alvin scarped sharpish I can tell you - and we were free to make the record WE wanted with no A+R influence whatsoever. I wonder how many studio sessions are done like that these days…… not a lot I imagine. If Chiswick records thought we were going to get up to no good they were absolutely right, but we confined all the dodgy activities to outside the studio environment which was one of our better ideas from that period I'd say. The night time recording scenario was very productive as that was when the ideas would flow and we pretty much recorded until we dropped. It was anything goes too, searching for weird and wonderful sounds and harmonies because as we'd already made a few noisy albums we didn't care to repeat ourselves. Low boredom threshold and all that. Particular favorites were the Hammond Organ, Tubular Bells, Harpsichord and a Sitar…. in fact I had recently purchased one of those and on completing the album I watched as the roadies tied it to the side of the Luton van telling me that they were determined that nothing untoward would happen to it on the way back to London. Apparently it wasn't going to move… solid as a rock, etc. The mistake they made was in not securing our 4 by 12 Speaker Cabinets in the same fastidious fashion as, being on wheels one of them crushed my beloved sitar to smithereens as they took the first corner on leaving the bloody studio. I don't know, eh….
Were the glasses and hat a guard against the gob
Thankfully that doesn't happen any more. I blame J Rotten, the butter salesman.
You seem a very accommodating chap teaming up Magic Michael, Crass, Charlie Harper – but who would your ideal team up be with?
We all do things outside the band - Dave Vanian has been doing TV and film soundtracks, Pinch produces library music for TV use over in LA, Monty has rapidly released 2 quite unusual solo albums while I have been lucky enough to be asked by my mate guitar maestro Tony McPhee to do some recording on a forthcoming Groundhogs album. Backing vocals, a bit of bass and some Mellotron - don't mind if I do. Well, I was brought up on the glorious 70s sound and in particular the 'Hogs Split album so I understand the music pretty well. And making a record with your hero feels pretty nice too I must say. What's the story behind the Magic Michael single? Described by NME writer Nick Kent as "Ladbroke Grove's answer to Wildman Fisher" we'd met Michael at Stiff Records where he was attempting to get a record deal, like a lot of other eccentrics who couldn't find a home at a 'normal' label and saw a potential home on Jake and Dave's pirate ship. When he DID eventually get someone to put him in the studio he very kindly asked for us to be his backing band - AND we got paid too. In fact, a darned sight more than we were getting at Stiff Records, but that's another story. When he played us the 2 songs we were pleased to hear that they were blooming' good tunes and that fact, added to the fact that the bloke could definitely sing leads me to guess that it was his left field personality that prevented him becoming a success. I loved that Portobello scene though - the Pink Fairies, Magic Michael, Lemmy, Viv Stanshall. What a bunch of sweeties indeed!
Does being a multi instrumentalist broaden you song-writing and - what's your benchmark i.e. this song/album got to sound as good as...The Damned seemed write a huge quantity of high grade material: double album, great B-sides, single only releases and side projects. But there are hardly any studio based or leaked demo's. Did only the strongest songs make the grade - and what goodies are unheard in the vaults.
Well, I can play a few instruments a BIT….not great but enough to get it down on tape…… even if it IS take 23 or whatever. It enables you to get the parts down that YOU want…. as you hear it in your head. Sometimes that's great, other times it's self indulgent. But there's nowt wrong with a bit 'o that in my book. The Damned had eclectic tastes music wise…. Gong, Olivier Messiaen, Burt Bacharach, Sweet, etc and the trouble with having spectacular record collections is that you tend to be extremely critical of your own work. So loads of demos got rejected - I still have some cassettes from back in the day - unused tunes in various stages of completion and listenability. Our quality control worked well.
Even from the earliest days the Damned songs have featured some fiddle fingered riffing and later Santana and Floydian style solos (not tunes for beginners to learn in anyway) , thumping drummers, and a singer that can actually sing - do you think the musicianship of the band gets overlooked
Looking back on it the initial punk boom was a golden period for UK music…. bands like the Only Ones, Wire, Buzzcocks, UK Subs, X Ray Spex… all of them with their own take on the punk thing. I'm more than happy to be in that company. We were lucky to have the services of probably our generations best singer in Mr Vanian and the rest of us could play a bit too. Possibly why, even after the intervening years we still have a solid reputation as a live act. I do think that the breadth and diversity of the original '77 bunch in their sound and outlook is interesting though, especially when you compare it to the homogenized punk thing that emerged a couple of years later. Not that there's anything wrong with that but we always said the 1st rule of punk is there is NO RULES. Do your own thing.
In amongst the jangle-pop and punk of Strawberries there are some deliberate political finger points Thatcher, Reagan and animal rights something you’ve maintained since what made you go public on politics
Politics is too important to leave to a bunch of corrupt, career politicians on the make. How unedifying is it watching them jump on the gravy train one by one after they leave office…. a nice fat cat directorship maybe, for services to the same corporation they gave an easy ride to when in Government. It's patent cobblers and makes for a more interesting lyric than 'I Love You Baby'. Not that there's anything wrong with that it's just we've heard it before somewhat. And I honestly think if people knew what went on in abattoirs a lot of them would give up eating meat. Absolutely ghastly. And cows and chickens are lovely creatures too, with proper individual personalities and all that. They deserve better than what happens to them.
Was it frustrating that the era when you left The Damned - they had their greatest mainstream success
Well, I was off doing my own pop career in Europe mainly so I was quite pleased for them in a 'I knew there was hits in this band all along, despite the knockers' kind of way. I physically couldn't cope with the 2 careers - it was hectic and exhausting - and they had an able and talented replacement in Roman Jugg anyway. It's just tragic that Eloise didn't get to No1….. Wasn't it was some horrible novelty song kept them off the top spot too? Disgraceful!
The two newer albums have some of The Damned's strongest songs and performances - when can we expect the next one - or how about a Damned do covers' What would be on your list..
Yes, the current lineup are scarily good on their day and can pretty much improvise at will, which is how I always judge the merits of an act when I'm in the audience. Another recording excursion will hopefully happen… maybe something different next time. Covers might indeed be fun. I've revised my idea that the Damned should re-record the WHOLE of the dark masterpiece that is the Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request album. I now feel that EVERY BAND should remake the whole thing…. I'd like to hear Muse's version of 'Gomper' wouldn't you? How about Coldplay tackling 'Sing The Song All Together' with it's free and rather stoned sounding jamming. Robbie Williams would be a shoe in for 'On With The Show' though, eh? Maybe somebody should tell him. What would we cover? 'Twilight Time' by the Moody Blues, the Pirates' Shakin' All Over, maybe even attempt a Glitter song. Well, if you ask me it's a real shame we don't hear that unique double drum kit Glitter beat on the radio anymore. After all…. they still play Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis for crying out loud. Given that almost every band or musician has a book out (if not biopic film) and
The Damned were one of the first original Brit-punk bands, have an incredible back story and are still very much an active unit - surely the time is right for some critical revision or a band biography (or film) documenting the untold tales of The Damned
Yes, that's not a bad idea. It's a bloody good story including some fairly over the top escapades. I'm not sure I'd want my kids to watch it though.
'I don't call myself a musician - I call myself a drummer'
Rat with The Damned at Crocs September 1983
How did you pick up on punk and the developing scene
I only really liked playing fast songs. In fact I got thrown out of bands for not wanting to do soppy covers... Brian James was the most innovative guitarist of that punk generation. When it came to the punk style of playing he tipped it on its head, there was nobody doing what he did In a way
The Damned were almost a band of four frontmen
Absolutely! That was part of the problem,
Sid Vicious and Dave Vanian were both invited to audition weren't they - It would have been a completely different story (for you and him) if Sid had got the gig - how do you think things would have played out if he had joined
Disaster, tears and bloodshed - who knows?
Would you say being a drummer gives you a different temperament from other musicians and is having that energy/temperament something that draws you to the drums
I always wanted to be a drummer from when I was 8, when I got my first kit. I just always liked that sound
Do you lock in with bass player.
No forget all that of that bass player shit. The guitar is what I play with - that's the generation I'm from. Townshend and Moon, Hendrix, page and Bonham. It was drummer/guitarist combinations were groups that I listened to. So with Brian's style of playing and my style of playing, whoever was on the bass we wanted to anchor it down.
The speed and energy of the first album is on MGE but also some colourful production touches and a real sense of fun that one else was doing.
We used to like having fun. We were very careful about what we did and the notes that went down and getting that right. But when it came to doing vocal over dubs, a few beers later - you'd get the legendary okapi chorus. Who came up with the okapi line? I did. We used to play a game in the band called 'Scabies Unbelievable Lies' I used to tell the band things and they used to have to decide whether they were true or not. And I told them about this animal that lived in the jungle and was a cross between a giraffe and a zebra - called an Okapi. Nobody really believed me, but they liked the word so much, we used it all the time... Synchronistically enough, years later - working with a band called Flipron - the singer Jesse told me it was his grandfather (a Victorian explorer) that discovered the okapi
The albums still sound fresh today. They haven't dated and sound timeless if not better than ever.
Yeah we didn't really know what we wanted anyway - I was used to going into a studio and coming back and being amazed how different it sounded
In 18 months The Damned had written and recorded two albums (one a double) with the Black album expanding on MGE and were sounding unlike any other ‘punk’ band We had a lot of things going for it. I always made sure there'd always be something going on, so I'd always have an idea even if it was something ridiculous - like Take Me Away. The important thing was we kept on going. We were very lucky in that Captain's got a brilliant sense of melody - that helped a lot. You could go in with a rough idea - Curtain Call or Stranger on the Town, Dave would sit down with Captain and work out the notes and get it in the shape they wanted and do the vocal lines. We quite liked our audience so we liked doing a chorus they could join in with. It was always a good thing live - and it makes exciting listening. We were always very aware of the audience, but were always aware we weren't that great a band. We'd go out and play live, listen back to some tapes - and it didn't sound anything like the record. We'd go and see other bands and they did sound just like the record! We thought that was very boring anyway. We realised every week there was a different group that went into that town and played at that venue, and really we weren't able to be that kind of live band, but what we were able to do was get drunk, be raucous and go for it. So in a way it made the gigs a spectacle, people would go away and talk about it - the gloves were off. There weren't many bands that engaged with the audience in the almost music-hall chants banter or even meeting the audience
I remember going to Hammersmith Palais (83) and you were at the bar chatting with the fans
I was never afraid of our audience; they were pretty much the same as us, and that whole Rod Stewart - arriving in a limo, surrounded by security. First of all we couldn't afford that sort of thing (laughs) but really there wasn't any difference between us and the people coming that were to see us. It was never at a point where I felt we were better than the crowd, or we were getting too hassled by our audience. They're the ones that are paying for it, it's part of the job. If the public pay your wages - you're public property. It's a strong back catalogue.
There's no fat on the albums, the B-sides are great. But is there any material in the vaults.
No I think pretty much everything’s emerged now. Ace Records (bless 'em) used to rent a little 8 track studio, so we'd have the place for a few weeks and everyday me and Captain would go in and we'd always come out with at least two or three ideas. We were lucky that we were able to do that, but I think everything's emerged. Some of the stuff ended up being used as masters - like Just Can't Be Happy Today was a demo. When we went in to re-record it, we just couldn't get that same kinda thing happening, but we really liked the demo, so we just took the tapes and worked over the top of that.
Outside of The Damned you were doing production: The Satellites, Victim
Anybody that would let me go into a studio with them - I used to love going in, just so I could learn the process of what everything did, what a reverb does, how compression works. I was quite lucky because other people paid for my education. Even acting with Breaking Glass I don't think that was acting, that was director saying 'just go mental Rat and here's some money'
Were you tempted with anymore parts
I don't think I work well enough to do something like that. When you meet people that can act and watch them do it, and suddenly realise there's a whole part of your personality that you just turn on and make it much bigger - it's a bit weird. I don't mind do doing presenting, like the Holy Grail thing.
How did Naz Nomad happen
Because of Captain, he was off busy Happy Talking and we just couldn't get hold of our guitarist. He was always away and too busy to do Damned shows, and we didn't have any money. Everybody was into the Pebbles and Nuggets thing, somebody said maybe we should take on another identity while the Captain's busy. Roger Armstrong offered to give us a few quid to go in and make a record for a while until things had calmed down for the Captain
Any plans for a Naz reunion
It would be fun, we're all knocking on a bit now but, we are still alive and able to play, and I'd hate to be standing over somebody's grave teary-eyed - saying ‘you know what, we should've done that reunion tour’. I'd like to do it, because it’s something I did and I’m part of
With Phantasmagoria, there must have been some stability and security being with a major.
I always thought it was our last chance. Which I suppose it was - our last shot. When it came to make the Anything album, we'd been on the road for 18 months, but to be honest there's nothing like 6 months on the dole to help you write an album Was the pressure on We'd been on the road constantly and we’d been working constantly from when the album came out. And hadn't really had a chance to take a breather and enjoy it. There was too much money at stake for everybody I was getting very bored of the songs we were playing - after 18 months doing the same kinda tunes night after night they start to lose their gloss. We’d go onstage and I’d still sweat and hit hard but I wasn’t coming home feeling satisfied. So when it came to do the second album, we went in and did the usual thing but the band’s spirit was starting to break
So off the label and then Not of this Earth a few years later
When we broke up, I’d always had my eye on Kris Dollimore as a guitarist. I’d seen him play with The Godfathers a couple of times and really liked his playing and he always looked good, so I thought why don’t I put a band together. We were working together looking for a singer but nobody seem strong enough or if they were strong enough they didn’t want to do it. In the end, I thought Lets’ ask Dave if he’ll do it – so he came onboard and we did that album I wanted that record really to be the starting point for the album after, where we could write to together and function like a band It’s a great album I like it. There’s a lot of great stuff on it no New Rose or Smash it Up, but I’m quite proud of the work we did – I love that line up, it was really great to play with everyone was solid on it and knew what they were doing and if you drifted off to somewhere else they could go with you…
So the plan was to take it further, get a label
I thought now we’ve got the line up together, what we should be doing is working as band, putting ideas in - but it just got so difficult I figured I’ve had enough. I’ll write a book
It’s a great story to tell. Would you be tempted to do a Damned biography or your biography
No - I don’t think I’ve done enough. I’ve only been the drummer in a punk band
'Nothing beats The Damned'
Paul Gray and that jacket
What musical influences would you say you and other members brought to The Damned Captain and I were really melody merchants and shared a mutual appreciation of ABBA. I can remember playing ABBA stuff backwards on our Portastudios and finding all these weird melodies to nick. DV was obviously into the more filmic stuff that crossed over with the three of us sharing a love of 60s stuff - Nuggets and all of that. And rat and I were well into "Live at Leeds" and the MC5, so it gave it that anything-could-happen edge - quite a heady mix when you put it all together.
Far from being A.N Other bass player you were a core part of the team and a contributing songwriter. Were they receptive to your ideas and input.
They were, and they were all great, nothing was worked out in advance, one of us would come up with something and we'd all dive straight in with our respective styles. The Black Album especially was a hugely creative time and there were no boundaries - we were beholden to no one but ourselves, so anything was fair game. My bass playing just seemed to fit right in with Rats and Captain’s style, and Dave was a great singer to play off too - I've never traded off another singer melodically like him, he provided me with a lot of possibilities to bounce of his style of singing. And I’ve said it before and I'll say it again - I've never played with a better guitarist or tunesmith than Captain either.
For a band that tagged themselves as 'anarchy, chaos and destruction' and were notoriously boisterous -the Black Album is self written and self produced - the band must have been fairly disciplined for these sessions
Disciplined? You gotta be kidding - well maybe in a very bohemian way. Quite often me and rat would be heading to the studio in the morning and pass CS and DV on their way to bed. How the hell Hugh Jones the engineer kept it together - I don't know. He was a mere shell of himself by the time we'd finished. but we knew we had something special. And it was always about the music above whatever other shenanigans were going on. We really lived in a world of our own making.
You had a great motorbike jacket with white trim on it - do you remember where you bought it - have you still got it?
New York I think, and no its long gone, although perhaps I should have kept it under my bed like all the stuff a certain ex drummer is knocking out on eBay these days ;)
I understand you bought a Rickenbacker bass from Martin Gordon (Sparks/The Jets) have you still got it - and you were one the first revive the Rick sound - why these over Fender
The Rick is a very personal bass and one I have an immense affinity with on every level - its look, playability, sensitivity, sound etc. Takes a lot of work though, to get it just right, there are so many possibilities. It’s a bit like that rare girlfriend where everything fits, if you know what I mean. Martin’s rick lasted a good few years but eventually succumbed to the usual twisted neck which they're particularly susceptible too. The one I have now is the exact same year and colour, 1974. Fenders? dime a dozen. Nothing exciting about fondling a Fender! Not that I've ever found, anyway...
There are some stealthy Beatles-ish runs in Billy Bad Breaks, was Macca an influence on your style
No, and he was one of the few bassists that used a Rick and made it sound not like a Rick. As a bass player how easy was it to lock in with Rat's rhythms and style.
On Strawberries you've got separate writing credits - why is this
Erm - ask Rat. I remember stepping off a plane at Gatwick from holiday and buying the NME and reading that I'd been sacked. I was bit surprised about this as you would imagine. It so happened that the rest of the band knew nothing about it. As far as I'm aware they didn't know anything about the change in writing credits either...
There was brief but bloody Damned reunion live in 96 - you even wrote Spider and the Fly with a view to it being a Damned track - was there a long term plan or talk of a new album around this time
Yeah I knocked up quite a few Damned type tracks, probably the best I've ever written - when I wasn’t a member! The reunions - with Rat everyone was skirting around each other so the vibe was pretty dreadful. It was all very Machiavellian. I hardly saw the others save being onstage or at the airport. After, I'm not really sure what went wrong, there was a lot of treading water and no real direction from what I remember. Having managers who had no idea how to manage didn't help.
I caught you live in Southend with Captain last year when the Glitter Band cancelled and you did an improv double-set (plus a guest appearance from Barrie Masters) - what a gig. What was your take on the night.
It was as it should be, as all the Captain gigs are - great songs played really well with everyone grooving!
The full Damned Peel Session from 76 with Peely intro's and outro's
Sensible, Scabies, Vanian - Paul Gray and Roman Jugg at The Ace in Brixton