The Damned: Captain Sensible Talks About 35th Anniversary Tour
As The Damned prepare for their 35th anniversary tour, during which they’ll play the whole of both Damned, Damned, Damned and The Black Album, Captain Sensible has been talking about the iconic band’s past, present and future.
Here’s what he has to say:
Why have you chosen to perform both Damned, Damned, Damned and The Black Album in their entirety?
“For 35 years in this band of oddballs and eccentrics you deserve a medal…and there were times when we lived life close to the edge. We are celebrating survival here (as a band and as live human beings) as much as the music, but when it came to a set list these two groundbreaking albums were the obvious choice.”
Has there been any problem rehearsing the songs or getting the tour together?
“Ha ha, funny you should say that, because as soon as we started rehearsing The Black Album material we realised what a job we had on our hands. In three years since New Rose kickstarted the UK punk scene we’d come a long way as songwriters, and the likes of Curtain Call and Twisted Nerve still present quite a challenge, especially if you want to stay faithful to the original.
“As for the tour schedule, and being a bit more mature these days, we are never going to hit the road for months on end like the glory years so apologies if we’re not playing everywhere people want us to.”
How does gigging them now differ from when you were originally promoting the albums?
“On the 80s Black Album tourm I seem to remember we dressed these three raunchy punkettes as dancing nuns for the original tour. Gyrating suggestively and occasionally flashing the audience – it gave the performances a theatrical edge that none of our contemporaries could compete with… they were VERY naughty ladies – it was a VERY fun time for the band.
“In Curtain Call‘s autobiographical lyric Dave (Vanian) sings about a “Reckless gambling pace” , which is fair enough because we’d bet on absolutely anything; from whether we could record a song in one take to the exact time the wheels of the plane would hit the ground. Some of the band made a few bob on this wheeze when we flew.
“And we used to drink all day too back then, especially when travelling to gigs at that time could be quite variable depending on the state of the band when they turned up at the venue. These days it’s quality rather than quantity on the beverage front, so performances are consistently much improved overall. And I enjoy the shows more knowing I’m playing the right chords. A couple of posh ales usually suffices.”
With Damned, Damned, Damned you’ve got the first UK punk album that’s full of guts and The Black Album represents the birth of goth. How did the punk fans take to the new sound? And do the goths like the punk classics?
“You’ll have to ask them. Seemed to work though, but sometimes it’s a challenge to balance the set list. Easy at Whitby Goth fest though. Just nix all the thrash and replace with dark matter.”
You were the first UK punk band to hit America, what were those gigs like?
“Rough and ready, sleeping on other bands floors after getting thrown off the Television gig and hastily arranging a gig, so we could try and earn the airfare home. Crossing Rod Stewart off the guest list (he could afford to pay). Getting thrown out of the Whisky A Go Go in LA for drinking too much whisky. I ask you!”
For your second album, Music For Pleasure, you originally wanted ex-Floyd man Syd Barrett to produce the album. Did you manage to have any contact with him? In the end you used Nick Mason, what was that experience like?
“For a punk band to have anything to do with Pink Floyd, who at the time were doing huge stadium gigs must’ve seemed like insanity, but their genius ex leader Syd Barrett was the one we wanted to produce a punk / psych hybrid second album. He never showed of course, so that project was shelved until Etiquette, which really has some epic moments that Syd would’ve liked I’m sure. The improv sections in Antipope and Looking’ At You spring to mind.
“Nick Mason was a nice enough bloke, but it wasn’t a meeting of minds and to be honest, I wouldn’t mind MFP getting a remix by someone who understands garage music a little better.”
Music For Pleasure didn’t do so well, and you called it a day, only to reform. What made you decide to have another go?
“DV, Rat (Scabies) and myself had not been receiving the songwriting royalties that Brian(James) as main writer had and thus we were broke. So we arranged a couple of gigs for some much needed dosh. I changed back from bass to guitar, which was my instrument in previous band Johnny Moped, and our mate Lemmy completed the line-up on bass. Apparently (according to Lem) we messed up the one Motörhead song we attempted. Oops.”
When you got back together, James – who was the main songwriter on the first couple of albums – had gone. Did you have a plan or were you bricking it?
“Without Brian’s songs I think the rest of us were expected to disappear fairly sharpish, but in one of those unexpectedly lucky things that happens around this band occasionally we found that we all had a knack for songwriting. And from then on the problem was which ideas to leave out rather than where’s the material coming from.
“After our less than rewarding experience with Stiff Records, we were loathe to sign with another small indie label, but Chiswick said you don’t have to do an album unless they got Love Song in the charts, which somehow they did. So we gave it another go, and we’re still going..”
On his TV show, Marc Bolan championed punk, and in 77 you supported him on tour, what was that like? Was it a good mix?
“Perfect – he liked punk (unlike some other rock stars), we liked him. He souped up his set so our crowd dug what he was doing, and the Damned’s theatrical tinge appealed to his audience too.
“Bolan was a nice bloke and his band of session guys were a laugh too. And Herbie Flowers showed me how he played the bass on Walk On The Wild Side. Both bands had a big final 10 minute jam in Portsmouth on Get It On. It was chaos if I recall correctly.”
Looking at pictures from the 70s, with the Captain’s beret and bright clothes and Vanian’s chalk white face you seemed to keep away from the stereo-typical punk image, was this a conscious decision?
“Yes, I would generally wear white or coloured clothes to contrast with the others, in particular DV and Brian James. But you’re wrong, there was NO stereotypical punk look until the second wave of punk bands, like The Exploited, etc.
“The class of 77 (76 actually) looked nothing like each other. Clash, Stranglers, Pistols, Buzzcocks, Damned. All had their own looks and none are stereotypical punk.”
As mentioned, the Black Album represented the birth of goth. What was the idea behind the change in style?
“We were all writing, and when we brought our demos to the table Mr. Vanian’s had taken a sudden lurch to somewhere altogether darker. His imagination was working overtime, and it became a real pleasure to help arrange the pieces when we started the sessions at Rockfield Studios in Wales. A total creative workout for all involved, and we had some fun with the locals too when we took the odd break and popped down the pub. Some of them thought Dracula was in town – especially when Dave borrowed the horse and went galloping around the place with his cape flowing behind him.”
You’ve all dipped your toes into different musical ventures – your solo career and Punk Floyd, Vanian with Phantom Chords, Monty’s experimental jazz – what makes you come back to The Damned?
“The audience, who have supported this band through thick and thin. The records are nice and everything but it’s all about doing it live and that’s thankfully something we are not bad at. The fans can be quite entertaining themselves too, and that’s nice for us. Keeps it fresh.”
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to a young David and Raymond (the Captain’s real name is Raymond Burns)?
“I got the best advice in the world in 1980, when an ear specialist told me to get rid of the huge amplifier I was using and cut the stage volume dramatically. It saved my hearing.
“Advice I wish I HAD been given? Don’t buy a motorbike (I had a bad smash), don’t expect to get stinking rich… just enjoy the experience. It’s a privilege to twang a guitar for a living anyway.”
Why do you think there is still such an interest in bands from the UK punk era?
“Because you cannot beat thrashing drums, cranked up guitar and an impassioned vocalist giving it their all, as though their lives depended on it. Some cracking songs came out of the UK punk era too. I always play Into The Valley when DJing. What a song.
“There were some wonderful characters as well. Jimmy Pursey, Charlie Harper, Lydon, Moped, etc. These people have boundless energy too, you’d still get worn out after a few hours with either of them.”
Do you have any contact with James and Scabies? Do you think you could ever play with them again?
I can’t remember what the disagreements we had in the past were about anyway, so why not? They’re both great players but if there WAS some reunion then the set list would be severely limited to the first couple of albums.
“However the current lineup is also exceptional, and never fails to deliver. Pinch , Monty(Oxy Moron) and Stu (West) are genuinely Damned in character and musicianship, and have contributed Grave Disorder and So, Who’s Paranoid to the discography. These albums contain our heady mix of alternatively dark and melodic tunes and if not on ITunes can be got hold of from officialdamned.com or captainsensible.com.”
Has anyone claimed that you’ve been an influence that’s surprised you/you’ve been embarrassed about?
“I suppose you’re talking about people from famous bands who dug us – Noel Gallagher, etc and a bunch of big US punk outfits. I tend to like the fact that Damon Hill and Jo Brand have attended gigs. They’re very welcome to come again sometime too. Oh, I think Morrissey likes us as well.. good luck to him!”
What have been your career highlights?
“Just being on TOTP was good enough for me. And Meeting Fluff Freeman and Jimmy Savile. Wonderful eccentrics. Not arf, guys and gals.
“Seriously though, many people tell me how much joy the band has brought into their lives over the years so it’s real nice to know that it was all worthwhile after all that we’ve been through.”
What does the future hold?
“No idea…. The Damned is a rudderless pirate ship plundering various territories seemingly at random. And that’s the way we like it. You never know what’s round the next corner. Maybe a nice chap offering a multi million pound record contract – or possibly a maniac with a chainsaw. That’s life in the Damned, I’ve kinda got used to it.”
Tags: Brian James, Buzzcocks, Captain Sensible, Charlie Harper, Dave Vanian. Rat Scabies, Herbie Flowers, Jimmy Pursey, Jimmy Saville, John Lydon, Johnny Moped, Lemmy, Marc Bolan. Fluff Freeman, Monty Oxy Moron, Motorhead, Phantom Chords, Pinch, Pink Floyd. Nick Mason, Punk Floyd, Rod Stewart, Sex Pistols, Stranglers, Stu West, Syd Barrett, Television, The Clash, The Damned