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MUSIC INTERVIEW: The Damned

OKAY, let's start with a quiz question. Who recorded what is generally regarded as the first punk single? The Sex Pistols? The Stranglers? No, it was a band made up of David Letts, Brian Robertson, Chris Millar and Ray Burns.

Never heard of them?

Okay, what if I say Dave Vanian, Brian James, Rat Scabies and Captain Sensible? That's better – it's The Damned!

Cap, as Captain Sensible is generally known, says: "I've been a Captain for over 30 years; I should've been promoted by now."

The band, who are touring in May and June, has had a long and eventful career.

Their early career was a catalogue of firsts. The first punk single (New Rose) in 1976, first punk album (Damned Damned Damned) and they were the first punk band to play the US.

"That was a great time," remembers Cap. "A lot of bands felt threatened by us – bands like Yes and Genesis didn't like us at all. But the Stones loved us.

"When we played New York for the first time, they sent champagne, cakes and hookers to us. Thanks, Mick!"

Their gigs were frenetic affairs and as a live band they had a great following, however it wasn't until 1979 that they first made the charts with Love Song, although their albums fared better.

"I think that the reason we didn't have any hits at first was because they didn't get played on the radio." He explained.

"Our first album was very raw and underproduced, although I'm very proud of it now. Damned Damned Damned has such an exciting sound. We were actually ahead of the game and were much faster than other bands. I remember when we did a John Peel session for Radio One, the control room was full of people wanting to listen in. We had a manic energy that shocked people."

In the 80s, the Goth image came to the fore and they began to show that, unlike many of their 'new wave' contemporaries, they could actually play.

Sensible had a solo contract also at this time and scored a surprise Number One with Happy Talk from the musical South Pacific.

"I became the most unlikely pop star in Britain, 'cos I was still a yobbo then." says Cap.

Finally, the strain of two careers took its toll and he left The Damned.

"It was so knackering. I'd do TV-AM in the morning, fly off to do some TV in Europe and then get back to play a Damned show at night. Something had to give and I ended up choosing the one which made the least dosh."

The group then entered their most commercial phase and they had eight consecutive chart singles, starting with Grimly Fiendish in 1985 and ended with In Dulce Decorum 18 months later. Eight hits in 18 months – that's a pretty good strike rate.

In amongst the octet of hits was the cover of the Barry Ryan 1968 hit Eloise which reached the dizzy heights of number three in the charts, and the magnificent Alone Again Or – a cover of the Love classic.

The band split again whilst the band members pursued other projects before reforming again in 1995. Then would you believe, they split again, before Vanian and Sensible got back together a year later.

"I went to see Dave Vanian with his other band, The Phantom Chords and we were talking afterwards and he said why don't you come back? So I did."

Since then, the band has toured pretty much constantly and today's line-up is Vanian on vocals and theremin, Sensible on guitar, Monty Oxy Moron on the keyboards, bassist Stu West and Pinch on drums.

Their most recent studio album, 2008's So Who's Paranoid,was particularly well received.

"Everyone's really liked the album – well, nobody asked for their money back anyway! The same went for the tours." says Cap.

"We're lucky to be able to do what we do; we must be doing something right."

The Damned's first album took eight hours to record and mix, how long did this one take?

"Just over three weeks," 'Cap' said. "It was absolutely amazing. In the 80s in that time Fleetwood Mac would just about get the bass drum done."

Captain Sensible seems to be the right person to put the band's longevity into perspective.

"Modesty prevents me from saying what a great band we are. We make a bloody good noise and we get on well with each other."

And of course, the fans are important.

"The fans are great," he said in a moment of humility.

"They keep us on our toes and fully participate in our concerts. The great thing about Punk is that you can't get ideas above your station and our fans keep us well grounded.

"Plus," he added with a smile. "I find them entertaining too."

The Cap and the rest of the band are promising some surprises in the forthcoming tour.

"We're actually shaking the set list up a bit and in the e mails we've been sending each other to thrash it out have been headed 'The Adventurous Set List'.

"There'll be some old favourites and some revived songs like Thrill Kill, Bad Time For Bonzo and Thanks For The Night which I think will be the first time for 20 years."

The Damned play The O2 Academy, Leeds tonight. Doors 7pm, 15.50. Tel: 0113 389 1555. www.ticketweb.co.uk

 
 
 

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