PUNK pioneers The Damned are celebrating their 40th anniversary this autumn with a comprehensive tour of the UK.
Still around for the celebrations are original members David Vanian on vocals and guitarist Captain Sensible; they are joined on stage by long-standing stalwarts Monty Oxymoron on keyboards, Stu West on bass and drummer Pinch.
The Damned were the first band to issue a punk single, New Rose, and also the first UK punk band to tour the US – a fact recalled with glee by Captain Sensible.
“In ’76 I was rather happy to be able to twang a guitar for a living. I still feel the same… a lucky b*****d, and I don’t take it for granted like some other musos I could mention.”
He adds: “The glory days were actually quite rough and ready as we were often sleeping on each other’s floors. It was fun but hardly glamorous. And we were the first, which always got up the Pistols’ noses. Nice, eh?”
The band formed in 1976 and Cap tells me that the stole the name.
“It was nicked from a dark ’60s film about decadence and debauchery. That’s about right for us.”
And the reason for joining the band couldn’t have been simpler.
“I wasn’t attempting to change the world – just improve mine, as I’d identified the fact that on the ladder of life the bottom rung was gonna be my position.”
With other hits such as Neat Neat Neat, Smash It Up and Love Song, plus their sell-out tours, it seemed as if the band were going places, but it all nearly ended very early, as Cap explains.
Neat Neat Neat is may fave though as it has the perfect riff for noodling over. We can play that as a two minute short sharp shock – or as a classic rock style jam. Somewhere in between probably best.
“Not a lot of people know that it was Lemmy [of Motorhead] who saved The Damned in ’78.
“It’s never fun when a band splits up… especially if you are a former toilet cleaner, and that occupation now seems like the only job option you have left.”
The beret-wearing legend – “I started wearing a beret at early gigs so I wouldn’t get spit in my hair” – warms to his topic.
“This was the terrible situation I found myself in shorthly after we’d delivered The Damned’s second album to Stiff Records. Entitled Music For Pleasure the recording sessions had given me very little joy as we were barely talking to each other by that point. Our leader Brian James had written an amazing bunch of anarchic tunes for Damned Damned Damned (the first album) but his new material was decidedly lacklustre… and that, added to the fact that he wasn’t keen on playing anyone else’s songs was pretty much the cause of all the conflict.
“I have to admit that my own behaviour was fairly out of control at the time too… we were living in this mad 24 hour punk rock party with much drunkenness and a trail of wreckage following us because I had discovered I was actually quite good at causing a bit of chaos.
“Never once did it occur to me that we were the idiots who were paying for all the destruction or I might have been a bit more careful.
“We DID all agree on one thing though – rather than rehash the first album The Damned should go on a sort of musical adventure, changing and developing with each new record.”
And that was the reason for the choice of ex-Pink Floyd frontman Syd Barrett being the producer for Music For Pleasure.
“Yes, and I think we could’ve made an interesting spaced out punk psych record together, but he sent Floyd’s drummer (Nick Mason) instead – who we rudely complained about at the time, saying he couldn’t even mix a gin and tonic!
“So things weren’t happening for the band, the record company dumped us and then Brian called a band meeting where he told us he had had enough of our company.
“I put a band called King together and we played a handful of gigs when my old Damned colleague Rat Scabies rang who’d been offered some money for a London show if we could get some sort of Damned line-up back together. Being totally broke I didn’t need much persuading.
“As ex-guitarist of the Johnny Moped band (Cap had played bass originally in The Damned) I fancied a go at six strings again so we called up our old mate Lemmy to play bass and knocked together a setlist of Damned and Motorhead favourites during a short boozy rehearsal. The reaction of the audience on the night of the show was splendid so we arranged another show… and then another… and well, you know the rest.”
The Damned also pioneered goth rock and garnered more hits in the ’80s with Grimly Fiendish and covers of Barry Ryan’s Eloise and Love’s Alone Again Or.
“The Damned straddle several genres – punk, goth, psych – it’s a good mix – but very difficult when it comes to writing the setlist. We could have several completely different ones to suit punk, goth, rock and festival audiences.
“Without getting all uppity, The Damned can really play. It’s a proper band like Deep Purple and the Sabs (Black Sabbath) before us.
“But as we entered the ’80s I realised that Dave Vanian’s songs were getting increasingly stylised… what would be called goth a few years later. Writing our setlist is sometimes difficult as we have to please two entirely separate audiences in the punks, who want it fast and loud, and the goths who prefer it dark. That dichotomy makes it interesting though.”
After years of a ‘bad boy’ image, I wonder whether Cap had mellowed a bit.
“I’m a perfect gent these days – but as with most punk rockers I reserve the right to give a right good mouthful to anyone who deserves it, and my neighbours probably hear me cursing and swearing at the TV.”
Looking back over the 40 years brings to mind many highlights for Cap, such as travel and being an inspiration to other acts, but one thing in particular stands out for him.
“My Dad coming to a show and enjoying the experience was a great moment… after all the ‘it’ll never get anywhere’ and ‘it’s just a load of noise’ he eventually got it.”
And he lists different songs as the definitive Damned song and his favourite.
“Maybe Blackout (as the definitive) as it has a foot in both the genres we had a big part in starting – punks and goth. I’ll be pushing that one when it’s setlist time. Neat Neat Neat is may fave though as it has the perfect riff for noodling over. We can play that as a two minute short sharp shock – or as a classic rock style jam. Somewhere in between probably best.”
And he still loves touring.
“Oh yes, I like touring – theirs is, the crew and usually a support act – it all becomes a bit of a soap opera with the village idiot, the drama queen and the loose cannon easily identifiable by the time a couple of shows are done.
“We have a candidate for all three of those in the current Damned line-up, funnily enough.”
Cap gets serious when I ask whether there is anywhere in particular he likes playing.
“In 40 years touring Britain, I’ve seen rough cities transform out of all recognition… Newcastle and Glasgow have both been European Cities of Culture. They were a bit different in the ’70s, I can tell you.
“Everyone doing shopping by car in supermarkets has destroyed high streets up and down the country. I’ve been to Detroit and seen the devastation. We are headed that way ourselves. The government being in hock to the supermarket giants doesn’t help.”
And the future?
“There will be another Damned album, and like the others it will not be exactly what’s expected. Our most recent, So, Who’s Paranoid? finished with a 15 minute psychedelic freak out and a lyric dedicated to Syd Barrett. We’ll have to go some to top that – but I reckon we’ll have a go.
The Damned play at Holmfirth Picturedrome on Thursday August 4. For details visit: http://www.picturedrome.net/tickets/The-Damned/20160804.htm