Saturday, September 26

Interview: The Damned

- November 15, 2016


The Captain speaks to Jeff Hemmings

40 years ago this October, The Damned released what is universally thought of as the first ever UK punk single, ‘New Rose’. They were also the first UK band to release an album (Damned Damned Damned) and the first to tour America. 40 years later. Who would have guessed they would still be going strong?  

This year they had played Coachella Festival in the USA, the Royal Albert Hall, are in the middle of a long UK tour, and have been recording a new album. Their debut album of 1977 will be re-released in February of 2017.

Brighton-based Captain Sensible and singer Dave Vanian are the only two remaining original members of a band considered one of the ‘Big Four’, along with Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks and The Clash.

What does the Captain make of it all?
You sound like Goldfinger… “So, what happened Mr Sensible? I expected you to die!” We were on auto destruct for a while, and for someone with a stage name like mine bad behaviour was almost obligatory. I’m as surprised at us reaching our 40th as anyone else to be honest, but having fun with it.

Chrissie Hynde said about the Damned: “they were probably the most musically accomplished punk outfit in town”.

Brian’s (James, original guitarist) an amazing guitarist, and Rat (Scabies) was the punk drummer. It could all get quite frenzied onstage at times when Vanian was climbing the lighting rigs and I saw my job as the bassist that glues it all together…. Somehow.

At the time, in 1976, did you feel that something good and different was happening?
Dossing about for a couple of years, going to the Marquee every night, living in the clothes you stood up in, blagging an occasional meal off interviewers. I think Sniffin’ Glue’s Danny Baker took us to a Wimpy… it was burgers and knickerbocker glories all round. 

It could all get quite frenzied onstage at times when Vanian was climbing the lighting rigs

‘New Rose’ still stands up brilliantly today. How did it feel when that came out and got attention?
I was particularly pleased when we did Top Of The Pops. “Is this the stage where The Sweet performed ‘Ballroom Blitz’ I wondered?” ‘New Rose’ was recorded in a dingy demo studio round the back of a garage. It sounds like it too. No Pro-Tools on that.
The first UK punk band to tour the US as well… Do you think you helped to kickstart the hardcore punk revolution in the States?
I don’t know anything about that scene. I’m an easy listening buff. The Carpenters and The Monkees float my boat.

‘Smash It Up’ is one of my favourite Damned songs. That’s your guitar work on there, isn’t it?
The guitar is all over the place… Yes, must be me then. All that listening to Hendrix albums… some of it must’ve stuck.

The rest is bluff.

You were enjoying a solo career in the early ‘80s (including the chart hit ‘Happy Talk’), and left the band for a while. Can you tell me about that period?
I had a bunch of songs… some of which were too pop for The Damned and binned. Got me a record deal with A&M though, with whom I had a few fun years as Britain’s most unlikely pop star. People remember ‘Happy Talk’, but there were some other decent songs, self-penned, too.

New album coming soon. And you’re raising money via Pledge to make it happen. How’s that one going?
Don’t worry, we won’t abscond with the cash! Having said that, the old Damned probably would’ve. Every album we made sounds different from the previous one. So, expect the unexpected.

Concert Hall, Brighton Dome, Thursday 24 November, 7pm, £27

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