In the late 1970’s, “punk” was exploding in the United States and in the UK, and became a movement combining art, fashion, music and a way of life for many people. Undisputedly, one of the greatest bands in the UK scene during this time was The Damned. Their debut record, Damned Damned Damned, released in 1977 and quickly became one of the staple punk rock albums of its time. Songs like “New Rose” and “Neat Neat Neat” were fiery, youthful, boisterous, yet simple and melodic songs, that helped The Damned pave the way for many bands who would later follow in their footsteps. Flash to 2017, and the record has just been rereleased for its 40th anniversary, and the band is still hauling ass and taking names and kicks off a gutbusting world tour. At this point only two of the original members remain, vocalist Dave Vanian and guitarist Captain Sensible. Nonetheless, and despite drastic stylistic changes overtime, The Damned are not a band that have forgotten where they’ve come from and still play with ferocity every show. On May 2nd, stay clear of Club Soda because they’ll be exploding it with their musical energy.
I managed to get hold of bassist-turned guitarist Captain Sensible, to discuss the band’s trajectory and longevity. Over the years, Captain has done solo work, as well as work with varied musicians, and had left the Damned for a while. I really wanted his perspective on how it feels now, still playing in such an iconic band.
K.L (Kyle Lapointe): How does it feel, after 40 years, still playing music with The Damned? How does it feel still playing with Dave Vanian?
C.S (Captain Sensible) – Mr Vanian? I like the guy, but in almost every respect he is my complete opposite… in photos you’ll see my cheery smile, whereas he is the prince of darkness.. He is a movie fanatic – they bore me to death. He is known for his elegance, but I am a total slob. But for some reason it works – we don’t step on each other’s toes, I guess… and it’s my job to try and grab the spotlight off the frontman, by any means necessary, which has made for some fun onstage episodes over the years. Songwriting wise – again we dovetail neatly… Mr V writes intelligent lyrics and songs of substance… whereas everyone knows my musical history!
K.L: And quite an impressive history it is… When you were getting together the music from the Damned’s first record all those years ago, did you ever imagine still playing those tunes for people, 40 years later?
CS: No, we were just making the music we wanted to hear ‘cause there was precious little bands on the mid ’70s scene that had any get up and go. Glam rock had packed the sequins and buggered off – all we had left was country, disco & prog. But mainly I was trying to change my own world, ‘cause for me as a teenager with little education to boast of, I had a life of drudge ahead of me at best. Or a vagabond of some sort… I was already known to the law and things could have gone from bad to worse. I was dossing in a Brighton squat, surrounded by junkies and ne’er do wells – then punk rock showed up and saved me. Every band needs a chaos factor… and I became the Damned’s random unpredictable nutcase. My dream job. During rehearsals I was sleeping on Brian’s floor, we spent our days traipsing around clubs attempting to blag support gigs – which paid peanuts so we were generally starving. When Stiff Records offered us a record deal the promise of a visit to a Wimpy Bar was the clincher.
K.L: How does the band go about getting together setlists night after night, while having such a massive catalogue of songs spanning so many styles and genres?
CS: When we started out there was no punk to have been influenced by, but of course each of us had accumulated sizable record collections. I was interested to see Miles Davis and Coltrane in Brian’s… alongside MC5 and Stooges of course. Dave’s is more movie soundtracks and organ recitals – whereas mine is wall-to-wall glam rock with a smattering of psych pop. When founder and guitar maestro Brian left the band all those years ago, without our leader and guitar hero we were not considered to have a hope in hell of surviving…. after all, none of the rest of us had any history of songwriting. Amazingly we discovered we not only COULD write, but that we were quite good at it. Who’d have predicted that? But it’s the mix of different ideas we bring as individuals to the table that makes the Damned so eclectic – songs you’d think would never work suddenly sound ‘right’ when in a band context. There is a Damned sound, but it’s hard to define.
KL: How do you prepare yourself for going on such a massive world tour? How do you prepare yourself for coming back, and seeing family and friends again?
CS: Well, first of all it’s a privilege to be able to tour like this… I have many musician friends who are lucky if they can play the local pub every few weeks. Luckily, punk is such an enduring trend… otherwise I may have had to go back to my previous job – cleaning toilets. Prepare? We are currently on the Asian leg of the tour…. four gigs in, there were no rehearsals though. This is the Damned, we thrive on an element of danger, plus the guys are good players and we don’t want to perform the songs the same every night, if we can possibly help it! Going home after extensive gigging? Yes, you identified the problem. On the road is a lifestyle I understand… and being a bit of a showoff, I am fairly good at. Back at home, I am a bit out of sync with society. I don’t watch TV, so can’t contribute to those conversations… it’s usually “don’t worry about him, it’s old Sensible from the Damned. Bit of a weirdo”
K.L: Do you think after all your experiences in the music business you have become more ‘Sensible’?
CS: The theory is, you stay the same mental age as when you join your first band. As my colleagues will tell you, I’m still daft as a brush… but unfortunately, the old carcass slows down with age so I can’t do all night rave ups any more. And I find myself hankering after old fart stuff like cream teas and porridge… and prefer bossa nova to noisy music for listening pleasure these days too. I can still swear like a trooper when the situation calls for it though.
K.L: In the past year, (here in Canada at least) there has been a resurgence in interest in politics. Do you find that there are certain political/social climates that breed better/different music than others?
CS: I’m loving the debate about ‘fake news’… that’s been a long time coming. People don’t like wars.. they have to be lied into supporting that rubbish, and we have to learn from previous examples. It was a genuine thrill when the Tories were booted out by Blair’s ‘New Labour’ project. But that took us straight to Iraq via ‘dodgy dossiers’ (lies) and a whole bunch of ‘fake news’ from the mainstream media. I’ve done MY Blair song… entitled ‘Stole Into The Night’, it’s probably on YouTube. The US election was a hoot too. What an appalling choice between those two ghastly candidates.
K.L: Just looking at The Damned’s self-titled record cover, it seems pretty obvious that the record was made with youthful energy. Do you think, as you and Dave have matured as people and as the world changed around you, the Damned’s music has become music for old people? Does it matter?
CS: No, the energy of that album resonates with the young… our recent Japanese shows were full of them. I guess that’s the same with the Stones too – only they dried up creatively many years ago. We never made megabucks, so in a way are fighting for survival with not a lot of media support… and if not for the fans we may well have disappeared years ago.
K.L: Where is The Damned headed now?
CS: We’ve acquired a manager who told us about this Pledge Music thing which I’d no idea about – but when told it allowed us to make the album we wanted to make, without a record label bloke watching over your shoulder, I was there. So we can pretty much do what we like – which in the 80s would’ve meant getting comprehensively sloshed and wrecking the studio and getting thrown out of a few along the way for those sort of capers. Probably not this time though, being considerably older… and marginally wiser.Pinch, Stu and a Monty are such great players though… they’re going to get a chance to flex their muscles musically. This is a band that can break out of a song structure and really jam it up. Each album we’ve made sounds different from the last one – and this one will continue that trend. It’s fun to experiment, to be creative… take a few risks. The only shame is not releasing before the world tour, but to have boshed out a half finished album would be wrong. I have Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds in my record collection, played ’em to death over the years, and unlikely as it sounds always aspire to achieve those standards
The Damned play Club Soda with the BellRays on May 2. 8 p.m. Tickets $32-176. Click HERE.