Captain Sensible looks forward to another five golden years with family favourites The Damned.
We arrive in dingy damp Blackburn and met The Damned just as they are being issued with writs for an unplayed gig earlier in the tour (for which they weren’t to blame).
The writ-server leaves after being given a poisoned drink. A message arrives from the local nick that a young girl who has attached herself to the tour is, in fact, a runaway. The guitars have been left at the previous night’s bash in Birmingham. It gets worse. Rat Scabies begins with his anti-journalist tirade:
‘There’s no such thing as an honest journalist. You’ve been ordered here to do a hatchet job. Some other paper sent a boy to interview us. We did it in a pub. He got legless, went out to the bog and came back all white saying he’d just puked up’.
I tell him he’s not being very positive.
‘But I am being positive. I know you’ve been sent here under orders to do a hatchet job’.
This doesn’t help out rapport. I hadn’t met or written about the band before and I came with an open mind and an interest in what they had to say. Scabies’ insults only enforce the nasty rumours about him. I wonder why I bothered to come.
Ordered to write? Nobody has ever ordered me to write. Do Nems order The Damned what to play? If Rat wants a hatchet job he goes the right way about getting one but he should also remember that such wounds can be self-inflicted.
It is not difficult to detect the other group members finding his obnoxious attitude unnecessary and annoying.
The Scabies press paranoia spreads to the tour manager who generally does his discreet best to ensure that we know we’re not welcome. The next day we arrange to follow the luxury coach to Stoke and stop en route at a suitable photo-location. It comes as no surprise when The Damned carrier speeds away at 80 miles an hour and all the camera helping hours of daylight are wasted.
Over an afternoon breakfast I mention some new bands I have seen. Rat confesses ignorance. ‘I never listen to new bands. I’ve become everything I set out to destroy. I’m a boring old fart’.
Anyway, enough of all that. Backtrack to Blackburn and the previous evening. A disappointing attendance but this fact more due to the biting recession than unpopularity of the attraction. My last visual of The Damned had been some 18 months previously when they appeared in the very hall where I was employed as a porter.
At that time they were little short of being a punky pantomime, a laughable caricature of their former selves. They only managed five or six songs in an hour, each had a lengthy drum solo and ten minute Sensible guitar break. The P.A. collapsed after a stage invasion and I spent the next week clearing up the blood and debris.
Nowadays they’re a whole lot better. A full quota of tunes drawn from their entire career and only one drum solo. Plus there is a light show from the guy who normally beams and projects for Nik Turner and who was hired by Mood Six.
The audience is extremely youthful, barely anyone looks over sixteen. Consequently there are no cheers for the many-moons-old first album material. The biggest reaction is for the opening chords of ‘Smash It Up’.
My favourite moment though, is the high powered polished cruise through the MC5’s ‘Looking At You’. As ever the performance concludes with Scabies at guitar, Sensible at drums and a fully anarchic rendition of ‘Pretty Vacant’.
The new E.P. bodes well, generally acclaimed by the cognoscenti to be the best Damned waxing for some time. My photographer colleague hears a rough tape of potential tracks for the next album (don’t mention the Chiswick ‘Best Of….’ Compilation, it’s somewhat unpopular). He describes the embryonic sounds as ‘psychadelic’ but coming from him that can mean anything.
What is certain, is that aside from the usual Sensible/Scabies composing partnership, Paul Gray has about 20 songs penned and standing by and even Vanian has scribbled a few.
For current live purposes the four are joined by the keyboarding Tosh, formerly a member of Cardiff’s premier psychedelic (that wicked word again) combo The Missing Men. The Damned ‘squeaky organ club’ – membership qualification is a liking for sixties Nuggets and Pebbles sounds – comprises Sensible, Vanian and Gray.
Scabies is non-plussed by the whole idea. Liking from the sixties only a few Dave Davies b-sides and really early Nazz he says ‘I told the world last year that everyone would soon be wearing Paisleys and grooving to sixties sounds. I was right’.
Backstage, après set, a queue of signature and souvenir hungry fans line the corridor outside the dressing room. The Captain signs elaborate autographs (’Lady Di kills stags for fun’ is one example). While writing he begins to tell me about the single he’s recorded with Crass. Anarchy and autographs. I’m struck by the contradiction. The bereted guitar player is full of them.
Like at breakfast when he asks Paul if he believes in murder as he’s tucking into a chicken. Ten minutes later the captain sits chewing a similarly slaughtered bird. He confides he’d like to be a vegetarian if only he could find someone to cook the food for him.
In the crowded hotel bar I tell him I’ve dispensed with the idea of doing an organised interview. Due to the rodent problems I’ll just write up my impressions.
‘Fine’ he trustingly replies ‘just do what you want. Rat just really hates journalists. I’ll do a short interview on my own if you like’. We sneak into the lift and find a vacant room.
Tell me more about the Crass record. ‘I saw all these geezers with Crass on their backs and all these anarchy signs. So I made a point of getting hold of one of their records and listening to it. I thought the words were bloody good, excellent stuff, but I hated the music. I thought it was turgid and moronic old dogshit. So I thought if I wrote the music and they wrote the words together we could make a decent record’.
‘I find it really hard to write lyrics, it’s not that I don’t have the ideas but I just can’t string words together that well. I’m not a poet but I love writing melodies it’s great fun and I thought writing some music with their lyrics would be the ultimate’.
‘That drummer geezer Penny Rimbaud wrote the words and I sang it with Dolly Mixture doing back up vocals. That’s an unlikely combination innit?’ Crass, The Damned and Dolly Mixture. It’s called ‘This is Your Captain Speaking’. (He cringes) daft title really innit?’
‘The Dolly Mixtures are excellent people, they giggle a lot. I produced their single (‘Been Teen’) and put a cello on it. She sat over this cello screaming with laughter but I couldn’t see anything funny about it. She was just rattling out a few notes but it was great. I love people who enjoy their work. I’d like to produce more people but only those I like and respect. I wouldn’t do Siouxsie for example.
Are you pleased with the new E.P.?
‘Yeah, we’re all really happy with it. It’s got something that the ‘Black Album’ didn’t have. The ‘Black Album’ was too clinical, we were trying to be too clever. With the new record we just had a real laugh doing it, we weren’t trying to be serious.’.
How have The Damned changed in the last five years?
‘The roadcrew reckon we’ve changed but I don’t think so. Mind you I sometimes which I hadn’t smashed up all those guitars. I had some really nice ones. I detest incompetence. When people used to say I couldn’t play it used to get up my nose because I knew I could. I try a bit harder now although playing guitar is bloody easy’.
Everyone’s got this idea that punk was a movement. They seem to think that a lot of groups got together and talked about how they were going to change this and that. But none of the groups knew or liked each other. In fact there was total rivalry.’
‘When people said we were a punk group I didn’t know what they were talking about, I bet The Clash didn’t either’.
‘I knew I didn’t like what had gone on earlier. All the glam rock shit with stack heels and 20 minute guitar solos. Almost all my contemporaries have headed for the star thing, headed for it with open arms. They wanted to be stars like David Bowie, they were all little David Bowie fans weren’t they? Walking around in outrageous clothes’.
But hasn’t the star thing happened to The Damned. Like it or not?
‘Listen, I make no bones about the fact that I’m doing this for the money but I never want anyone to think of me being a star. I find the whole thing disgusting. I couldn’t stomach it if someone thought that I was better than them. Some people do think that though, to an extent, but you have to let them know’.
‘Like being asked for autographs. If you don’t sign you’re a sod and if you do sign you are laying yourself open to the accusation that you’re a jumped up, arrogant pop star’.
‘It’s a total shame really. In the first two years of punk no one ever asked for an autograph. It was really good. It was people from the audience up on the stage. They were the same except that they were raised up so the people at the back could see them and they had guitars in their hands’.
‘This is the best job I’ve ever had and I’ve had a few. I never want to be a gardener or work in an office for British Rail again. When we split up it was because of the amount of hate between certain members of the band. I spent nine months without a penny. I never want to go through that again. This band will be around for a long time…… even with Rat in it’.