The Damned – Interview 2018

One of the original quartet of punk bands – along with The Clash, Sex Pistols, and Chelsea – who set the world of music alight in 1976, The Damned are the great survivors. The ones who released the first bonafide punk single, ‘New Rose’, and who released the first truly punk album, Damned Damned Damned. They enjoyed nine top 40 hits, including perhaps their best known song ‘Eloise’, and earlier this year released their first album for ten years, Evil Spirits, produced by legendary Bowie producer Tony Visconti, which became their first ever top ten album. Not bad for a band that was supposed to implode in punk spirit back in the 70s! 42 years after their formation, original members Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible and co, are about to venture out on the road once again. Dave Vanian took some time out to chat with Jeff Hemmings…

How’s it going?
I’ve just came from back the States. I’m a little bit jet lagged. Toured the last 20 days there. Then we do a couple of days in France, and then the first date of our UK tour, starting in Brighton.

Why did you decide to make a new album, ten years after the last one?
It was a case of taking stock, making a new album, and actually do something. We were blissfully going around, playing the old numbers for a while, and that only goes in one direction.

It was important, to me certainly, to make an album that was the best we could make with what we could do. Hopefully we achieved that. There’s some good stuff on there. I didn’t want the band to fizzle away and not have one last great album, if it is to be the last, which it probably isn’t. After 42 years in the job you think that way sometimes. I didn’t expect to be here after 42 years, that’s for sure.

After such a long gap, did you have to really force yourselves to come up with new music?
It wasn’t that difficult. We all independently work on ideas, and structures, and we come together to do a demo. I think we ended up with 20-odd songs. We then compiled what we thought would be the best ones that would fit together as an album.

I suppose you guys are used to working quickly?
We didn’t have the luxury of time. We only had nine days to make the album. We did a month’s work in nine days, and a week of mixing. Some of them have quite ambitious layers, backing vocals and stuff. There wasn’t much time to take stock and tell stories, and enjoy yourself. It was a case of work, work, work. I would have liked the luxury of a bit more time, but it’s the way it worked out with Tony’s (Visconti) schedule.

Things have changed somewhat since 1976…
The whole industry has changed beyond recognition, although the way of working in the studio is pretty much the same. We were recording live with valve gear, but you’ve got the benefit of new technology mixed together with the old technology. We used valve amps and a lovely old Neve desk. In that respect that was pretty much how we recoded from the 80s onwards. Most of it was done with us playing together. There’s that vibe you can only get if you play together.

The first album we made in ’76, was basically the set we were playing live. We rehearsed up, and we made that album in three days. It captured the essence of the band live, which was the best way to do it. But, of course, then the actual way of the song was a lot simpler. You didn’t have keyboards, you didn’t have backing vocals.

Where does The Captain live these days? Still in Brighton?
I don’t know where he lives these days! He is threatening to move at some point I believe.

I saw you at the Dome a couple of years back, performing your debut album in its entirety…
I’d never seen inside the Dome before. It’s an amazing venue.

What is the punk legacy?
I leave those sorts of questions for other people. It’s more of an observation. You have to remember that when we started it didn’t even have a name. It wasn’t so much a movement, as a group of people fired up to do something. The only thing that made us a punk band was the attitude, and the fact we were essentially working class. I think the DIY ethic has pretty much continued. We weren’t a band that was overtly political or on some kind of crusade. We were a band that loved music and wanted to make music. Brian (James) started the band, and wrote the first album, and most of the second album. It was very much his vision, of what The Damned was. After that, he decided he didn’t want to do it any longer, but we continued and we went through the phases of what became the next generation of the band, which would change from album to album, and really brought us forward as songwriters. Because up to then, Brian was the sole songwriter, and that’s what he wanted to be.

The new album is very DIY, isn’t it?
Yeah, it was made possible by working with Pledge, and people put up their money to make our album. It was very fast the reaction. People wanted us to do the album. I think that’s a very punk-rock way of doing things. You are doing it yourself basically, cutting out everyone in-between and getting the thing made for the people who want it.

That itself is a legacy, the DIY ethic?
I don’t know. The legacy, it’s hard to see. In some ways it opened up some doors of perception, and closed others. It’s like anything. It has an amazing effect initially, and then it becomes a commercial part of life, in the same way any form of music does in its inception. It’s always considered dangerous, and bad, and it changes everyone’s perception, and then it becomes swallowed up into the mainstream. It somewhat loses its integrity.

The thing about our band is that we haven’t changed, we’ve always had the same drive, and the same goals. We certainly had the same attitude to things. We believe we had something to prove, as did all these other young people, who were being held back by the system back them. It wasn’t just musicians. It was journalists, philosophers… all being held back a little. By the same token, people took advantage of it in the wrong way as well.

There seems to be a bit of mini-punk resurgence going on at the moment…
It’s very similar to the bands who influenced The Damned, the 60s garage bands. We saw ourselves as a continuation of something that had faded away. These bands are maybe seeing themselves in the same way. It’s a circle of music that happens.

It’s great to know, as a band, that you inspire people, to do their own thing. We’ve always opened people’s eyes up to music that we liked, or covers that we have done. And that turns them on to movements that they did not know about. Things like the MC5.

Who will be with you on this tour?
Monty Oxymoron will be here again. He’s another Brighton resident. Paul Gray will be doing this tour, on bass, and Pinch on drums, who has been with us for 20-odd years. He’s a new boy!

How is your tour discipline?
I’ve always had the luxury of being fairly disciplined. We’ve all had our moments, but they don’t happen as often!

What about next year, the future?
I think what we’ll do next is we’ll do tracks and stream them, a couple of tracks at a time. It’s really the modern equivalent of what we used to do with EPs. We would do an album, and then release an EP. What I used to love about an EP was that you would have three tracks on the B side, throw something odd on there, an odd cover. Not that it didn’t matter, it was fun.

Sp, what’s your favourite Damned song to play live?
I must have played ‘New Rose’ thousands of times, but honestly I’ve never got bored with it. I guess it’s a testament to how well written Brian’s song was. It’s a perfect three minute pop song, with that great drumming intro, and it’s a short sharp shock, and then it’s gone, and you want to hear it again. It’s our equivalent to Eddie Cochrane’s ‘C’mon Everybody’.

Jeff Hemmings