Interview with Captain Sensible of The Damned

November 11, 2011

Captain Sensible of The Damned InterviewInterview by: Louie Bones
Big Wheel Staff Reporter

We met up with Captain Sensible of The Damned at the House of Blues just before the band hit the stage before a sold out audience. With so much going on in The Damned’s world, it was an opportunity to stop for a minute and reflect on the bands long history and where the band is headed in years to come. As a founding member of The Damned and a living Punk rock legend, Captain Sensible is as good of an interview subject as it gets, read on!
First off, thanks a million Capt. For doing this interview, you’ve got a huge show to play tonight, as we’re all very excited to be here! (As we look out over the balcony to the parking lot, we can see the huge line of people gathering and even a 1950’s roadster with a casket chained to the roof of it, yes its totally Halloween season and we are certainly at a DAMNED concert)
It’s Halloween weekend here in LA, the year is 2011, The Damned are out on the road and in town tonight celebrating 35 years as a band, that’s a long time and quite a cause for celebration! Tell us Capt, how have The Damned managed to survive the hard and often decadent decades of Punk Rock?

Right! Well, I do get asked occasionally to give advice; I don’t know why they ask me! I always say, you’ve gotta concentrate on the songwriting, that’s make or break. When Brian James left the band after our 2nd album, we were considered to be, ya know a spent force. We were so lucky that we actually had 3 songwriters, Rat Scabies, myself and Mr. Vanian. And that’s how we survived and how we’ve kept this career lasting for 35 years together, it’s all about the songs!

Wow, I never would have assumed anyone to suggest The Damned as a spent force after Brian left the band, that seems unreasonable. Some of The Damned’s best work came after his departure from the band!
Did you feel that making it into the 80’s was quite the accomplishment in itself? Most documentaries or punk historians credit the Sex Pistols as carrying the torch for Punk music over in the UK, even though they never made it out of the decade. The Damned put out the first Punk single in the UK and managed to put out great material all through the following decade.

Yeah, I would have said that when we started we wouldn’t have lasted more than a couple of years really. We are fairly ambitious, and not for financial gain! But we really wanted to make great records and at the end of the day I’m a fan. I love the bands that I follow, 60’s and 70’s bands like The Kinks, The Who, The Move, Small Faces! I love these bands, I play their music over and over, they’ve made some of the greatest records of all time. All I ever wanted to do was make records as good as that, maybe we failed miserably, I don’t know! But that’s why its always top of my list of priorities to get the records we make sounding good, not to put any shit tracks on them. That’s why its quality over quantity with this band, we don’t make a lot of albums, though we could make an album every year, they wouldn’t be as good!

Aside from being a founding member of the band, you’ve also had a solo career that brought you chart success in the early 80’s and through out the decade. Did you plan to balance both bands, or was recording as a solo artist something you figured you’d be doing through out your career in music?

It was quite complicated, I wasn’t getting on with some members of the band, and when it came to a choice between my solo career which was pretty high flying at the time or carrying on with The Damned, you can’t really do both. The schedules honestly I can tell you were insane! I was going all over Europe, waking up at 5 am every morning flying through Europe doing TV, radio interviews, recording sessions, then flying over to do gigs at night with The Damned, it was insane! I was doing both careers at once, and I tried to do it for a year and a half, but I collapsed basically. Aided and abetted by copious amounts of 24 hour life style substances! So I chose to continue my solo career, maybe I chose the wrong one, I don’t know!
With The Damned now it’s a nicer lineup now, there are certain people not in the band anymore.

This current lineup of The Damned happens to be the longest in the bands history without any member changes, what is different with the bands working structure than say the bands original incarnation?

We get on!, this lineup, we don’t tread on each others toes. No loudmouth kind of bullying or unnecessary unpleasantness.

Do you still keep in touch with Brian James or Rat Scabies, are you still friends?

I like Brian a lot, I respect him. When I met him, the guy was a visionary ya know. He knew that Punk was coming when no one else could see it. I was lucky to meet him. I’ve got a lot of time for Rat Scabies as well.

The band is revisiting DAMNED DAMNED DAMNED in its entirety live, its really exciting for fans, that’s a hugely influential punk rock record for all time. When you guys got into the rehearsal mode and started to work it out, were any of the songs very foreign to you?

Yeah! Some of the songs we originally never played before. I don’t play the record much at home, I listen to music from other bands, ha-ha. So I had to learn them over again, some of them were easier than others!

That’s quite the challenge I imagine, especially since you played bass on that record and now you’re playing guitar in The Damned. How was that transition for you?

Well I was guitarist in my previous band, the Johnny Moped band. And I wouldn’t have played bass, not that there’s anything wrong with a bass guitar, it’s a glorious instrument, it’s really fun! But I wouldn’t have changed from guitar to bass unless ya know it was for good reason, and it was. Brian was a visionary, he invented this new style of music, he had a collection of absolutely brilliant tunes. But when he jumped ship, it was a no brainer to change to guitar for me. I can’t play his way, he has a unique style, so I just play the solos my own way.
The Damned
You’ve been known for years to play with sunglasses on, that can’t be easy!

It’s not! That’s why I’ve got big white stickers on the back of the guitar so I know where the 7th and 12th frets are, I’m blind as a bat, especially with those bloody shades on!

This tour is very special because aside from doing Damned Damned Damned live you’re also playing The Black Album in its entirety as well. The Black Album was a pivotal moment in creating the Goth Rock sound, it has influenced hundreds of bands since its release 31 years ago and was a big departure from the bands previous record “Machine Gun Etiquette” which birthed the hardcore punk genre. Some of the darker bands from that era like Siouxsie, Bauhaus and The Cure incorporated synths and very similar dark textures like the Black Albums, though stress that their bands are not “Goth” in the slightest. How have The Damned always remained comfortable with applying the “Goth” tag to that particular album?

Well I think calling it the Black Album was a bit of a giveaway. Its very much a dark record, the lyrics are kind of different from what we’d done previously ya know. When we came to the demo studio to demo what was to become the Black Album, It wasn’t gonna be called the Black Album then. I noticed that Daves songwriting had moved on, to a different level, to a different place, a dark place. I knew it was going to be a more interesting album. He was going places and he took us with him, so I suppose it was a proto - Goth album when you think about it. It’s Goth. We didn’t set out to do that, but that’s just the way he is. He did have a hearse, he was a grave digger.
I remember I went around his house once, I said “Why don’t you give us a ride around town Dave?”
So we drove around his neighborhood, Islington for a while.
He said “So what’d ya think of that?”
So I said “Brilliant Dave, brilliant!”
There were people pointing at us, they must of thought it Dracula was driving cos Dave was in makeup. He lived the life style.
I said to him “ Dave that was great, it’s my first time I’ve ever been in a hearse”
And he goes on and says in a creepy voice “Well it won’t be your last!”

There’s always been this stigma in Punk that when a band evolves or changes they suck and that its all downhill once they experiment out of the box. It’s obvious The Damned’s sound was going to change, there are a lot of influences in your music, not to change would actually be more shocking and a crime. Are you finding that Punks are more into The Black Album in 2011 than they were in 1980?

At the time that we made The Black Album, there was a kind of, well Punk was going through a new wave, there was a new wave of Punk bands forming in Britain. It was all kinds of studded jackets, Mohicans, and it like became a look that it hadn’t been. You see, The Stranglers never looked like The Sex Pistols, and the Pistols didn’t look like The Clash and they never looked like The Damned either, we all had our individual looks. But after that, by the time we recorded The Black Album, there was such a thing as the “Punk look”. Some journalists were criticizing The Damned cos we didn’t have the “Punk look” which I thought was kind of insane really!
Why should we start wearing what everyone says what they think Punk should be?!
I’ve always thought Punk was kind of very much a working class thing for me. I was destined to be cannon fodder, I didn’t do much at school and I wasn’t expected to do much with my employment prospects. I made the very most of myself, and I think that’s Punk Rock. You should really try to do something as creative as possible and make something special of yourself, not copy some bastards opinion of what clothes you should wear, there’s no way I’d sign up for that!
So there was a kind of backlash against The Damned when we put out The Black Album by the kind of people putting forth this homogenized view of Punk rock in Britain. I wont name the journalists names because they’re irrelevant.

I bet they wrote for the N.M.E.!

Yeah! And Sounds!
But some people got The Black Album, and by the time we went to the studio to record our new collection of tunes, which turned out to be Strawberries, we said
“Well what are we gonna call this one?” We were all laughing cos those fucking wanker journalist’s are gonna slag this one off again, its like giving Strawberries to a fucking pig! Strawberries for pigs.

That’s the album cover! A Strawberry on a pig!

That’s where it came from, giving this album to a journalist, naming no names, they wont understand it. They just want bang bang bang Punk with shouty lyrics.
The Damned's music has always been more complex than that.
Yea, right! My idea of Punk rock, I think it started in the 60’s with the garage sound. I love all that, The Chocolate Watch Band, The Seeds, I don’t think you can beat it. Sky Saxon jammed with us here a few years ago! So did Wayne Kramer of The MC5!
The Damned
There is a Simpson’s episode where there are Punk rock characters in a club watching a band, and the characters are drawn up to resemble you and Dave, when you were first made aware of that were you flattered by it?

Yes it’s wonderful isn’t it?! The Simpson’s, well it’s kind of an important satire on today’s society. We are living in insane times!

Speaking of insane times, The Damned have been touring America and playing in Los Angeles since the late 70’s, how nutty were those first tours and trips to Los Angeles?

Well we were sleeping on peoples floors, we didn’t have enough money to pay our air fare home. Tom Verlaine cancelled us off his show at some venue in Los Angeles, we were his support act, he didn’t want us on the bill. He obviously didn’t want to play with a full on Punk group. Were still a Punk group but in those days we were a ferocious bunch of maniacs who were dangerous to be around. Not like we were fighting or anything like that, but things used to happen and Tom Verlaine had heard, ha!. So anyway we had a collection box and put together a gig someplace in Los Angeles last minute. Our box read “If you want to see The Damned go home to England please donate generously”
There must have been some people who didn’t like us, or Maybe Tom Verlaine put some money in cos we got the airfare!
I remember one gig in LA where I got the idea to do Kiss makeup, though I didn’t have any makeup, it was the one with the tongue! (Gene Simmons) All I had was a sharpie marker, so I did it with a sharpie marker. When I got back to the hotel I still had it on, I showered for an hour and it still wouldn’t wash off. So I rode to London all the way back on the plane with the makeup still on... Regrets I’ve had a few…

That must have been a sight!

I’d love to see any photos from that gig, put an appeal out, maybe someone can track it down!

Both you and Dave have embarked on solo careers away from The Damned, is there a possibility that you’ll make music outside of The Damned again?

Yeah! Paul Gray, The Damned’s old bassist, we are kind of chums again, he’s a great bass player, we may work together!

Over the years The Damned have covered songs by artists from the 60’s and even had a short lived side band where you called yourselves Naz Nomad & The Nightmares, are there any specific bands or groups that fans of The Damned might be surprised to hear that you are influenced by?

If anyone out there likes our band and wants to hear where I certainly got some of my ideas from, check out an album called Split by The Groundhogs, it’s a masterpiece of guitar playing, absolute genius. He’s my guitar hero, were mates now, Tony Mcphee, its worth checking out, a beautiful album. They’re so very remarkable, its light and shade, very melancholy to full on blitzkrieg.
All my favorite records came from the 60’s and 70’s when albums were recorded to beautiful tape, in an honest way with not too many overdubs. Protools is insidious software! And in the wrong hands, IE most engineers in studios these days, they do things dishonestly. The guys may not even be in the same room or same city or same studio, everything is corrected! Fuck that I want to hear rock and roll, I want to hear spillage between the mics, I want a band recorded honestly, banging out and having a gas doing it. I think Protools is an anti rock n roll device. That’s what I think!

That was all the time we had as Captain had to go and get ready to play the show which was a killer gig in itself. A big thank you to The Damned’s drummer Pinch who is always looking out for Big Wheel and for making this all possible and to Captain Sensible for being the great interviewee.




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