The Damned will release a concise anthology spanning their more than 40 years titled ‘Black Is The Night’ in November.
In the meantime, they have let loose the liner notes for the release.
DAMNED UNTIL DEATH (LINER NOTES)
They were the first, and they may just well be the last. As any good punk fan knows, The Damned released the first UK punk single with ‘New Rose’, the first UK punk album with Damned Damned Damned and toured America when the Sex Pistols were still thinking about being pretty vacant.
And so things came full circle with the release of 2018’s ‘Evil Spirits’, giving the Damned their first ever Top 10 UK album, and legendary bassist Paul Gray re-joining Captain Sensible and Dave Vanian after nearly two decades away. The Damned entered 2019 on a high. Smash It Up? More like on smashing form. There couldn’t be a better time to finally compile the ultimate Damned compendium as they finish the year playing New York’s hallowed Madison Square Garden and the London Palladium for therir ‘Night Of A Thoousand Vempires’.
Gathering the Damned’s original four protagonists together to share their thoughts on this very unique compilation was never going to be easy. Guitarist Brian James, songer and gravedigger Dave Vanian, the inimitable Captain Sensible and drum demolition king Rat Scabies were plied woith the promise of a few ales, and tales were told, blood was spilled, andf here we have it – ‘Black Is The Night’ – the first truly comprehensive Damned anthology, spanning their entire career. These tracks have been specifically chosen by the band themselves and every track and every Damned album tells a different story. They are a band that never repeats themselves, with every record charting new territory and breaking new ground.
Original Damned guitarist and Mr ‘New Rose’ himself, Brian James had the idea for a hard and fast-hitting rock ‘n’ roll band after his group Bastard split in 1975.”Basically, I had ideas for a bunch of songs and when I met Rat, him being the right drummer, it just brought out the rest of the songs in me really. Once we met Captain he joined in. I knew what I wanted Captain to do because he just had to follow the chords and keep it very basic. I didn’t want any jazz runs or anything stupid, just tough and to the point. Then when we found Dave, it was roughly the same kind of thing. I wrote the lyrics and sang in his ear how I heard it – a kind of second rate Iggy imitation. It was a gradual process.”
“I went up and listened to Brian play his songs on acoustic guitar and I was just completely knocked out by ‘New Rose’ and ‘Fan Club’ and the rest of them,” remembered Sensible. “He had these songs all ready to go and he really had this incredible vision. And I went back to Croydon that night and got my hair chopped off”.
Never ones to hang around, The Damned made their live debut at London’s 100 Club supporting the Sex Pistols on the 6th of July 1976. Barely twelve weeks later they released ‘New Rose’ on Stiff Records – a full five weeks before the Pistols’ ‘Anarchy In The UK’. “I’d been messing around with ‘New Rose’ for a while with my previous band,” explains Brian. “The minute Rat played it – I asked him for ‘jungle drums’ to go with my riff – I thought ‘Fuck! This is great!’ He set the thing on fire and the rest of it just followed”.
The searing Nick Lowe-produced debut album Damned Damned Damned rapidly followed in February 1977. “We were absolute bastards to Nick Lowe”, sniggers Captain, “I think we’ve still got a bit of that left but nothing like we were. We were sods. Anyone we met went through it”.
‘Neat, Neat, Neat’ was the follow up single and a UK tour with Marc Bolan’s T. Rex brought The Damned to a bigger audience before they headed out to America in the spring of ’77. Playing the likes of New York’s CBGB’s in the company of the Dead Boys and wooing audiences in Los Angeles with their super-fast punk. Along the way The Damned also found time to be one of the main highlights at the two Mont de Marsan punk festivals in France along with Eddie and the Hot Rods and The Clash.
Barely catching their breath after continuous touring in the UK and Europe, eight months after their debut album, Stiff Records demanded a follow up. “Oh yeah, that was a pisser,” Brian exclaims. “The fact was we didn’t have any songs. I had one song – ‘You Take My Money’ – that I’d written whilst touring. Once the first album came out we were gigging everywhere including the States. Then Jake, our manager, said ‘Right, we want another album’. The first album was a combination of riffs I’d been building in my mind over the previous four or five years. I just said ‘Dave, Rat, Cap, help me out here! Get your thinking caps on because I can’t come up with an album like that’. Some people really dig it. Luckily Rat came up with some nice lyric ideas and stuff like that. ‘Problem Child’, that’s got a little place in my heart. Everyone’s playing is really good on it”.
“It was the first time the rest of the band had ever written really,” Rat discloses their song writing naivety at this point. “Brian said he didn’t have any songs and he said ‘Maybe it’s time you guys write some’. It was an alright record at the wrong time. When I listen back to some of what we play on it – some of it, the politics and that, there’s some fast and furious type stuff going on. That was a band ready to do something different but didn’t have the ingredients to do it”.
At Brian James’s bequest they added a second guitarist, Lu Edmonds, to the line-up. The band wanted Pink Floyd’s drug-challenged recluse, Syd Barrett, to produce Music For Pleasure, but when he couldn’t be persuaded they were lumped with Floyd drummer Mason – who stepped into the production chair with mixed results. “Nick Mason couldn’t mix a G&T! He’s got a nice Ferrari though” chuckles Captain.
After Music For Pleasure failed to match their debut’s sales expectations, Stiff dropped the band and Rat jumped ship shortly after, only to be briefly replaced by future Culture Club drummer Jon Moss before The Damned finally called it a day in February 1978: a mere eighteen months on from their formation. A handful of live outings with Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister on bass billed as The Doomed tested the water for a comeback later in 1978. “After we split we did a couple of gigs as the Doomed. We weren’t sure if people would like it or accept it without Brian and the original line-up,” Rat reveals. “At this point we were halfway into ‘Machine Gun Etiquette’ with the songs and ideas.”
By now Captain Sensible had reverted to guitar and with the addition of former Saints man Algy Ward on bass the band played their first gig under The Damned moniker again in April 1978. They signed to Chiswick Records and started working on their next album Machine Gun Etiquette. “The title was a quote from Carol Clerk, the Sounds journalist: ‘They played their set with the etiquette of a machine gun’, remarks Captain. “We thought ‘Oh, that sounds quite nice’. We used to play so fast in those days. Quite often when we came off, the club manager would point back at the stage and say ‘Fuck off back on stage and do it all over again otherwise you aren’t getting paid. You’re booked for an hour and you’re gonna play an hour!’”.
Machine Gun Etiquette took everyone by surprise and has been described by many as the greatest punk album of all time. A sprawling, experimental opus, it takes in garage rock, buzzsaw punk, fairground Farfisa organ, Coronation Street excerpts from Albert Tatlock, a searing cover of the MC5’s ‘Looking At You’ and a confusing repeated outro of “Nibbled to death by an okapi”. The first single to be lifted from ‘M.G.E.’ was the galloping ‘Love Song’ with its opening line of “Hey man, what’s happening?”. It smashed into the Top 20 and gave the band a legendary Top Of The Pops appearance. The Damned’s raucous bovver boy, vampire and rocker image and the album cover (which was photographed in New York) also gave the band a timeless look. Further singles charted including the forlorn ‘I Just Can’t Be Happy Today’.
“In some ways it was kind of scary writing the album without Brian, but it was also an incredible opportunity,” Captain announces excitedly. “We all went off and tried to write some songs. Any experimental idea anyone had, we went for. It drove the engineer wild. Whacking the strings with drum sticks and ‘We found this thing in the corner, what’s this?’, ‘Oh 10cc left that behind. It’s a mellotron, it’s got tapes in it. We dragged that out and it had their lush vocal samples from ‘I’m Not In Love’ on it. It became the inspiration for ‘I Just Can’t Be Happy Today’. You can hear 10cc’s vocals on there. We experimented a lot on that record. It was just a joy and The Clash were next door as well doing London Calling, so they would come in and do hand claps and backing vocals. We’d go through and do the same for them. It was an extremely creative couple of weeks”.
‘M.G.E.’ had re-established The Damned as a viable chart act and fans and critics alike took to the band’s experimental side. They were in for further surprises when the band entered Rockfield Studios in the May of 1980 to record what would become their landmark record, the double vinyl Black Album. Buoyed by the success of Machine Gun Etiquette’s experimentation, there were no holds barred as the Damned threw everything including the kitchen sink and shotguns into the mix.
Released in November 1980, the first album featured 11 tracks which would go on to be regular Damned fan favourites like ‘Wait For The Blackout’, ‘Dr Jeykll And Mr Hyde’ and ‘Hit Or Miss’. The second album featured Dave Vanian’s seventeen minute masterpiece ‘Curtain Call’. While tracks like ‘Drinking About My Baby’ were unmistakably punk, the whole album had a psychedelic gothic undercurrent. The Damned were branching out at rapid speed, encompassing new sounds and including everything from ‘60s influences to baroque church sounds. The Black Album crashed the Top 30 and is regarded as one of the greatest albums of the punk era. It also set the Damned out as mavericks and goth pioneers.
“I was given a broken guitar with two strings on it and I wrote the intro to ‘Plan 9’ on Machine Gun Etiquette. When I did ‘Curtain Call’ I bought a harmonium and was teaching myself how to play that”, remembers Dave. “The influences I had just came out naturally. Horror literature and Victorian architecture or whatever, it was just the world I lived in. I wouldn’t say that the Damned started the goth movement but there are a lot of people that credit us for that. The problem was that when I did songs in the early days, they weren’t as obvious perhaps as when Bauhaus did ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’. I never wrote a song that said ‘Bela Lugosi’ or ‘vampire’ or whatever in it. They were songs that if you got it, you got it and if you didn’t, you didn’t. They were more open to interpretation. I was just who I was and that came through. Weirdly enough, I never for a moment thought there would be a whole goth movement with music and people dressed up. I kind of regarded that as something I liked and didn’t see that coming at all. I didn’t really relish it because it took things that I really loved and did things to them that I wasn’t that interested in. I’ve always had quite a lot of privacy in my life and that was a side of my life that was nothing to do with what we did. I suppose you could certainly say that I was the first of that era.”
1982 saw a move to Bronze Records for their next long player, Strawberries. By now former Eddie and the Hot Rods and UFO bassist Paul Gray had replaced Algy Ward due to his excessive drinking. With a unique scratch ‘n’ sniff cover featuring a pig scoffing strawberries and a 60’s influenced psychedelic feel, the album entered the charts at number 15. Opening with the Motörhead/Damned hybrid ‘Ignite’, songs like ‘Under The Floor Again’ and ‘Stranger On The Town’ were layered, melodic slices of dark pop and rock. While the singles ‘Generals’ and ‘Dozen Girls’ didn’t chart, once again they would become firm fan favourites.
“We made the album cover a scratch ‘n’ sniff, which was a great idea,” affirms Rat. “Captain used to get gobbed on all the time and thought the audience were horrible little gits. He said ‘This is wasted on them, Rat, it’s like giving strawberries to a pig’. Obviously that was going to be the next album title. The back cover was set up but the front cover was taken accidentally as he was climbing over the gate to get into the pen with the pig and at the time he said ‘I know I’ve got all these photos which are great and I know you’re gonna fucking choose that one’. It was the best one.”
Around this time Captain went off and found the musical South Pacific, releasing the number one single ‘Happy Talk’ and, despite not wanting to leave the Damned, was eventually forced to go solo due to demand. As a swansong he played on ‘Thanks For The Night’ which took The Damned into the charts again, following which the band signed to MCA Records for the heavily orchestrated Phantasmagoria (1985). Joining the ranks were Bryn Merrick on bass and Roman Jugg on keyboards and guitar. It would chart at number 11 on the back of the gothic genius of ‘Shadow Of Love’, ‘Grimly Fiendish’ and ‘Is It A Dream’. The Damned were now fully fledged ‘80s pop stars appearing on ‘Top Of The Pops’ and Saturday morning kids’ TV shows but they still had another ace up their sleeve – their cover of the 1966 Barry Ryan baroque pop classic ‘Eloise’. It stormed to number 3 in the singles charts and made the Damned household names again, only being kept off the top spots by a novelty record by Su Pollard.
“Eloise’ was Dave’s idea,” Rat declares. “I read a Sniffing Glue interview with him in 1976 and he said he wanted to record it. That was when we first started. It depends on the interpretation of the lyrics. We liked the idea of a schizophrenic transgender ‘Every night she’s there, I know she’s there, my Eloise’”.
In 1986 the Damned rang in their tenth anniversary with their seventh studio album, Anything, their last for MCA. Written in the pressured environment of the studio it spawned the singles ‘Anything’ and a unique cover of Love’s ‘Alone Again Or’ that has gone on to become a firm fan favourite.
As the band entered the 2000s it was all change again as Rat Scabies departed with Captain returning to the fold. With the addition of Dave’s wife (and former Gun Club/Sisters of Mercy) bassist Patricia Morrison they returned with Grave Disorder in 2001. US skate punks The Offspring threw the band a lifeline for the album and released it on their label, Nitro. “We were at this hotel in Burbank in America and we did that album in one big kind of warehouse room,” Captain discloses. “Everyone was looking at each other with headphones on and the engineer and producer sitting there. Every day we went to Frank’s Diner and had eggs over easy and hash browns. I’d never had an American breakfast before where they keep topping your cup up with coffee and charge you once! I’d end up having seven cups of coffee and be totally wired by the time I got to the studio. I’d be pacing around. I’m insufferable in the studio anyway so I was probably even worse”.
Another seven years would pass until the next Damned album, So, Who’s Paranoid in 2008, and an even longer gap of a decade followed when the band decamped to New York with legendary Thin Lizzy/T. Rex producer Tony Visconti for 2018’s Evil Spirits.
Sounding reinvigorated, the resulting record was the Damned’s highest chart placement, hitting the number 7 spot. A fantastically-orchestrated piece, with Dave Vanian’s vocals scaling new heights all over the album from falsetto to growls, and Captain Sensible’s guitar solos soaring over the arrangements, all propelled along by the rumbling bass runs of the returning Paul Gray, Evil Spirits is the Damned in the 21st century showing any chart rock band out there how it should be done: simply majestic-sounding in every way. “It was very intense work because we were putting in easily a month’s worth of work in nine days,” says Dave. “Visconti was more of a quiet individual who sits back and then opens his mouth and makes total sense with what he says. It was a joy to work with him. We had a job to do and we got on with it. It was a very pleasurable experience. There’s a lot of very high backing vocals that we did together and only Tony and I could actually reach the notes. He’s on a lot of the backing vocals, all the high-pitched vocals that sound like a lady wailing away or something, it’s not, it’s Tony!”
Who would have thought chaos kings The Damned would still be around in 2019, 43 years into their career, still defiantly independent, still masters of their own domain? “It’d been ten years since the last album. That’s ridiculous isn’t it?” Dave exclaims: “You think about 1977 and they’d be saying ‘Have you made an album?’, ‘Yeah, we made one a couple of months ago’. ‘Well, you need to make a new one’. For us it’s very important to keep pushing forward. It’s what drives me on. I always find it a bit soul-destroying thinking that I’d spend years making the same music.”
Wait For The Blackout
I Just Can’t Be Happy Today
Bad Time For Bonzo
Smash It Up Pt 1 & 2
Machine Gun Etiquette
Neat Neat Neat
Stretcher Case Baby (produced by Shel Talmy)
Sick Of Being Sick (produced by Shel Talmy))
Born To Kill
Rabid (Over You)
1 Of The 2
So Messed Up
Plan 9 Channel 7
The Shadow Of Love
.The History Of The World (Part 1)
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Streets Of Dreams
Alone Again Or
Standing On The Edge Of Tomorrow
Stranger On The Town
Fun Factory (previously deleted feat. Robert Fripp)
Under The Floor Again
Black Is The Night (new song)
The band play select US shows this month, as well as Madison Square Garden with The Original Misfits and Rancid on October 19th.
Sep 11 Oakland, CA Oracle Arena
Sep 14 Auburn, WA White River Amphitheatre
Oct 19 New York, NY Madison Square Garden
All shows with The Original Misfits
The Damned are:
David Vanian – Vocals
Captain Sensible – Guitar
Monty Oxy Moron – Keyboard
Pinch – Drums
Paul Gray – Bass