I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard The Damned. I had just walked into my favorite indie record store (Play It Again Records in suburban Detroit, which is still the best record store I ever visited) and ‘Ignite’ from Strawberries was playing. As I wandered around the store for the next 30 minutes, I was blown away by this band that shifted from the punk ferosity that I loved, to brilliantly arranged post-punk anthems like ‘Stranger On The Town” which almost has a Motown feel to them.
I was hooked and spent the next several years collecting every album (Damned, Damned, Damned is still my favorite), single (yes, I have the Stretcher Case Baby 7″) and promo 12″ I could find. Live, they were chaotic yet perfect everytime I saw them. Nobody on this planet can claim to be a fan of punk rock without owning at least one Damned album in their collection.
Since I began this website, tracking down a member of The Damned for an interview has been a dream of mine. To get the great Raymond Burns (aka Captain Sensible) to take a few questions and wax poetic about the history of the band, punk rock and the state of music is a gift for all of us.
TDOA: The Damned were the first punk band to release a single and the first British punk band to tour the U.S.. The Sex Pistols tour of America has been widely documented, but I’ve never read much about The Damned’s first trip to the U.S.. There’s a 200 page book about the Pistol’s trip, but can you share a couple of stories; what cities did you play in, what were the crowds like, any craziness?
CS: We were sleeping on peoples floors, no money for hotels…. We did it the punk way with the innovative (but penniless) Stiff Records rather than the posh labels the Clash and Pistols signed with. I remember the collection box at the door at an early gig in LA asking for donations for our air fare home as we were completely brassic. They were fun times though…. totally uncompromising. We didn’t give a s**t what anyone thought of us or our noisy new thing, which didn’t always go down that well it has to be said. We actually cleared whole audiences in the UK in ’76…. gigs outside London mainly where they were into the country rock nonsense that was everywhere at the time.
Anyway, Patti Smith didn’t get us at all…. not art enough for her I guess – as her show was next that night at CBGB’s. She didn’t waste any time chatting about this exciting new punk scene or anything. It was “get out, this is MY dressing room now, you Limey assholes”. We got on OK with The Germs, The Ramones and the Weirdos though, so I just put it down to Ms Smith being a stuck up bitch.
TDOA: Press clippings indicate that “the band” hated “Music For Pleasure”. Problem Child and Stretcher Case Baby are two of my favorite Damned songs. Did everyone in the band really hate the album and why? Production trouble?
CS: The biggest mistake we ever made was not getting the Who’s (amongst others) producer Shel Talmey to do ‘MFP’. He DID do the free at the Marquee single (all attendees of the 4 shows got one) which sounded fabulous. But the subsequent reworkings of ‘Stretcher Case’ and ‘Sick of Being Sick’ for the actual album, produced by Nick Mason were lifeless in comparison. As is the whole record, which I would very much to see remixed in a vibed up and more spunky way.
TDOA: The fickle British press has gone hot and cold on the band far too many times. The attitude towards Damned, Damned, Damned and Machine Gun Etiquette was completely different than for the albums in between and after. How did it affect the bands spirits and songwriting?
CS: The press and the Damned never got on. We didn’t play the game and could be pretty obnoxious. Journalists would end up soaked in beer with chewing gum in their hair. We simply didn’t care, so it might have been our fault, lol. We were just a young snotty band with bags of attitude and that didn’t always go down too well.
I think our song ‘History Of The World’ had a line – about ink and decibels which is probably about our treatment by the music papers at the time. Oh, and ’2nd Time Around’ too…. those lyrics are DIRECTLY aimed at the press…. “I remember what you said, don’t you wish that we were dead – now we’re BACK… to haunt you with our sound” or something like that anyway.
TDOA: Patricia Morrison played with the band for at least one tour. Her resume is quite varied and I suspect there’s quite a few stories attached to her. What was she like while with The Damned?
CS: Patricia played and looked great. I wish we’d done more photo shoots with her as that lineup had a nice glamourous goth look to it. I have to laugh thinking about that Edinburgh promoter who tore up our guest list turning away our friends at the door. She gave him a severe roasting in his office later. I could hear bottles smashing and all sorts from down the corridor. Good luck to her!
TDOA: Rat Scabies was “dismissed” from the band for “having his fingers in the till”. It seems like such a tragedy given his talent. Can you give us more detail of what happened?
CS: No, life’s too short to start that row up again. We ALL get paid for the reissues now so relationships are improved. Rat certainly has a unique approach to drumming. I’d have loved to have seen him playing on that recent tour with Donovan – is there any up on You Tube? (ED NOTE: I couldn’t find any!)
TDOA: The packaging for The Damned albums was always great, but the things you did for your solo work was brilliant. I still have my 12″ single with the santa beard. Were you the brains behind all of that?
CS: Mike somebody in A+Ms London art department was brilliant and did those album and single designs. My fave was the ‘Revolution Now’ cover with real McDonald’s fries in the depiction of Elvis. We had a lot of fun, but those were the days before Photoshop, so the ship going down on the cover of ‘Womens And Captains First’ was like a film set with carpenters and set designers running around. In fact, the tank of water took all day to fill and was (according to my co-singers the Dolly Mixtures) bloody freezing, “The things we do for you Captain!”.
TDOA: Did you find your solo work more or less satisfying than your work with The Damned?
CS: The Damned give my tunes a more rugged feel, which is good in some ways as I am a bit of a melody buff. But you CAN have loud guitars and catchy tunes. ‘Noise, Noise, Noise’ is one of my faves.
On my own I can do what I want though and during the 80s. I really liked the new-fangled synth pop that was about at the time, so I did some of that with genius producer Tony Mansfield. Check out his own records by his band New Musik if you like that stuff. That material is spectacular and I have it on my Ipod permanently.
I like dabbling with all kinds of music so if anyone wants to put me in a studio for a week or so get your cheque book out. And I’m sure I have a great movie soundtrack in me too!
TDOA: Phantasmagoria seemed to start the beginning of The Damned’s “goth” phase. You weren’t with the band during that period. Was this because you were focusing on your solo work or was the goth stuff not your cup of tea?
CS: I had to see what could become of my solo career, as we were having HUGE hits in Europe. ‘Wot’ in particular.
In fact I was always over doing promo TV in Germany, France, etc. It was a total whirlwind of activity with no time off at all, and as I always hated flying. I was pretty knackered after a few years of combining all that AND the Damned so I collapsed with exhaustion in the mid 80s and baled out for a while.
The records the Damned made in their ‘goth’ period have proper producers and sound excellent to my ear. The band looked good in photos too at the time with the frock coats, etc.. Mr Vanian in particular excelled showing he is one of the best singers of his generation.
TDOA: There are articles about the dispute with Vanian over “Not of this Earth”, which make it sound like you two aren’t the best of friends. At this point, is your partnership more of a business arrangement than anything else?
CS: I think you might be mistaking myself for Rat in your question. I thankfully had nothing to do with the appalling ‘NOTE’. I believe there WAS a serious falling out over those recordings (I won’t do it the justice of calling it an ‘album’) but it was between my two esteemed colleagues.
TDOA: Who is the Captain listening to these days? Any newer bands?
CS: I like the noise pop of ‘The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’ and the deep melancholy of ‘El Perro Del Mar’. Both extremely melodic, but tinged with a dollop of sadness and heartache that makes pop music occasionally so sublime. As in ‘Alfie’ by Cilla Black.
Hold on – rant coming – Whenever I see Radiohead on TV I think…. blimey, this is SO derivative, and so inferior to the 70s prog bands they are pilfering from. Get hold of ‘Thank Christ For The Bomb’ by the Groundhogs instead. That’s where they are getting it from. And they are right too - it’s a total winner!
TDOA: If you could banish one band or artist from the planet, who would it be (pick from any period)?
CS: Any of those dreadful ‘boy bands’….TAKE THAT, BOYZONE, NEW KIDS, WESTLIFE. It was soul destroying to go into a shop or taxi or wherever that crap was being played. But that sad packaged manufactured ethic is still everywhere still, which is why we should possibly bring back capital punishment as a one off for that slimey Simon Cowell for the many vile criminal records he has been involved in.
Thanks Captain! And for the rest of you, here’s a boatload of great videos of The Damned. I also recommend checking out the Captain’s solo records, as they were always tremendous.