Scotland Calling – Captain Sensible Interview

This year sees the first of  what will hopefully become an annual event; a “mini-Rebellion” festival coming to Glasgow –  Scotland Calling. It’s a one-day, all-day affair with appearances from some of punk’s luminaries. 

Louder Than War, in the first of several lead-up articles, features the venerable Capt. of The Damned who kindly agreed to speak to Joe Whyte about life, independence, David Bowie, The Glasgow Apollo and Johnny Moped…

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Hello, Captain, any new Damned product in the offing? Seems a while since there was a new record (apart from Sensible Grey Cells album which is excellent for those who haven’t heard it). Have you considered the whole “crowd funding/Pledgemusic” thing at all?

Pledge? That’s furniture polish? I don’t know anything about modern funding methods.  Mind you if people really are donating hard earned dosh to coerce their heroes to get off their butts one more time to sweat blood (ie, drink lots of beer) in a studio then we might have to look at that. Seriously though, The Damned don’t make a lot of albums these days. I mean, we’ve had our moment of glory… it’s someone else’s job to be at the cutting edge or whatever you wanna call it.

Having said that, as you mentioned me and ex-Damned bassist Paul Gray did lock ourselves in someone’s garage in this quiet Welsh village for a few days last year and, with the help of drummer Anthony Thickett produced a concept album that contains our thoughts about this daft country in which we reside. It’s called ‘A Postcard From Britain’…. and names names. One song’s about that nice Clarkson bloke.

Scotland Calling is a kinda mini Rebellion. What are your thoughts on this type of package-deal gigs and do you think they’re a good deal for firstly the bands and secondly the fans?

Punk fests are fun for audience AND bands, apart from the music these gigs are social events… catching up on people they’ve not seen for years. The great thing about punk is that all the various bands have their own take on it… I mean, the Buzzers sounded nothing like the Strugglers. It’s nice to invite yourself into other bands’ dressing rooms, grab a drink and now that we’re all getting on a bit start swapping tales of ailments and recent hospital visits.

I guess, since Bowie has had his tuppence worth, I should ask if you have any thoughts on the whole Scottish independence debate?

I never ‘got’ Bowie… I mean, some of his early songs WERE crackers.. great tunes like Life On Mars, Suffragette City but then he went through a bunch of self conscious image-led reincarnations that left me wondering who the REAL Bowie actually was. Soul, Disco, Berlin, Noise…. accompanied by those daft cut and paste lyrics. What a waste when the world was at his feet waiting for words of wisdom.

So…. you have to wonder why he’s piping up now with the establishment line regarding your question.

And while I don’t live in Scotland, plenty of my relatives do… I’m a Burns & my Dad took me up to see where he was born and raised… parents and four kids crammed in a tiny Gorbals tenement. Over many years of gigging in Glasgow I’ve watched the place transform from the rough days of the razor gangs to the (mainly) fine European city it is today.

So, because I have some connection North of the Border I feel I have a right to an opinion and it is this: if I lived here I wouldn’t want to live in a country ruled by a never ending succession of right wing London governments (red, blue, whatever) who would rather spend money on unusable nukes and endless Middle East wars than looking after the welfare of its own people. Students, pensioners, hospitals … this is what taxes should be spent on – not bloody bombs. The advice of THIS daft musician is to ignore the scaremongers in the media and vote for an independent forward thinking Scotland.

You seem to still enjoy it (playing live/touring etc). What keeps it fresh for you?

We don’t do a vast amount of gigs these days but people don’t buy actual physical records any more so the royalties aren’t flooding in – therefore if you can still hold a guitar in your hands without falling over you’re duty bound to get out on the road occasionally to pay the bills.

But although I may never have achieved millionaire status there’s nothing better than twanging a guitar in a punk band for a living… and my job is to grab as much of the limelight off the dapper Mr Vanian as possible. He describes me as ‘incorrigible’ – I can see that. I’m a disgraceful self publicist, but you wouldn’t have it any other way….

The Damned have a huge catalogue of music to choose from. You toured The Black Album/DDD a few years ago, any plans for other “anniversary” shows? The few times I’ve seen you recently, the band have played (bar the obvious set closers) quite a diverse set. How do you choose what’s in and what’s out?

It IS difficult writing setlists as there’s at least two separate bands in The Damned. There’s the punk of course… then the 80s goth period has to be represented… and finally, we all bring our own musical taste to the table. Like myself and Monty who veer towards the avant grade, prog side of life – if allowed. I’ve noticed other members of the band looking at their watches if a guitar solo gets a little over extended.

So writing the setlist is tough, which is why we’ve been seen distributing sheets of A4 to the queue outside the venue now n then,  asking THEM to write it.

Brian and Rat have been touring Damned Damned Damned the last few years with a variety of front-people. Any thoughts?

Some of the best times of my life were spent with these guys… Brian is very pure, likes to keep it real and a genius guitarist, best of all the class of ’77. Rat’s a real character – the two of us were a couple of serious pranksters back in the day and left a trail of chaos in our wake. He features in this book, dunno if you’ve heard of it ‘Rat Scabies and the Holy Grail’ – bloody good fun, well worth a read.

I’ve not seen ’em do DDD live but by all accounts it’s loud and in your face. And that’s got to be good, no?

Johnny Moped has seen something of a renaissance of late, your son directing the movie. What was your involvement in that? Any interesting tales about him from the old days?

The Johnny Moped band were universally loathed by the other musicians in Croydon…. we didn’t bother learning our instruments or writing tunes, rehearsing.. any of that nonsense. For us it was creating a spectacle… something to surprise.. shock even, the audience.  Yoko Ono would’ve loved us. The Oval Road Youth Centre gig for example where painted green, Johnny sang the first number in a dustbin – with the lid on. It seemed like a good idea in the pub the night before but the feedback was excruciating, howling… and had the audience running for the doors.

Another time we set the gear up in drummer Dave Berk’s parents’ back garden in Broad Green and owing to no one turning up we bribed two kids walking past to be our audience with the princely sum of sixpence each. We must’ve been fairly ropey ‘cos after every song they would ask “can we go now”.

But our chaotic attitude put us in pole position in ’76 when punk came along – and the anarchic spirit of the Mopeds and The Damned saw us off and running.

The Damned were never thought of as political although you’ve had your say on many occasions (!)…..what are your thoughts on the state of the UK these days?

The problem is apathy…. we moan about the fat cats at Westminster, we are well aware they’re a corrupt bunch of gravy train riding, corporate butt kissing slime bags but we are more interested in checking the football results and catching up on the latest celebrity gossip than actually getting out on the street and kicking the bastards out.

Will the British public sit idly while those posh sods in government scrap every last decent thing about this country –  the health service, welfare state, local amenities, pensions and other magnificent stuff  – that was fought for by our grandparents generation is scrapped before our eyes?

Ere, is Corrie on tonight?

The current Damned line-up have been together for a fair old while. However,  ex- band members now number in the dozens. What sort of person do you need to be to maintain being in The Damned?

You need to be tinged with madness, have the tolerance of a saint and an obsession with the darker side of life.

You need to be able to wring the drama out of the tunes too… as with those convoluted arrangements so it took a while before we found the perfect assortment of oddball musicians to do the material justice… which this line-up, the best sounding of them all for me certainly do. And we get on, which also helps.

You were briefly involved in producing The Supersuckers. What was the story there?

I’d never heard of them. I thought I was going to a studio to jam with some punk band or other but they turned out to be a bunch of Yanks with beards and cowboy hats and  started playing some hillbilly shit with comedy lyrics – I was out of there pretty sharpish I can tell you. I don’t DO country.

What is the single greatest record ever made?

I have to choose a rock n roll track ‘cos that’s where kick ass music started, and without which there would be no Pistols or Damned….  or Status Quo even, lol.

As a guitarist you’d expect me to go with Chuck Berry’s Johnny Be Goode or summat ‘cos he invented riffing pretty much single handedly, but for sheer outrage value – and you have to imagine the impact he had on the comparatively staid 50s, a guy like Little Richard, black, camp as fuck, and all glammed up 20 years ahead of The Sweet & Bolan.. must’ve ruffled a fair few redneck feathers. Forget Elvis, Little Richard was the greatest, and my choice of song? Tutti Fruiti for the manic vocal performance, listen to it.. the blokes on fire – unbeatable stuff!

What/who really annoys the shit out of you?

Hollywood films. How people can squander all that time watching endless repetitive dross from these uninspired jaded coke-fuelled arrogant talentless movie executives I’ll never know.

I wrote a song about it in 1981 called ‘Yanks With Guns’.

 

The much-maligned Music For Pleasure album. Personally, I always liked it and it’s almost a precursor to the psych stuff of much later. What are your thoughts on it now?

For a punk band to have anything to do with Pink Floyd, who at the time were doing huge stadium gigs must’ve seemed like insanity but their genius ex-leader Syd Barrett was the one we wanted to produce a punk/psych hybrid second album.

The Floyd were obviously embarrassed that they’d shafted their former leader Syd so donated their own studio for free as a way of encouraging him to get working again….. but Syd never showed at the studio of course so the psych/punk project was shelved until ‘Etiquette’, which has some great tripped out moments. The improv sections in Antipope and Looking’ At You in particular.

Meanwhile, we were still sitting in Floyd’s studio and…Syd’s replacement for MFP turned out to be Nick Mason, who was a nice enough bloke but he tried to impose all that Floydy clinical sound separation technique on us, wheras the material would’ve been better recorded in a shed with one mic. I wouldn’t mind hearing MFP getting a remix by someone who understands garage music. Then I may be able to listen to it.

You first played Glasgow with Marc Bolan at the Apollo. I remember you outside giving away free tickets. What’s your recollection of that tour?

Yes, I remember that. The first night was cancelled I believe for some reason…. and we rescheduled for the following night but a lot of ticket holders for the 4,000 cap venue couldn’t make it so there was a lot of seats free and I was wandering about giving tix away. The Apollo was fabulous, I used to have all my relatives, nieces and nephews etc waving at us from the royal box. Bloody good fun. (Thinks… A royal box in a venue in Glasgow- how much use would THAT get?)

How could the local council let the Apollo get bulldozed? A councillor is supposed to look after their local area, and people had a lot of fun at the Apollo. The council failed big time with this venue’s destruction and the culprits deserve to be named and shamed.

As for Marc, having recently emerged the other end of his arrogant superstar phase when he toured with us we were lucky enough to tour with the nice, relatively humble Marc Bolan who had time to chat and stuff and didn’t hide in his dressing room. Taking onboard the fact that there was a music revolution happening he ramped up his performances playing a lively adrenaline fuelled set every night. He certainly wasn’t going to allow himself to get a nightly grilling by the snotty young support act and live tapes I’ve heard from that tour back up my memories with Bolan and his excellent band of crack session guys (Herbie ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ Flowers on bass) playing an energetic set.

In a funny kind of way his fans and ours really dug each bands’ performances so the tour, which was an idea that on paper couldn’t work, turned out to be a marriage made in rock n roll heaven. Which is where Marc would end up shortly after these gigs owing to some crap driving courtesy of his missus.

I’ll never forget both bands jamming ‘Get It On’ in Portsmouth….. it was probably an unholy din but bloody good fun at the time.

And when looking for an end of tour song to play with our mates the Alarm recently we chose another Bolan classic ’20th Century Boy’ as his tunes have that euphoric uplifting quality that comes from great pop music.

Before ‘pop music’ became an oxymoron that is.

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Scotland Calling is at the ABC, Glasgow on 26th April and starts at 2pm. Note, that since Wattie’s unfortunate health scare, The Exploited have been replaced by GBH.

Tickets can be bought from THIS LINK.

All words by Joe Whyte whose Louder Than War author’s archive, where you can read more by him, is here.

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