Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Damned's Captain Sensible on the return of drummer Rat Scabies, the importance of the Ramones and the legend of CBGB

The Damned of the 1980s (from left): Captain Sensible, David Vanian, Rat Scabies and Paul Gray 

On Friday, May 31, the Hammerstein Ballroom hosts The Damned's Black Strawberry Ball, which reunites the UK band's iconic 1980s lineup for the first time since 1989. 

With the return of drummer Rat Scabies, the band — David Vanian, Captain Sensible, Scabies, Paul Gray (and joined by 1999-era recruit Monty Oxymoron on keyboards) — will perform together after 35 years. 

The Damned lay to claim being the first UK punk band to officially release a single, "New Rose," in 1976. Today, the band has 12 studio albums, evolving from the London punk scene to a more expansive and influential goth-rock sound. 

Band co-founder Captain Sensible fielded some questions from EVG ahead of next week's NYC show.

The headline ahead of this tour is that with Rat Scabies back in the fold. How did the early rehearsals go for this tour? Did it feel like picking up where you left off, or was there an adjustment period? 

We were all grinning like Cheshire Cats after the first few rehearsed songs... it was like winding the clock back to the 80s; that beautiful garage vibe was back, and of course, we have to credit Rat for that 'cause his drumming doesn’t hold back. He's as much a frontman as we are. It's nice to stop arguing and do what we do best. 

What does this lineup mean for setlists — will you be playing a lot from [1979-1982 releases] The Black Album, Strawberries and Machine Gun Etiquette? Will there also be songs from throughout the Damned's catalog? 

There are several bands in the Damned — punk, goth, psych, and we rock out, too, given half a chance. 

So writing setlists isn't easy 'cause there's a lot of material to choose from. We play a goth fest, and that's basically what's in the setlist... but this time out, we are going to grab a fair few from The Black Album and Strawberries 'cause apart from Monty, this lineup was responsible. God, how I wish [Monty had] been there though. Because with no computer shenanigans in the studio, Dave and myself shared the keyboard duties, and neither of us is what you'd call virtuosos. Can you imagine: it was take 47... take 53, etc, etc. Nowadays, you press a button, and a machine does it, which is why modern pop sounds so appalling. 

But, back to the setlist: Yes, we are topping it up with a bunch of faves from across the career. 

On May 31, you'll be in NYC at the Hammerstein Ballroom. On May 19, 2001, at the Hammerstein, you played Joey Ramone's 50th birthday bash a month after he tragically passed away. What did Joey and the Ramones mean to you? 

When the Ramones got their album out it proved that, despite being diametrically opposite to the popular music of the day, the stadium rock of the likes of Genesis ... more raunchy music like ours could fight its way through.

So when they played their first London show [July 1976], the majority of the audience was comprised of people in their own noisy bands playing small clubs and pubs around London with no real hopes of success. Joey and company showed it could be done. 

 I always grab a selfie at Joey's street sign on the Bowery [at Second Street] and then nip round the corner for a knish at that place on Houston Street that he was known to frequent. 

The backstage atmosphere at Joey's 50th birthday party was upbeat and fun — a celebration of his life. That's the way that I'd prefer to go too — none of that depressing stuff; remember the good times. 

In April 1977, the Damned played four nights at CBGB — the first UK punk band to do so. One CBGB superfan remembered your April 8 set this way: "They were aggressive, and the singer wore big black eye makeup, Captain Sensible wore a nurse's outfit. They were polished pandemonium. They didn't hang out afterward as most of the NY bands did." 

What do you recall about those shows? Any trepidation at the time about playing in a club that was quickly gaining a punk reputation? 

We couldn’t hang around 'cause after our performance, the club chucked everybody out, including us, and started sound-checking for a second show on the same day. We'd never experienced that in the UK, but New York is full of bars, so we just found the nearest and carried on there. 

The Damned at the time were like a gang — we had no respect for anyone. The drinking and chaos would get out of hand quite often. I can remember getting thrown out of four Paris hotels in one night. I believe we threw quite a few insults at the sedate CBGB audience and got some abuse back, but any reaction was better than NO reaction, so that was all good. 

Seeing what has become of CBGB is tragic, though... how short-sighted of city bigwigs not to keep the place running as a venue — it'd be a shrine to punk rock for fans the world over who would flock to NY to see where it all began.

You'll be touring the U.S. in May and June. What else is next for The Damned? 

We really pushed ourselves with [2023 album] Darkadelic, which sold a few to diehard fans and the odd discerning music lover, but how would anyone else have heard about its release. We're now in the old fart category and don't get played on the radio.

I get it — the music scene is for young trendies, but you know, we bust a gut on Darkadelic and are very happy with its sense of adventure musically and lyrically. We've come a long way since "Smash It Up"!

Having said all that — with the return of Rat Scabies, it'd be a criminal waste not to make one last cracker of an album featuring his vibey drumming. So, I'm gonna make it my priority to kick start that idea.


A select videography...



The Damned's Black Strawberry Ball will also feature special guests Lenny Kaye & Friends celebrating Nuggets and The Dictators.

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