Article by Jason Setnyk | Photo by Marcus Robinson
London, England – In 1976, The Damned made music history releasing the first-ever UK punk single titled “New Rose” about five weeks before The Sex Pistols released their single “Anarchy in the UK.” Early in their career, The Damned quickly became fan favorites and shared the stage with groups like The Clash, Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers, and The Sex Pistols.
In 1980-1981, The Damned produced some of their greatest musical moments at Rockfield Studios for a series of sessions that eventually became The Black Album, the Strawberries LP, and The Friday 13th EP. Over the years, bands like Queen, Motörhead, and Oasis would also record at the infamous studio located on the outskirts of Rockfield, Monmouthshire, Wales.
In 2019, The Damned returned to Rockfield studios to record their first new music since 2018’s Evil Spirits album, which ranked #7 on the UK Charts.
The Damned will release their new EP “The Rockfield Files” via Spinefarm Records on October 16th, 2020.
The line-up for the new EP included three out of the four Damned members that were at the original sessions – David Vanian (vocals), Captain Sensible (guitar), and Paul Gray (bass). They were also joined by Monty Oxymoron (keyboards) and Pinch (drums).
“I don’t know why we didn’t go back sooner because it was such a creative place for us. When we recorded The Black Album in 1980, it helped bring in the goth movement. Obviously, The Black Album is pretty dark stuff, and nobody was doing it at the time. We always pushed the envelope in Rockfield. The atmosphere can be described as this; it’s a farm in the middle of nowhere. This bloke named Kingsley Ward runs it and lets you do whatever you want, really. The things we got up to there back in the day, not every studio would have approved of it,” Captain Sensible reminisced.
Raymond Ian Burns, aka Captain Sensible, was a co-founding member of The Dammed. He initially played the bass before permanently switching to the guitar. He enjoys the creative freedom of recording at Rockfield Studios.
“The creative freedom inspires you to take risks and experiment. We would use anything we found in the studio from the previous session, whether it was a Mellotron or Tubular Bells. We used to mess around in the back of a grand piano banging on it with strings, drumsticks, and stuff. This was before we had laptops with every known sound to humanity contained therein. We had to experiment and stuff. We went back for those reasons, and sure enough, the old magic came back. We took these tunes, which were about 3 minutes long, and most of them ended up 5 minutes long, so we were having fun there. It’s a fun place in the middle of nowhere in the hills of Wales. It’s glorious, there’s a lovely pub around the corner,” Captain Sensible went on.
The album cover for “The Rockfield Files” EP depicts The Damned in a field hanging out with a cow. Although Captain Sensible has been a vegetarian since living in a commune with Crass for a week in 1981, it was David Vanian who made close friends with one of the cows.
“We’d go out in the fields and talk to the cows every morning after breakfast. Our esteemed singer, he struck up quite the relationship with one of the cows, it is true. On the cover, that’s just one of the cows in the field we were getting along quite well with,” Captain Sensible recalled.
“There is an animal theme running through the EP. One of the songs, “Keep ’em Alive,” is about bees, the demise of which in population is not good for them or us. They pollinate so many crops that in turn feed us, so in a way, they keep us alive. With the song “The Spider & The Fly,” there is a bit of an insect theme going on,” Captain Sensible explained.
A music video for the song “Keep ’em Alive” was released in mid-August and had approximately 40,000 views at the time of publication. The video incorporates drone footage mixed with live band footage.
Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LR2W8ZoU8EU
“It’s difficult in these strange times to make a video when the band can’t get together to appear in it, so we took a bunch of live clips. Since the song is about bees and keeping bees alive, if possible, stop poisoning them with pesticides. Not that I do that personally, but the farmers do it on our behalf, and they should stop. We decided to film it from a first-person perspective from a bee’s point of view. The bee is flying around, and it is exhilarating, sweeping over the hedge’s, going by trees, and swooping down the railway tracks. I could not believe it when I saw the footage. It must be amazing being an insect or a bird flying. We are so smart us humans, but we will never know what it is like to achieve flight ourselves unaided. That is bees one, and human’s nil. The filming is truly spectacular. I could not believe the drone pilot, and how good he was with some of the stunts he pulled off. We only had one drone, and if he had crashed it, that would have been the end of the video; there would be no more filming. He did an incredible job, especially when he went up to that chimney with the drone, that was incredible,” Captain Sensible replied.
Another song off the new album is called “Manipulator.” Although Captain Sensible did not write the lyrics, he explains what the concept of manipulation means to him.
“You’d have to ask the songwriter the meaning behind the song Manipulator. However, I think there is a lot of Machiavellianism and manipulating of people. Every time you turn the TV on, you are being manipulated to a certain extent. I got rid of my TV thirty-odd years ago when I was raising a young family, and I got fed up with the rubbish they were picking up on TV. It is amazing the difference in your point of view in comparison to those who do watch TV. I cannot believe what comes out of people’s mouths because they get bombarded with nonsense nonstop every day. I do not get bombarded with this nonsense, so I tend not to talk politics with people. I cannot believe the nonsense they come up with. They believe in this left/right thing, which is two cheeks of the same ass. That is my last word on that subject,” Captain Sensible remarked.
Three subjects cause arguments: politics, religion, and who invented punk.
“David and I think it (punk rock) comes from The Seeds and The Chocolate Watchband and garage bands from the 1960s. That is where we think punk started,” Captain Sensible declared.
Songs like “Manipulator” echo that vintage punk sound heard on early albums by The Damned. It is a far cry from the sound the band achieved recording Phantasmagoria.
“Yes, there is an element of that. It is partly because we do punk festivals when we are allowed to gig. We work with these bands. We are essentially a live band. It is what we do, and when we’re on stage, we go for it. It is a glorious thing, a thrashing drum kit, a cranked guitar, and a singer whaling at the top of his lungs. It is just fantastic. I was not with them when they recorded the Phantasmagoria period stuff. Although it was successful and has a good sound, it is not shit-kicking or wild. I think when we go out on stage, we must be a punk group. Obviously, it is what we are. Are we going back to the sound of bygone days? Yes, I think we are because we are a punk group. For me, the Phantasmagoria years sound a little bit tame. I like Phantasmagoria, but essentially we’re a rock and roll band, and we should sound like one,” Captain Sensible responded.
“The Rockfield Files” EP was produced and mixed by Tom Dalgety. He is known for his production work with Royal Blood, Rammstein, and Ghost. This is the first time he has worked with The Damned.
“Tom was brilliant. He is great with guitars and bass. He makes everything sound good. I like the bloke a lot,” Captain Sensible added.
Unbeknown to the band, this was to be the last recordings with the long-time drummer Andrew “Pinch” Pinching, who departed The Damned after their legendary show at The London Palladium, last Halloween.
“For the EP, Pinch was the drummer, and he quit after those sessions. This is a tribute to him, really. The bloke was absolutely immense, and the stuff he had to put up with dealing with myself and Mr. Vanian, we are a couple of eccentric old gits if the truth is known. Pinch is ten or so years younger than us. He was in a thrash punk band called The English Dogs. For him to join us, it is like an eccentric gentlemen’s club but on the road. It must have been so difficult for him. The bloke was an immense drummer. It’s a great tribute and send off for him,” Captain Sensible noted.
The Damned are looking forward to playing concerts again after the pandemic. Captain Sensible knows what song he would like to play live first.
“The first song I would like to play again live is “Neat Neat Neat.” The rift is a tip of the hat to Eddie Cochran. It is just a fantastic rift to jam around. Every gig is different, and we have done so many versions of “Neat Neat Neat.” Sometimes we take it to places, and you do not know how to come back from it. It goes into this drifty psychedelic thing, or other times it takes a life of its own. It is a great tune to noodle too, a great tune to dance to. Thank you, Eddie,” Captain Sensible professed.
“The song “Neat Neat Neat” has a little kink in the rift. On the third time you play it, there is a little push. That push is essential. I remember Brian and me; we would sit there one on one while he taught me the rifts and stuff back around 1976. He said it is particularly important this little kink, this little push. Whenever I hear anyone do a cover of it, I am very keen to hear that they get that part right,” Captain Sensible divulged.
Furthermore, Captain Sensible is grateful to have played in the 1970s, experiencing the end of the rock and roll era.
“I’m grateful to have been playing the guitar at the time that I did. Regardless of punk rock, I feel we caught the tail end of a golden period for rock and roll. Where a record was a record, a physical thing. A label would put you in the studio for three weeks with a producer, and let you get on with it and make the album that you wanted to make. They wouldn’t be breathing over your shoulder about specific things you needed to do,” Captain Sensible admitted.
Over the span of 44 years, The Damned have appeared on several record labels. They did not always make the record labels happy, but they made themselves, and many fans pleased with the music they created.
“I think for every label we recorded an album for; I think a part of the reason we’re shown the door each time was not just because of the music but because of our disgraceful behavior. We used to really upset people; we could behave quite disgracefully if we wanted to. I still reserve the right to be as rude as humanly possible whenever someone upsets me. I do not think we ever gave a record label the album they thought they were going to get. I think they often ended up with an album that was good but not what they wanted to sell. It was not the product they wanted. I hate the word product. For me, you go into the studio and make the music you believe in. The Damned have been on a musical adventure for over 40 years. We do what we do to please ourselves. If anybody out there likes it, that is absolutely fantastic, and if they don’t, at least we made ourselves happy. It’s very selfish, but if you’re any kind of artist, you got to push the envelope as far as humanly possible,” Captain Sensible disclosed.
The Damned are a part of UK punk music history, their peers were other talented musicians, and many of them knew each other. For example, Sid Vicious had an audition with The Damned. Although he missed his audition, he would become drink buddies with Captain Sensible.
“London was a melting pot in 1976, and there was a bunch of musicians, and the way the bands formed, we were all trying out with each other. Tony James from Generation X, I think he was working with Brian for a while. Chrissie Hynde was almost in The Damned. There were all sorts of permutations. Sid Vicious did not turn up to the audition. It was only through his kind of haphazard chaotic nature that he did not join us rather than The Sex Pistols. I liked Sid; I got along well with him. We had a couple of scraps as you do when you’ve had a few drinks, but I liked the bloke, and we use to get in trouble occasionally. We did end up in the police station a couple of times by misbehaving after drinking all night. Those were the days,” Captain Sensible acknowledged with a chuckle.
While punk rock bands like The Ramones sported leather jackets and tight jeans in the 1970s, Captain Sensible had his own unique fashion sense. He often wore a beret with sunglasses and a black and red striped shirt. In the early years of punk, fans would often spit at musicians, which inspired Captain Sensible to wear a hat.
“I would usually wear a striped shirt or pullover. Red and black are my favorite colors. I saw a picture of Kurt Cobain wearing a black and red shirt. Maybe he is a fan of Denis the Menace the same as I am because that is where I stole it from. The character is just an anarchist kid. That is where the stripes come from. The hat was basically because they use to spit at us in Britain. When I went to the hotel after, I could not get the baked in spit out of my hair for about half an hour while in the shower. It was disgusting, so I started wearing a hat. It became a part of the image. I would go on stage, and if I were not wearing a hat, people would ask who is that? That is where the sensible look came from,” Captain Sensible replied.
In addition to being the guitarist of The Damned, Captain Sensible had a successful solo career. For example, his cover of “Happy Talk” was a number one hit. Now, during the lock-down, Captain Sensible is working on new music.
“I think with these enforced restrictions, and not being on the road in lock-down, and no gigs thing, it’s forcing everyone who can put a tune together to make their albums. Look out for some spectacular music coming up. The only good thing to come out of this pandemic nonsense is that everyone is making an album now. I am working on tunes with Mr. Vanian, and I also just released an album with Paul Gray. It’s an album full of The Damned rejects, songs that The Damned did not want. We write more songs than what we use, and instead of putting those songs on the shelf, we release some of them. It is called The Sensible Gray Cells. That is coming out on Damaged Goods Records in a few weeks. It’s a spectacular cover as well,” Captain Sensible said.
The Damned have already started the process of writing new music.
“Funny enough, I am just preparing (new) material at the moment. I think Mr. Vanian is doing the same. No gigs mean you have all this time. Either you are watching the rubbish on TV or you get your guitar out and try to write a classic. The way we do it is by throwing MP3’s at each other tacked on to an email. I am not a great fan of technology if the truth is known. The good news is everyone has this technology in their computers or laptops. Anyone who wants to record 24 tracks will not have to go to a studio to do it these days. You can put your songs together at home. Many hits are made at home, which is fantastic. It is a great leveling of the playing field. In the old days, only signed artists could afford to go into a studio. They were bloody expensive back in the day,” Captain Sensible emphasized.
“That’s good, but on the other hand, the downside is the software and the autocorrect and auto-tuning, the maximizing and the compression, everything ends up sounding so pristine and perfect. There are no mistakes, no raw edges. I believe new bands should beware of this, the software’s power and not overuse it. You got to leave some rough edges and leave some rock and roll in it. Making everything louder than everything else, you end up with something unlistenable. There are often good bands out there, but the recorded music I hear from them is almost unlistenable. The pumping compression is so over the top. My advice to young bands, you should get hold of a few 70s albums. Not necessarily by punk groups, but Black Sabbath’s first album or Rumour by Fleetwood Mac or something by the Almond Brothers. You do not necessarily have to like the music but listen to the beautiful way these albums are recorded and the uncluttered nature of it. There are not a hundred guitars on these records. Usually, one or maybe two guitars, and that is it maximum. I would suggest people keep it a bit real and not go over the top,” Captain Sensible concluded.
“The Rockfield Files” EP by The Damned will be available to stream on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play. Pre-orders of the record in either black vinyl or limited-edition psychedelic swirl vinyl is available on the band’s website. T-shirts and CDs are also available for purchase. Visit: http://www.officialdamned.com/