Ahead of his appearance at the Croydon Summer Festival at the end of the month, John Morgan caught up with Captain Sensible of The Damned to find out his thoughts.
Q: You’re playing the Croydon Summer Festival 31st July. How do you find playing festivals? Do you find the festival audiences different to your normal fans?
A: Yes, it takes you away from the comfort zone of playing in front of an audience who love the band, knowing the songs inside out. We'll try and tailor the setist so that it goes down well even with those that are unfamiliar with our own particular mix of punk and goth.
You also have to avoid some of the little self indulgences you might get away with in front of your own crowd. I'll try and keep the guitar solos under 5 minutes or so for example…..
Q: I guess a fair percentage of your audience now weren’t even born when you started out. Did you ever think in 1976, that the Damned would be gigging in 2010?
A: I honestly thought that our 1st album would also be our last. The Damned don't really sound that radical these days as there's been a million punk bands since we started but back in the day it was a giant leap from Little Jimmy Osmond and Emmylou Harris to what we were doing onstage.
My boss at the Fairfield Halls where I'd been working was nice enough to tell me that if it all fell through I could have my old job back.
Q: The Damned were the first British band to bring punk to the United States. What was the experience like and did it feel as though you were creating history?
A: Well, there had been a kind of punk over there previous to our arrival but it had been a bit of a drugged out art scene. The blaze of energy that our '77 set consisted of was not always that popular, especially when you ventured away from the big cities like New York and LA. But I've met lots of big time musicians who've told me since that our first gigs out there kick started the whole LA punk scene…. and they all went out and formed a band the next week, which is nice, but I'd rather have a big sack of cash!
Q: You’re infamous for your crowd interaction, what’s the craziest reaction you’ve ever got from an audience.
A: I lost count of the number of guitar pedals that got trashed during stage invasions. Cost me a fortune in 'talent boosters' that did.
The funniest thing I saw was this gig in the US where under 21s were on one side of the hall and the legal drinkers on the other….. with a mesh fence kinda thing keeping the under-agers away from the bevvy. There was a constant stream of thirsty youngsters throughout the show jumping onstage for a quick cavort and then diving into the crowd on the other side of the fence. In fact there was virtually nobody left on the 'dry' side by the time we'd finished.
Q: You’re a guitar hero to many, but who do you really rate as a guitar player?
A: Well, the bloke that took the whole guitar thing to another planet was Jimi Hendrix. There's loads of great players but he made the thing talk. One of the most astonishing protest songs of all time was Jimi's rendition of the 'Star Spangled Banner' at the Woodstock festival. The Vietnam war was in full swing at the time and in the blistering feedback of the Hendrix version you could almost hear the bombs raining down.
An anti war song without words, that was the genius of Jimi Hendrix.
Q: How do you feel about Dizee Rascal sampling Happy Talk?
A: He's got an ear for a good sample hasn't he. He kept my lovely backing singers in his version but chopped all of the old 'Sensible' warbling out. I have to tell you – I was pretty devastated – until the cheque arrived.
I'd ran out of my own songs while recording my 1st solo album….. finding Happy Talk on a film soundtrack in my Mum and Dads record collection we just covered it for a laugh but the next thing you know it's number 1.
I couldn't walk down the road for the next year or so without being dragged into pubs by people saying “Oy, Sensible….. where's your parrot? Come and have a drink with us you daft sod”
The good news is that my 80s material has just been released on CD for the 1st time ever. I contributed some wacky sleeve notes and am rather chuffed about it all. 80s pop doesn't sound that bad these days you know…. it's stood the test of time. Honest.
Q: Have you got any solo stuff planned for the future?
A: Blimey, if the rest of the band get to read this I'll be getting requests to turn down the charisma a notch or 2. I'm just enjoying twanging the guitar in the Damned at the moment. I've got a new Marshall amplifier especially for the Croydon show.
Q: What do think of punk rock today? Or at least the bands which attach the punk label to their music?
A: Unfortunately you could sell a turd if the video was slick enough….. there's too many below par American bands coming over here getting big audiences because their clip is being played to death on some video channel or other.
The Damned have had some fantastic young home grown support acts on recent UK tours but I fear they won't get a decent crack of the whip because British radio stations will give them no support – they simply will not play records by British guitar bands. I reckon it's a national scandal. At least 6 Music has been saved.
Q: Punk had a spirit of do-it yourself, do you think that ethos has come around again for bands what with advancements in home recording equipment and social networking?
A: Yes, we all have better recording equipment in our bedrooms than the Beatles had when they recorded Sgt Pepper, which is great. And cutting out the labels feels nice too. What the music industry will look like in 5/10 years time is anyone's guess though. It'd be nice to see the odious Simon Cowell out on his ear though. If he had one that is.
Q: You’ve always been involved in politics, do you think anyone in music has anything relevant say to reflect the current climate?
A: Well, it's not as though there's any shortage of topics for lyric writing purposes is there?
I thought George Michael was very brave with his 'Shoot The Dog' song during the Bush / Blair era. Hilarious video too.
That shows how out of touch with current music I am though, laughs. George Michael!
Q: What’s next on the horizon for The Damned?
A: We'd like to promote our recent album ('So, Who's Paranoid') in some more exotic places like South America next year as it'll be (believe it or not) our 35th anniversary.
We started the band in the incredibly hot summer of 1976 – I still remember all of us lugging the drums and guitars to the rehearsal studios on the top deck of a bloomin' bus as we didn't have a van.
Phew….. what a scorcher. Indeed!
The Damned are playing the Croydon Summer Festival on Saturday 31st July with the Lightening Seeds and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.