While the Sex Pistols were promoting “Anarchy in the U.K.,” The Damned were threatening to “Smash It Up.”
In 2016, The Damned are marking their 40th anniversary—and the celebration includes a stop at Coachella, on Saturday, April 16, and Saturday, April 23.
Formed in London in 1976, the original lineup included Dave Vanian (lead vocals), Captain Sensible (bass, now guitar), Brian James (guitar) and Rat Scabies (drums). While punk at the time was rather political, the Damned played more of a gothic style of music. In fact, the band was first gothic-style group to make a name for itself in the punk genre.
In 1984, Captain Sensible left the band to focus on a solo career. Other members of the original lineup disappeared through the years, but the Damned kept on going. Captain Sensible rejoined the group full-time in 1996, and with Vanian and him as the remaining original members, the group has released two albums: Grave Disorder in 2001, and So, Who’s Paranoid? in 2008.
During a recent phone interview, the Damned’s drummer, Andrew Pinching (aka Pinch), joked about the man he replaced when he joined the band in 1999.
“They’d been doing it with the drummer of Captain Sensible’s solo band, an interesting character,” Pinch said. “His name was Garrie Dreadful, and he was dreadful by name, dreadful by nature.”
Thanks in part to a successful tour and album offers, the Damned once again became a strong unit in the late ’90s.
“They had a really successful United States tour, and they had record-label interests thanks to Dexter Holland from Offspring,” Pinch said. “They were seriously talking about doing a new record. When we did the Grave Disorder album, if it would have been a really shitty album with no life and no stock, I think (the band) really would have not gone much further. Everything clicked, and here we are, 17 years later.”
While some critics and fans are not fond of Grave Disorder, Pinch said he thinks it’s a great album.
“Quite honestly, the reviews were really positive, and we couldn’t believe that we actually didn’t do better from it, judging on how we saw it received,” he said. “The fans certainly liked it and thought it was a logical next step from The Black Album and Strawberries. I felt it represented all the best years, because everyone who was in the band was writing. I personally like it. There were several good examples of classic Vanian/Sensible songwriting on there. One particular song on there, called ‘Absinthe’: It really was a well-crafted song and really pulled together. I stand by that record, and in hindsight, I would have loved to have recorded it with a more slightly free hand, but I was the new boy, and I was told what to do.”
The new record led to high-profile tours, including one with Rob Zombie, a Warped Tour appearance, and a tour with Motorhead. However, it did not mark a return to the glory days.
“I can’t speak for Captain and Dave, but I think they were really hoping it was going to be a literal resurgence of the Damned,” Pinch said. “For us, the music business changed so catastrophically between Not of This Earth in 1995 and Grave Disorder in 2001. We were being unleashed into a completely different world. The music world will never the same as it was in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. I think in some way, they were victims of that. It was the start of the period … where everything was crossing over to MP3s and file-sharing. People started to expect music for free, and that’s even worse.”
The Damned’s touring schedule has calmed over the years. The trips to America seem to be getting further apart, but there’s a sensible (no pun intended) reason as to why.
“Travel-wise, the guys are getting older, and they don’t want to travel so much. When they do travel, they don’t want it to be so intense,” Pinch said. “We never used to think twice about touring six nights a week … but now it’s more like four on and three off, if you don’t mind. They tend to remember those shows now based on the restaurants they eat at.
“The Damned: Eating their way around the world, for free!” Pinch added with a laugh.
As for So, Who’s Paranoid? which was released in 2008, Pinch said the album was marred by bad timing.
“It was both beautiful and horrible in the same extremes,” he said. “We had an awful lot of songs to have a go at, and we had a potentially great situation lined up in a residential studio close to where Dave lives. But unfortunately, with that record, we were ready, and Dave wasn’t. He didn’t tell us he wasn’t ready, so we went ahead and tried to make a record, and he really put the absolute minimum effort into it that he absolutely could. He didn’t want to tell us he didn’t want to do it, so we went into it very excited and came out of it very disappointed.”
Will there be another album from the Damned? Pinch says perhaps.
“I hope so, and they keep talking about it. But we’re not going to make the same mistake again,” Pinch said. “It has to come from the front, with Dave and Captain being the songwriters. We can all put in our little bits, but the magic of the Damned’s sound is what those two craft together. It has to be that way for it to even start. We’ve got a record deal on the table right now, but we haven’t got the commitment from Dave and Captain to enable it to start. They’re looking at it like, ‘Let’s get this 40th anniversary out of the way.’ I would perhaps say, ‘Let’s get an album out for the 40th anniversary.’ There are whole genres of music that have come and gone between the time of Damned records. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is.”
The late Lemmy Kilmister, of Motorhead, was briefly a member of the Damned. Pinch said the band has struggled to accept his death, which occurred on Dec. 28.
“It’s a horrible inevitability. We all knew it was coming, and it was horrible to see it happening,” Pinch said. “We’re all devastated, because he was a great friend to the band, but also a great legend of rock ’n’ roll. … There’s certainly no way anyone could doubt that guy’s integrity. He never gave a fuck about anything apart from being the very best he could. Right up until the end, he was a rock ’n’ roll machine. We’re all still devastated about it.”
If you were confused this year when you first looked at the Coachella lineup, you were not alone.
“Honestly, when I saw the lineup come out, I recognized us, Guns N’ Roses, Rancid and the Last Shadow Puppets. That’s it,” Pinch said. “I thought, ‘Wow, what a really bizarre thing for us to play.’ Apparently, Goldenvoice are Damned fans, so thank you very much for putting us on, and it’s amazing to be playing this thing. But we’ll definitely be the weird goldfish. I think there will be a lot of people who are on a lot of happy drugs coming to see us and saying, ‘What the fuck is this?’ We’ll probably be like the freaks of the circus sideshow.”
“… I’ll put our band up against any band in the world for live performance. We’re a really hard-working, good musician’s band with a lot of songs, but we’re going to be stuck in front of an audience that’s never heard of us and aren’t there for rock at all. The only benefit we have is people don’t know this lineup and buy the tickets in advance, so who knows who could have been playing? People just go to Coachella because it’s Coachella, and it’s a cool, wacky festival in the desert. Maybe we’ll fair well; who knows? We’re going to get up there and do our usual cantankerous show full of wacky characters and hope for the best.”
Playing on the same day as Guns N’ Roses might also offer a glimmer of hope.
“I’m not sure what that’s going to be like. Maybe they’ll play a Damned song in their set list; who knows?” Pinch said. “There’s kind of is a weird degree of separation between us and those guys.”