“We’re Not Gonna Go Quietly”: Captain Sensible on The Damned’s Darkadelic
The punk O.G. talks politics, Pink Floyd and flipping off the grim reaper
The Damned’s new album, Darkadelic, is a classic example of truth in packaging.
Keeping with its title, it melds Dave Vanian’s gothy, midnight Hammer film fest vibe with Captain Sensible’s grounding in garage psych guitar licks, adding the in-your-face attack that only England’s punk godfathers can muster.
It’s startling that a band whose first single was released 47 years ago can still come hurtling out of the gate with such fierce momentum. Somehow, Vanian’s dramatic baritone is more powerful than ever, prompting the notion that the singer once famous for dressing like a vampire has achieved perpetual youth through supernatural means. And Captain’s guitar is as deadly a weapon as it was on Machine Gun Etiquette, with the added excitement of the psych/prog-schooled chops that were déclassé in the days of pogoing and gobbing.
Darkadelic has everything a Damned fan could ask for—the anti-authoritarian broadside “Beware of the Clown,” Vanian stirring up some spooky Edgar Allen Poe vibes on “Roderick,” the savage smash-it-up of “Motorcycle Man,” and more. Captain kindly sat down to share his thoughts on how it all came together and what it’s like to be a rock ‘n’ roll original in these tricky times.
When you were making the new album, what was the working dynamic between you and Dave?
It came out of the pandemic lockdown years. Because we couldn’t work [on the road]. So, both of us accumulated a selection of tunes. And we convened in the studio and we were playing each other the songs. It became apparent that the material was quite strong, because we had a few years to write it, I suppose. We’d tweak and improve each other’s songs. I can usually find a key change or whatever’s required in one of his songs, and he improves all my songs. I saw that film about The Beatles, it’s a little bit like that, really. It works. Dave’s more wordy than I am, he’s a bit of a poet, and my songs are more direct. If I want to get my point over it’s usually in a more immediate way and you know what I’m talking about, but Dave approaches things in a more poetic, darker way.
How would you characterize the contrasting musical flavors you both bring to the table?
I used to say, “Well you can tell which ones were my songs because they’re the melodic ones,” but you can’t say that anymore, really. Dave’s material on Darkadelic is very strong. The only problem for me during the sessions was actually getting to sleep each night because I had the tunes running through my head, bouncing around. It made it difficult to sleep.
Where would you say [bassist] Paul Gray fits into that? He’s pretty well represented in the songwriting on the new album.
Paul’s great. You know, Eddie & the Hot Rods, which was his band, was more R&B flavored. So, I disparagingly announce to the audience most nights, “You can probably tell that’s one of Paul’s songs, it sounds like Eddie & The Hot Rods.” He’s got a song on there called “Motorcycle Man,” it’s very Paul.
There’s a kind of garage psych undercurrent to some of the tracks, how much of an influence is that kind of sound for you?
For me and Dave and Paul, the three of us, it’s what unites us in our quest to make music, is that we all dig the same thing. That’s that genre, garage psych. Paul Gray, the only thing he ever listens to is this internet radio station called Psychedelicized. It’s just nonstop garage psych, it’s fantastic. When we did an album called Strawberries we were listening to the Nuggets album. I think rock music sounds a bit stodgy and dated these days, but garage bands don’t for some reason, I suppose because they’re not doing the same old same old, they’re all inventing their own kind of sounds because they don’t have any preconceived techniques.
Some of Monty Oxymoron’s keyboard parts on the album lend themselves to that vibe too, there’s a bit of that ‘60s combo organ/Vox Continental kind of sound. Is that intended to bring out that kind of feel?
Yeah, we were heavy on the Farfisa actually on this one. It’s a great sound. If it’s good enough for Rick Wright of Pink Floyd it’s good enough for us [laughs].
I know that you love a lot of ‘60s psychedelia and early ‘70s krautrock and Canterbury bands and such. What was it like entering the punk era with that kind of background?
During the ‘70s, when I was learning to play, I always assumed that when I got good enough I might join a prog rock band or maybe a glam rock band. By the time I had learned, music had changed so dramatically it was kind of a reaction against prog rock, so nobody really wanted guitar solos anymore. So I had to kind of pretend I couldn’t play a bit [laughs]. Quite a funny period really. I really liked T. Rex and The Sweet. These bands were great, really strong glam rock images—they didn’t care what they wore, it was all flamboyant, crazy stuff, costumes. I really wanted to get involved with that scene. So my job as I saw it in The Damned was to bring that kind of “I don’t really give a shit” attitude to my wardrobe. I’ve always tried to be a bit flamboyant in that respect.
VIDEO: The Damned “The Invisible Man”
One of the great things about the new album is that even after 40-plus years, there’s still the same level of energy and momentum. Most bands of a similar vintage aren’t able to manage that. How do you do it?
Dunno, really. Like you were saying, me, Dave, and Paul write. And we’re kind of competitors. There’s a strong rivalry to get your songs on the album. So we really did go for it when we were putting these tunes together. But when The Damned start playing, it just takes on that sound for unknown reasons. A lot of it’s Dave’s voice, which is unmistakably him. It’s a pleasure to write a song for someone like that, you know he’s gonna do it justice, he can really sing. He’s lucky, he’s kept his voice as well.
What would you say are the biggest differences between the Damned of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s and the Damned of today?
Well obviously we can’t drink ourselves into oblivion as we used to now. It was just chaos for about 10 years. I don’t know how we lived to tell the tale, to be quite honest, because every stupid thing a band can do, we did it. We got thrown out of a fair few record labels for debauched behavior in the offices. We were banned from TV for six months in Britain for bad behavior. Nowadays it’s like an old gentleman’s club on the road. Drinking has been curbed dramatically, and instead of talking about parties and girls and booze you tend to swap stories of your recent hospital visit or “I wasn’t feeling particularly well last week.” The only thing that stayed the same is the songs and the sounds we make, which certainly wakes you up, I go onstage and as soon as we start playing those songs it’s hugely exciting. It’s the material that drives you on.
I’m always thrilled to see Martin Newell pop up. I know you’ve worked together in the past, but how did you wind up writing “Wake the Dead” with him?
I had a crack at the lyric myself and I didn’t feel I was doing it justice. The punk generation, when people die these days you get people playing punk songs at funerals. We have a song called “Love Song,” I played it at my dad’s funeral because it was his favorite. He used to come back from the pubs singing, in a frank Sinatra style, this lyric. “Just for you here’s a love song.” So I thought to myself, blimey, maybe we ought to write a song specially for this occasion, so that was Martin’s brief, and he certainly did it justice. The punk rock way is not to get maudlin and depressed about it, it’s something that happens to everyone. We go through life and something happens at the end, why worry about it and fixate about it? So that song is basically two fingers to the grim reaper, we have no fear. Punk rockers and goths are people who wear skulls and coffins and stuff like that on their t shirts, they’re not gonna be upset about going to a funeral. So that was my thinking. It’s a two fingered riposte to the grim reaper, who should be the one to worry, because when the punk generation goes, we’re not gonna go quietly, are we?
There are a few songs on the album with a bit of a political bent, how different is it to do that kind of song in the current climate than it was back in the ‘70s?
The difficult thing when you’re gonna tackle politics is, it’s so easy to go on a rant. Politics is profoundly depressing. These leaders are morons and each successive one seems to be worse than the previous one. So the song [“Beware of the Clown”] virtually wrote itself, because for every clown, once the clown’s gone there’s another one waiting in the wings to take over. You either have a rant about it or you laugh about it. The song’s laughing at it, they’re idiots.
VIDEO: The Damned “Beware of the Clown”
Is “Bad Weather Girl” about climate change?
Yes it is, I suppose, there’s some of that in there. If we’re gonna shut down the world, we’d better be sure we know what we’re doing. Because it ain’t gonna be pretty if we go back to a feudalist kind of existence with no transportation and no heating and all the rest of it, so we’d better be sure we know what we’re doing. It’s just a debate that should be happening, because these are massive things that are being decided and I don’t think there’s enough talking going on about it. The people should understand the changes being planned in the dash to net zero are really going to be devastating for every country in the world that goes for it.
Is “Leader of the Gang” about Gary Glitter?
[Laughs] It’s very brave to tackle something like that. Because the bloke is an absolute pariah, but once again, if nobody else has got the bottle to do it I will. The song doesn’t praise him, but it’s like burning books, if you’re gonna have freedom of speech you can’t burn books, you’ve gotta have it all out there. The things this guy’s done are apalling, but the music is still magnificent and it’s still a big part of a great movement. The glam movement featured so big for my generation. Nobody wants to see that particular person again, but the music deserves to be heard, I think, and that’s the point of the song. There’s no way that the song’s praising him.
No, of course not, it doesn’t come off that way at all. And if anything, it’s more and more those kinds of reckonings are relevant, where people who’ve made great art are coming to those kinds of situations and you have to reconcile where you separate the person from the art.
Exactly, because this isn’t the only character that’s ever done something bad. There’s politicians and movie directors and kings of pop and all sorts of people—do we cancel everybody? Where does it start and where does it stop? And once again it’s a debate that should be happening.
Will the band be coming to the US in support of the album?
Yes, we’re coming for [springtime Las Vegas festival] Punk Rock Bowling, which is part of the punk rock calendar these days. We’re gonna do a smattering of dates, and then we’re gonna come back for a proper tour later.
When you finished working on the album and you heard the final mixes for the first time, what was the first thought that came into your head about it?
I thought it sounded like a proper band [laughs]. I always judge us on the records that I bought when I was a youngster. These people were good—Led Zeppelin and The Beatles and Soft Machine, I mean, they could play! I always judged, “How do we compare with these amazing bands?” I was listening back and I thought, “Oh yeah, we’re not bad, actually!” I’m quite a self-critic, but it sounded good!
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One thought on ““We’re Not Gonna Go Quietly”: Captain Sensible on The Damned’s Darkadelic”
Great interview, and wonderful to see that these guys are still giving it the passion and creativity they’ve always shown. Cheers to Captain and the rest of the crew!