The Damned’s Captain Sensible is our latest 13 Questions victim
The year is 1979. I am 16 years old and I am standing in the crowd at Eric’s. On stage are The Damned.
Captain Sensible is wearing a top and trousers made entirely of fun fur, Dave Vanian is suave and cool, a punk vampire, Rat Scabies is thrashing his drum kit to within an inch of its life and bassist Algy Ward is the anchor, trying his best to hold down the anarchy around him. The music is fast, loud and furious, and sounds as though it may collapse under the weight of its own chaos at any moment – The Damned were as punk as it got.
Fast forward 40 plus years and The Damned are still very much a going concern. That they are still a going concern is little short of miraculous. Back in the heyday of punk you would not have expected good odds on them surviving past the end of the 70s. But not only have they survived, they have positively prospered. New album Evil Spirits is a wonderful record that showcases the band as able to use punk, pop, rock and psychedelia influences to great effect and they can still pack out good sized venues across the globe.
Ahead of their latest Liverpool show, we subjected guitarist and Damned mainstay Captain Sensible to one of our infamous 13 Questions grillings.
Read on to find out more about Captain Sensible‘s first single, shocking guilty pleasure and his fear of hollyhocks.
1. Where are you and what are you doing?
‘Sunbathing by the dustbins around the back of a venue in Santa Cruz where we play tonight. I’m a tad hungover after a wild Halloween show in San Francisco in which our loud-mouthed chum Jello Biafra guested. My queasy feeling is not remotely alleviated by the rancid stench of stale beer and rotting garbage.. but I’d still rather hide out the back here than help carry in the equipment!’
2. How is that working out?
‘Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined being out on the road for 42 years and counting – I thought punk would only last 5 minutes then I’d be back on the dole… or cleaning toilets. I’ve heard some musicians after a few bevvies complaining that they’d never quite struck the big time, but success for me is doing something you love regardless of the financial rollercoaster that being in a band all too often feels like.’
‘Making an album [Evil Spirits] with Tony Visconti recently was a great experience.. we share with the great man a preference for old school recording methods. And if Visconti’s good enough for Bolan and Bowie he’s good enough for The Damned.’
3. What’s the most you’ve ever spent on a round of drinks?
‘You’re obviously unaware of my reputation as one of the world’s greatest tightwads. But if avoidance is impossible and I do ever get my round in I simply won’t order anyone a certain cola drink.. not being a great fan of the company.’
4. Which do you prefer, playing live or being in a recording studio?
They are distinctly opposite disciplines… live it’s a balance between spectacle and musicianship. I like a bit of chaos, that’s been my job in the band for many years. Gigs are a drag if they’re the same every night. The Damned don’t do that – we improvise mid song whenever possible and never rehearse our between song banter.. which keeps it real.
Studio wise it’s nice to stretch yourselves.. try new ideas, experiment. No two Damned albums sound the same, it’s fun to throw a few surprises in there. I am very comfortable in a studio.. I’ll try anything and don’t give a monkeys if it doesn’t get used – there’s no room for embarrassment in rock n roll. You have to just go for it.’
5. What was the first record you bought with your own money?
‘Telstar by The Tornados – it was a Joe Meek production job. He was a magician of sound. I still marvel at how it was even possible to produce a masterpiece like that in a cramped room above a shop in Holloway Road.’
6. What was the first gig you went to?
‘The Rolling Stones free gig in Hyde Park. Mick wore a white dress while opening a bag containing a thousand butterflies in recently departed Brian’s memory. Fun as it was, they were slightly overshadowed by that days support act.. it was King Crimson’s first ever gig. Nobody had ever heard anything quite like that before!’
7. What is the worst gig you’ve ever done?
‘Oh well… you only need to drop a pin into a list of shows during the ‘chaos years’ where The Damned were on auto destruct. There was SO MUCH drinking.. and all the rest of it.. I can only be thankful there was no YouTube around in those days. We’d start in the pub near the record label and carry on in the back of the van until gig time. Hopefully the audience was equally ‘merry’.’
8. Tell us a secret
‘Like my hero Jimmy Page, I don’t listen to loud music on the way to shows… I heard once that he was partial to The Carpenters back in the day. I go for Lush, El Perro Del Mar and Liverpool’s finest – Ooberman. Melancholic pop mainly.. so that when it’s time to hit the stage you can’t wait to play some noisy guitar.’
9. What’s your first memory?
‘Staring up at some giant (they seemed at the time) hollyhocks in mum and dad’s garden in Balham. A few years later I read the Day Of The Triffids. And I’m still not quite sure about hollyhocks’.
10. What’s your guilty listening pleasure?
‘I still enjoy dancing about in Sensible Mansions to those foot stomping glam rock classics by ‘the artist who cannot be mentioned’.’
11. Vinyl, CD, MP3 or Streaming?
‘Vinyl every time at home. But MP3 for on the road.. I thought carrying a big box of cassettes of mixtapes was pretty fab when that happened, and now you can take your entire record collection so, whatever mood you’re in, it’s right there with you. From Johnny Moped to Pink Floyd… the sublime to the ridiculous. Or was that the other way round??
Streaming is a fraud.. if the company / app disappears, so does your music.’
12. When was the last time you laughed until you cried?
‘During the soundcheck recently… we improvised a song for Rotosound strings on the fly.. I’m not sure they’d have approved of the first lyric attempt, which contained a few expletives.
And I still find On The Buses funny… the way poor Olive is treated, you’d never get away with that in these PC times. Likewise with Stan and Jack leering at the ‘clippies’.. it’s actually even funnier now.. but for different reasons.’
13. Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Is there anything else you’d like to say?
‘It always amazes me that punk is such an enduring trend.. I’ve managed to survive 40 odd (very odd actually) years without having to go back to a regular day job. Boy I used to hate getting up at the crack of dawn.. And, apart from the inevitable hearing damage, I can’t think of any downside to twanging a guitar for a living. People even buy you drinks… bloody brilliant! ‘
And with that, the good Captain can head indoors, away from the smell of rotting garbage and can treat his hangover with music that is still some of the most raucous to be heard anywhere on the planet. And good on him.