Brian James, one of Punk’s founding fathers, gives Dave Jennings the lowdown on the reunion of The Damned original line-up.
This has obviously been a terrible year for many, and those in the Music Industry have felt the impact really badly. Venues and artists have struggled and suffered, as have the crew and technicians that are such an essential part of the live scene. There really is little positive to say on the subject at the moment, but out of the darkness came a strange, shimmering light; the original line up of The Damned were set to reform to play a series of shows next summer. This was a shot in the arm, if you will forgive the phrase, to much of their fanbase and intrigued many more.
In typical Damned-style, the announcement came totally out of the blue and around the time when the current line-up was at the top of the vinyl singles chart with EP The Rockfield Files. A huge moment for a band that many feel have never had the success that their talent and endurance deserved. There were rumours that the drum stool, vacated by Pinch who had powered the back line for twenty years, may be filled by the legendary Rat Scabies, but few of us joined the dots to the full reunion that was announced.
The reunion has been mooted previously, but problems with the “internal dynamics” of the members, particularly Scabies and Sensible, seem to have put paid to it. In any case, the most recent line up was outstanding live, and could draw from forty years of history when preparing set lists. To many, they were at the height of their powers but there is no denying the explosive potential of the original line up and, if there is a chance of seeing them one last time, is that so bad?
But then ticket prices were released and to say it divided the fan base even more would be putting it mildly. Charging “Arena” prices for a band that has always been so accessible was bound to add to the controversy of a reunion of a band that hadn’t actually gone away.
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Brian James spoke to Louder than War to help put some flesh on the bones.
LTW: In a year that has seen many unexpected developments, one of the more surprising has been the announcement of the original Damned line-up re-uniting?
Brian: No one was more surprised than me, amazed in fact. We had talked about the idea around fifteen years ago but it came to nothing. I think the problem then was that Dave and Captain didn’t want to put their current line-up on hold for a year or however long it would be. I think they were scared that people would leave or whatever so they decided not to do it.
Also. There’s always been a weirdness between the Captain and Rat so I just thought “Oh well, there you go, some things are meant to happen and some things aren’t.” It seemed like a shame and then, lo and behold, this year, about a month before the Lockdown started I get a phone call from their manager asking if I’d be up for doing it. Of course, my first question was “How does Captain feel about it?”, because he had a bone of contention with Rat; I don’t know what it’s about and I don’t care really. But he said that it wasn’t a problem and that everyone was up for it and if I fancied it he’d give me the details. I listened politely and thought “Yeah, why not?” It’s now or never really as you never know, everyone’s getting older and all these bleedin’ disease are flying round. Rat actually said not long ago that it’s a shame we aren’t doing any reunion as one day three of us would be stood round the other’s grave saying “we should have done it you know!”.
It comes as a relief really to be honest. Also, with Lockdown being on, I’m waiting to get back in the studio and finish my album, this is a kind of a special thing and I think we need to do it. It’s not good to dwell on negatives and if everyone is up for it, we should do it. I think I will only really believe it when all four of us are standing up there making some noise, but it’s got the potential to be a lot of fun. There’s a lot of fans out there who have never seen the original line-up so hopefully they will love it,
Obviously Lockdown has been a major hurdle, but have the four of you actually been in a room together?
Well, no and at the moment the main thing is doing the gigs which will hopefully be recorded for a live album. I’m just taking it one step at a time. Before I got the call from their manager, I’d just been contacted by Vive le Rock who were doing a sort of Punk Pioneers thing and I was asked if it was possible to get the Lords (of the New Church) back together, I thought that actually sounded like a great idea and was planning that when along comes the Damned suggestion. It never rains but it pours!
The chemistry of the original line-up on stage was explosive wasn’t it? Is that something you think you will be to recapture, like pressing a button and away we go?
I don’t think that will be too much of a problem because the essence of the original line-up was me and Rat and the dynamic between us. Captain was a guitarist before he joined The Damned, and obviously took over again once I left. His original job was just to hold things down while me and Rat flew all over the place. Now Captain has proved to be a very good guitarist so he is more than capable of doing what he used to do and Dave’s vocals have just moved to another level. With the energy level, me and Rat are used to playing with each other over the years off and on but it will still take a couple of rehearsals to get back into that groove, no one is getting any younger that’s for sure.
Once the initial couple of rehearsals are out of the way, I think you’re going to find that it’s just as good if not better. As I said, Dave’s voice has gone from strength to strength and we’ve all been playing over the years. I like to think that, in forty odd years, we’ve improved as players and not in a bad sense like these Heavy Metal merchants. We all know our instruments pretty well by now.
Dave told me a few years back that he still thinks Damned Damned Damned is an amazing album. How do you feel looking back on it?
I think it’s great and still stands up really well, which I’m delighted about. It’s a Blues, Rock and Roll album really. People called it Punk and all this but when I wrote it, Punk wasn’t even thought of as a label for the music. As far as I was concerned we were a high energy band with an attitude and I think that shines through.
There’s no kind of political stances or anything like that. We never followed any kind of fashion, we just did what we wanted to. We didn’t have someone telling us what to say and do, or what to wear and we were very lucky because of that. Jake and Dave at Stiff, they just wanted us to get on with things. They only time they kind of let us down was when they forced us into doing a second album too soon with adequate time to get the songs prepared in the way they should be prepared. Apart from that they were great; they never told us what we should play or how we should play and there was definitely no politics involved in anything we sang about.
I’m not saying I minded being labelled as a Punk band really. It’s a trait of journalism, they have to put you in a box somehow to identify music in certain eras I suppose. It didn’t matter what it was called, Punk or whatever. What really annoyed me was the bands that came later. Not really the Second Wave of bands but probably the “Third Wave” if you like. They seemed to just not get it and wanted to dress like, act like and play like the original bands. But if you look at the original bands, they were all so totally different even though they were what I call Rock and Roll bands. You had the Pistols doing their thing and The Clash doing their thing but if you put the three of us together, you’ve got three bands that sound totally different but have got that energy and attitude involved, that was the common thing. Even the dear old Stranglers, who were doing it before any of us, they had an attitude and they sounded like The Doors or something like that, with Dave’s keyboard playing, God rest him. And don’t forget the Buzzcocks who were also totally original in their way.
But then everything became sort of regimented and there was like a “Punk uniform”, it was like going to a Bay City Rollers gig or something and that’s when we lost it to me. Something that was special, like maybe leather jackets, black pants and skull rings, signs of Rock and Roll, became normal, like something you find in Marks and Spencer’s. People have a tendency to follow like sheep and that’s a shame.
Looking back at that period, it’s one of the great moments in British music. It’s like the Cavern in the early 60’s with a new, exciting music spreading by word of mouth almost and packing in vibrant audiences. Just like The Beatles were influenced by American sounds, so were you to a large extent.
Yes absolutely, and you shouldn’t deny things like that, you should wear them like a badge of honour. I’m proud to say these great people and bands have made me who I am.
It’s a typical Damned twist that virtually the same day as the announcement of the original line up reunion is made, the band are at Number One in the vinyl singles chart with a different line up.
Ha, ha yes. As you say there is never anything straightforward with The Damned. There always has to be a quirky twist but they all kind of make sense in a funny kind of way. There’s quite a history of The Damned with lots of different periods and styles and this will probably come as a shock to some of the fans who come and see us play. There are a lot of people who may come along because they like Eloise and that style, thinking that’s what The Damned do and boy are they in for a shock!
Will the shows just consist of the original line up and play that material or will there be appearances from other members to perform later songs?
Yes, what we’re going to do is the first LP in its entirety I imagine then selected things off the second album. We’ll do stuff like Help and Stretcher Case I’m sure. The fun stuff is what we really want to do, try and bring all the attitude back.
Planning a major event like the comeback tour must be a nightmare with all the uncertainties at the moment?
Yes, we were originally looking at doing it at the end of March but then we started to realise this thing isn’t going away. It seems like anything to do with the Arts is pushed to the back of the queue and there’s no real desire to help out. The people who are promoting the shows just decided to play it safe and go for the summer instead which I think is a very wise move. I’m obviously hopeful the vaccine will make a difference and encourage people to get out and about again. It’s fingers crossed really, otherwise it will be the following year.
It’s fair to say that the ticket prices have raised a few eyebrows amongst the fanbase. Is this a reflection of the limits on capacity and uncertainties of planning live events at the moment?
Yes, it’s to make the whole thing work really. Everybody has to take a certain cut and are all keen to make it as cheap as possible really. When you’ve got a big production, and particularly when it stands to be in jeopardy because of the current circumstances, I think it’s reasonable. People are talking about the ticket prices but in this day and age, for a good night out, that you never thought would happen, it’s not too much to pay. There will be a couple of other bands on as well as us so it will be a special night. It’s next year so, if you want to go, just put a few bob aside each week and you’ll have the bleedin’ money. You can’t have it all ways, expecting a band like us, who haven’t played for years, to play for nothing just to make everybody happy. We’ve got to make a living and also, we deserve it! We deserve a couple of bob in our pocket at the end of the day.
Hopefully we’ll get some credit that’s due to us for our role in Punk and hopefully we deserve it because we play fucking great at the gigs!
Any plans for extra shows?
At the moment it’s just these four venues; two nights in Hammersmith, Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester. Apart from that I’m not sure yet, I’m just leaving things open and not making any other arrangements. Hopefully we’ll all still be alive to do the bleedin’ gigs!
Have you got a special bottle of wine ready for after the show?
I’ve always got a special bottle of wine ready. In fact, I’ve got a special bottle of wine for after we’ve finished this interview!
Finally, what other plans have you got at the moment? The Guitar That Dripped Blood was a storming comeback in 2016, any plans to follow it up?
Thank you, I’m very proud of it. In many ways I think it’s almost the son of the first Damned album, it’s a real Rock and Roll album. Everybody played really well on it. There’s a few drummers on there and they were all fantastic. I’m working on a new album, but without a working title at the moment. Of course, I’m still trying to do this autobiography which has got a title. It’s going to be called The Bleeding Book.
I’m really looking forward to being able to get back in the studio and finish off that album, though when it’s going to be finished I do not know. If I’ve got smother priority for next year, that’s it because I’m really happy with the way it’s going. There’s some great playing on it. The emphasis of it is Rock and Roll, that’s what I do. That’s what I’m happiest doing!
The Damned Original Line Up are on tour in July 2021
For more information visit www.Officialdamned.com
All words by Dave Jennings. More from Dave can be found by checking out his Louder Than War Author Archive. He is also on Twitter as @blackfoxwrexham.