Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Damned Fans Talk to CAPTAIN SENSIBLE, DAMNED Bassist in N.Y.C. (at CBGB’s after first Damned Set [1977]

Text by Bernie Kugel / Big Star fanzine, 1977
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet
This interview was originally printed in Big Star fanzine, issue #2, dated August-September-October 1977. It was written by its publisher, Buffalo Musicians Hall of Fame Inductee Bernie Kugel, who kindly granted permission for this reprint.
I feel lucky to have seen the first generation of the Damned (i.e., pre-Goth) a few of times at CBGB’s in the 1970s, usually with the Dead Boys. For the interview below, Big Star publisher and good friend Bernie Kugel wanted to interview them for his Buffalo-based fanzine (I hadn’t started mine yet), so Bernie, his college roommate and The Good original bassist Steve Lum, and myself headed down to see them play. Somehow, Bernie managed to get the Damned’s bassist Captain Sensible to sit down at a table with us along the north side brick wall and talk. He was not aware there was a tape recorder right there, so he was in Raymond Burns mode, rather than the aggressive, punk Captain, and we actually got some straight answers off of him. That is, until he realized the tape recorder was on and taping, and with a surprised, non-verbal WOT! he took off in seconds flat. When Bernie published the interview, he took the questions asked by Steve and myself and listed us as “Kid at CBGB’s.” I asked the Ramones question, natch, and Steve asked the others. [Quick note from Bernie: We have not been able to ascertain the whereabouts of Steve Lum for a few decades, so if he reads this please contact this Website.”]
In its latest incarnation, Captain Sensible and lead singer Dave Vanian are the two remaining original members. – RBF, 2015
Dave Vanian, Rat Scabies, Brian James, Captain Sensible
 The Damned came to America, saw lots of stuff (most of which they didn’t like) and if they did not quite conquer the place, they at least played some really alive rock and roll. They’re now in England again and after finishing a tour with the Adverts (where it was advertised that the Damned know three chords and the Adverts know one, so you should come to the concerts and hear all four!) they have put out a new single [“Stretcher Case Baby” – RBF, 2015] and are supposed to be working on their second LP [Music for Pleasure – RBF, 2015]. Meanwhile the first album [Damned Damned Damned – RBF, 2015] contains many stunning cuts and their “Neat Neat Neat” and “New Rose” singles are a couple of the best songs out of the new wave; all their stuff stands up well, even after large doses. The only complain I might have with these guys is that they sometimes don’t seem to really want to talk, and most of the interviews done with them in the States seem to reflect that type of attitude. But when a bunch of Damned fans cornered Captain Sensible, Damned bassist, after the very first Damned set in the U.S., he spoke openly, happily, and had some really interesting things to say. Here’s the conversation…
Bernie Kugel: We hear that all you guys like the Damned and Clash can’t play in England anymore…
Captain Sensible: Well, we can’t play in London. There’s nowhere we can play in London apart from the Roxy, which is a crappy, silly little club a little bit bigger than this place. But around the country we can play. We can’t play in London because of the GLC, the Greater London Council, who won’t have any punk bands because it threatens the morality of the children or something stupid like that. [Of course, since this conversation the Damned have been playing in major halls in London and in all of England – BK, 1977.]
Bernie: Do you have a favorite band that you like?      
Captain: Yeah, sure. My favorite band is the Sweet and Abba and…
Kid in CBGB’s: Whadda ya think of the Ramones?      
Captain: I like them but they’re not my favorite band. I like Gary Glitter, people like that.
Bernie: Have a favorite British New Wave band?
Captain: Yeah… Ever hear of a group called Chelsea?
Bernie: Yeah… What about this group called Eater?
Captain: Eater are young kids. I like Eater ‘cause they’re young kids and they put two fingers up [like saying fuck you – BK, 1977] to their school. They put their two fingers up to the headmaster who don’t want them to do music or anything. They’re working on stage when they should be doing their lessons.
Kid: Hey, are you gonna do “One of the Two” in the second set?
Captain: Yeah, we are…
Kid: Uhh, “Fish”?
Captain: Yeah…
Kid: “Born to Kill”?
Captain: Yeah… My favorite.
Kid: “Stab Your Back”?
Captain: Yeah…
Kid: Then you’re gonna do the rest of the album?
Captain: Yeah, all the rest of the album.
Bernie: Got any future singles planned?
Captain: Well, I’ve got a song I’ve written, but we haven’t done it yet on stage. The first song I’ve ever written for the group.
Bernie: What’s it called?
Captain: I haven’t got a name for it yet. It’s all about normal things like how fuckin’ materialistic the world is and all that shit, ya’know? Like we don’t usually do political songs as you probably know, and my song isn’t political, it’s just about how the media in one form or another, i.e., either television, newspaper or anything like that, molds and brainwashes people. It’s like non-stop propaganda and the masses don’t realize just what mucks they’re taken for. Now, you tell me, if there’s 5-1/2 million people in Britain, how can they have 1-1/2 million people unemployed who don’t kick up fuckin’ hell about it? All the people I’m friends with are unemployed now. We were all unemployed when the Damned formed, ya’know? I was unemployed for two years.
Bernie: What do you think of what you’ve seen of America so far [being basically New York City]?
Captain: I love it. I’ve only experienced it in one other place: Edinburgh, Scotland. Like when I went to Edinburgh I was knocked out by the people, by how so over the top nice the people were. Like in London, they’re all poseurs, ya’know? When you talk to a poseur in London they’re all “cool” and all. They’re into their pose. They’re into status, right? By status I mean one person is high up on the status thing than another person ‘cause they’re either a journalist or a rock star or a rock promoter or something in the music industry. There’s so many people like that in London. They come to our concerts, they go to other concerts and you see them there. They make you sick, ‘cos they have nothing to do what I think is honest and real. Like, I don’t know if we’re honest and real, maybe we’re poseurs on a stage; offstage I don’t know.
Bernie: What was the trouble you had with being kicked off the Sex Pistols’ tour?
Captain: That was a mix-up. I’ll tell you the true story about that. Starting out, there were four bands on the tour: us, the Pistols, Clash, the Heartbreakers. Pistols topped, us second, Heartbreakers third, Clash fourth. Now, the Pistols needed us on the tour to pull the punters in the seats, ‘cos we’re as big as the Pistols in London and (the rest of) England at the time. At the time, they needed us. Then the Pistols started getting into the press by doing bizarre things like any group does – like swearing on TV, we wouldn’t have done it – or smashing up flower pots in hotels, sticking things out a window, which we do; we’ve done that, it just so happens that the press aren’t there when we do it. Like maybe they were conscious acts, maybe they weren’t. They got a very, very shrewd manager who I respect tremendously, Malcolm McLaren [d. 2010 – RBF, 2015]. He used to be my manager. And I know how clever the geezer is and I know how he’s a genius ‘cos he’s made the Sex Pistols the biggest, most popular thing in the whole world. I mean, who do you wanna see? You wanna see the Sex Pistols. So do I, I’d love to see them. But that was before the controversy, so they needed us. There were 3,500 seat halls and they couldn’t fill that.  Sex Pistols could get about 500, we could get about 500; they needed us. So they got all that publicity, front pages for about a week in all the British daily press, so they didn’t need us anymore. Also, the fact that we’re sort of a hot band and we’re better musicians, anyway. They’re good because they got a real good attitude, you know? I mean they really don’t care. I don’t think we care, but they really don’t care, you know? In fact, they’re real chaos. When they’re good, they’re great. In fact, the worse they are the better it is to watch ‘em. Incredible. Like, we played one gig with them, we blew ‘em offstage completely; we were on the tour then. I think we blew ‘em offstage anyway, and they were getting booed off. So they didn’t need us anymore, we were too good to play before them so they said, “No, you can’t play with us.” Also, the fact that we agreed to do the gig like you said. [Meaning that they would do a demonstration of their set before a local council so that the council would let the concert go on. The other groups refused to do that. So that just about cinched the Damned getting thrown off the first – and possibly last? – Sex Pistols UK tour – BK, 1977.] But we had a bomber manager at the time – he’s not our present manager – called Rick Rodgers, and it blew the whole thing for us. It cost £2,000 to get on the tour, so we lost £2,000. That’s why we’re very poor. We’re selling a lot of records, but it costs money to play gigs. We just done a tour with Marc Bolan & T. Rex we lost £1,000 on. We’re losing a £1,000 coming over here. We lost £2,000 on the Sex Pistols tour and that’s wiped out anything we’ve earned from the album.
Bernie: There was a band called SS Something…
Captain: London SS.
Bernie: Yeah. Who of the band was in that?
Captain: Brian [James], the guitarist, Rat [Scabies] on drums, Mick Jones from the Clash, and Tony James of Generation X. And they didn’t like Rat so they threw Rat out, and Brian went with Rat ‘cause Brian liked Rat. Then I got together with the two of them ‘cause I used to work with Rat. I used to be a toilet cleaner with him. It’s an easy job, toilet cleaning. Then we got Dave [Vanian] in. We picked him out of an audience. Not when we were playing but thought that guy was the best, weirdest lookin’ guy we could see.

More recent: Vanian and Sensible
Bernie: Was he dressed like he is now, with makeup and all?
Captain: Yeah, he was. And we went up to him and said, “You wanna join our group?” and he said, ”Doin’ what?”  We said, “Singing,” and he said, “But I’ve never sung before,” and we said, “Yes, great, sounds good.”
Bernie: He was a gravedigger before, I hear?
Captain: That’s true, really. And I was a toilet cleaner, that’s true.
Bernie: Meet a lot of people as a toilet cleaner?
Captain: I cleaned toilets in a concert hall, so I met people like Glen Campbell and what’s-his-name, Bert Kampfert [d. 1980 – RBF, 2015], and all shitty people like that; and Mrs. Mills [aka Gladys Mills, British singer, d. 1978 – RBF, 2015]. And just a load of really different people. Wrestlers, boxers, all that lot. Really interesting. We got sacked.
Bernie: Are you gonna do “Singalonga Scabies”?
Captain: No, we’re not gonna do that. Have you heard that?
Bernie: Yeah, it’s really good.
Captain: It was my idea. Why are you taping this?
Bernie: We’re from a fanzine here, Big Star.”
Captain: Send us a copy.
Bernie: Sure. See ya.

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