Punk legends The Damned bring their Evil Spirits to The Pyramids Centre, Southsea

Dave Vanian of The Damned, live, 2018. Picture by Tony Woolliscroft
Dave Vanian of The Damned, live, 2018. Picture by Tony Woolliscroft

The Damned will round off one of the most successful years of their 42-year career with one final quick whip around the UK – including a stop at the Pyramids Centre.

The veteran punk act recently celebrated their first ever top 10 hit with latest album Evil Spirits. Despite huge success in the ’70s and ’80s, never quite made the Top 10 – narrowly missing the chance in 1985 when their Phantasmagoria album frustratingly peaked at number 11.

But the huge swell of support from fans and critics alike has propelled the Tony Visconti-produced album to the top and proven that the band is still as vital as ever.

The Damned started 2018 with a sprawling UK tour with former member Paul Gray back on bass. They also played UK arenas at the invitation of the Hollywood Vampires (aka Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp), and have recently completed a successful US tour. 

The Guide caught up with a rather jet lagged frontman David Vanian, who had only returned from California the day before.

So how was the American tour?

‘It was good, but as you get older jet lag seems to hit you for longer,’ he give a rasping chuckle.

‘They tend to like us around Halloween and this year we were in San Francisco for it, at a place called The Regency Theatre which was really cool.’

Since marking their 40th anniversary with a triumphant show at The Royal Albert Hall (a venue which actually banned them in 1977!) in May 2016 it seems like the band have been on the road nonstop.

‘Yeah, we have,’ David agrees. ‘It’s not as gruelling as it used to be because we used to go for months on end. I’d go away for six months, be back home for a week and then go off again for another six months.

Punk legends The Damned at O2 Guildhall, Southampton, on August 22, 2018. Picture by Paul Windsor

Punk legends The Damned at O2 Guildhall, Southampton, on August 22, 2018. Picture by Paul Windsor

‘It’s more a case of we have decent spaces in between now where you can breathe.’ 

Hopefully you travel in rather more comfort than in those early days of touring alongside The Sex Pistols and The Clash?

‘Well, yeah, rather more than the very first tours we’d do which was a mattress on top of the gear and bouncing around in the back of the van!’

The new album, which came out back in April, was their first since 2008’s So Who’s Paranoid? And having the new material out – and having it so well received seems to have put a spring in their collective step.

The Damned, 2018. From left: Paul Gray, Pinch, Capt Sensible, Monty Oxymoron, Dave Vanian. Picture by Steve Gullick

The Damned, 2018. From left: Paul Gray, Pinch, Capt Sensible, Monty Oxymoron, Dave Vanian. Picture by Steve Gullick

‘When I started to think about a new album, I wanted to make the best album we could and something that we’d be proud of.

‘I didn’t go in forcing ideas to make it same a certain way or anything like that. But Captain [Sensible, co-founder and guitarist] and I found we were on the same page with the writing – we were putting in lots of melodies and hooklines and catchiness to the thing, which we both love anyway, but we seemed to be doing it more than we had done in a while.

‘The main thing is for me that the music stands up on its own, regardless of the band, and I felt when I had finished it, it was a really good, rounded album and everything that was needed was there.

‘In retrospect perhaps we could have had another track with more raucous guitars, but you know, it sounds like something that fits in with all of our previous material and it follows on from things like Phantasmagoria and [2001 album] Grave Disorder, and that was important.

‘It wasn’t a case of trying to make that happen, it was just a case of writing songs.’

The return of Paul Gray on bass, who was previously been with the band for their classic early ’80s records, The Black Album and Strawberries, also provided a boost.

The Damned - Captain Sensible & David Vanian live at the Hope & Anchor, London 1 January 1977. Picture by John Ingham

The Damned - Captain Sensible & David Vanian live at the Hope & Anchor, London 1 January 1977. Picture by John Ingham

‘We had all the material written and were going in the studio but we didn’t have a bass player.

‘Captain had played bass on the demos. We thought about Paul because he was an obvious choice who would fit in so well, and he played some great bass on the album.’

Prior to Paul’s return, Stu West had been the band’s longest-standing bassist, with 13 years service. What’s it like to have Paul back?

‘It’s been quite odd, because he was out of the band for so long, I look over one side and there’s Captain as usual with his red beret, and then I look the other way and there’s Paul in his black beret. For a minute it was a kind of double take!’

David also reassures fans that they won’t have to wait another decade for new material.

‘The next thing won’t be an album,’ he explains. ‘We’ll be putting together tracks in little pockets here and there –  maybe a couple of tracks and then the odd song for streaming. It’s kind of how we used to do it in the past, with EPs, but now it goes straight online.

‘We’ll probably do some vinyl with those, but the problem with vinyl now is that it take so long to get made. It’s ironic, it used to be that you could get it done overnight but now you have to wait three months. They closed all the plants down so now you’ve only got half a dozen or so of them left still going. But there’s always a demand for vinyl for anything we put out.

‘When we made this album, we had about 23 pieces of music and we picked the best and most finished songs that would make an album, so we’re in a happy place where we’ve got a surplus of songs. Some of them were really good, and maybe should have gone on the album, but they weren’t in a position where they were finished enough. So now we have the luxury of finishing those and putting them out, rather than scratching our heads and going what do we do now? We’ve got no songs.’

The past couple of years have also seen the band reappraised. Often overlooked in punk retrospectives, even though they released the genre’s first single (New Rose) and first album (Damned, Damned, Damned), they have talked in the past of their frustration at this.

‘It’s weird, we’ve gone through all kind of things,’ says David on the surge of positive attention. 

‘There was one point in our career where they were turning away people every night, and yet the press were ripping us apart. Then we weren’t even getting press, we weren’t getting reviews, we didn’t have a record company. We’ve had periods of terrible bad luck and things that have happened.

‘Suddenly, I guess if you stick around long enough they realise you must have something. It’s this kind of regeneration: “Oh hang on, this band’s actually quite good. No, they’re really good!”

‘It’s nice and people are regarding us as musicians, rather than buffoons who are entertaining people.’

And David credits the fans with keeping the band going when no-one else was paying attention.

‘I certainly think in the press, there was a thing of: “Oh the Damned’s over, they’ve had their day,” and they didn’t even bother to listen to the newer music we were creating at the time.

‘But what kept us alive were the people who came to see us, and grew up with us, and new people who came along. If it hadn’t been for them, the band would have expired long ago.’

Tapping into that fanbase is what helped them create Evil Spirits, as they used crowdfunding website PledgeMusic for the first time.

‘We were able to make this album because we went down the pledge route and people kindly put their hands in their pockets and said they want to hear this album – otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to make the album we wanted and certainly not the way we did.

‘It’s the irony that it’s the people who had the faith and not the record companies.’

Having been in and around the music business for forty-plus years, David has seen plenty of changes in the way music is made and consumed.

‘It’s a funny thing, There’s more music in the world than ever, but musicians aren’t making any money any more because everyone wants it for free on their phones.  They don’t want to pay for it, so it’s tough – bands have to make money on the road or from different ways. It’s tougher than it used to be in that respect.

‘There was a golden era and we didn’t realise it, but that golden era is long gone.’

He does acknowledge that some of those changes have been for the better.

‘In some ways it’s easier for a young band to record something because you can have everything you need in your bedroom, and then you can promote yourself by putting it on YouTube, and some guy in America or Japan or Australia can see you. In my day, you had to work the club circuit and certainly no-one in another country would see you until you actually got out there.

‘There’s a lot of luck involved, but there’s also a great deal of music made that’s not great, but the technology makes it sound good. There is also a lot of good music out there too, though!

‘Our own problem is that we’re an elder band, and are we still going to be relevant to someone who’s 19 years old? 

‘Fortunately the answer seems to be “yes!”’

THE DAMNED

Pyramids Centre, Southsea

Saturday, November 24

pyramids-live.co.uk