L-R: Rat Scabies, Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible and Paul Gray
In February,1980, I got a call from Chiswick Records MD Roger Armstrong: The Damned were booked into Wessex Studios to demo new songs, and they wanted me to play bass. It was the first time I'd seen them in 18 months and it was a breath of fresh air, the ideas were flowing, the atmosphere was buzzing and the studio was well stocked with goodies. As well as being grossly underrated as musicians there was an element that anything could happen, and I soon learnt that the first rule was there were no rules. They knew they'd got me and dropped a small bombshell; "by the way Paul, we've got a 20 date British tour, starts next week". Two days rehearsal were booked but singer Dave Vanian never showed, so we spent the time in the pub next door. The very first gig was recorded for the "Live at Shepperton" album, for Damned fans only. Talk about baptism by fire! When I pointed out that we'd never actually got round to rehearsing they dismissed it with an airy "don't worry, we can tart it up afterwards, anyway you can learn the songs on tour!" For the record we didn't tart it up, and the next night we hit the stage at a sold out Newcastle Polytechnic. Nothing could have prepared me for the adrenaline rush and sheer mayhem of playing live with these guys, there was absolutely no boundary between on and off stage. I'd also never seen so much gob in my life and took a leaf out of Captains book, prancing about the stage to avoid it. They lived being The Damned 24 hours a day, the audience was wild the band was wilder, and there was constant competition to outdo each other. It was a marvellous tour, and I had been well and truly baptised.
Almost immediately we embarked upon the infamous Barge Trip on the Oxford canal. Somewhow, Rat and Cap had managed to pesuade Chiswick to hire a narrowboat and a few amps on which we could routine songs for the new album - "nice and relaxing" they said "and away from pubs!" Roger phoned; "Meet them at Didcot station, just bring your bass" he told me. Great idea I thought, but when I arrived the next day they had other plans. "Whattaya got that for!" they said, pointing at my bass, "Red Star it back to Cardiff immediately!" They were shrieking with laughter and had no intention of working at all. There was no food on board, just beer and an air rifle, and the next morning I awoke to see my boots floating by the porthole, on fire. They'd doused them with lighter fuel and chucked them overboard. The boat had been booked for a week, but on the 5th day we had to dump it. By the 2nd day there was no crockery left, it was all used as target practice; locks were filled with washing up liquid, engines revved, and we'd laugh helplessly as the bubbles flowed over the gates onto the puzzled boaters below; we visited every pub within reach and then practised the waterways equivalent of handbrake turns. We'd navigate by torchlight and use the barge as a bumper car, and when the river police came after us quickly pull in and pretend to be asleep. If anyone shouted at us Rat would turn round and shoot them in the arse. It was that sort of a trip.
At this time we were manged by Doug Smith (he also managed Hawkwind and Motorhead) and had a jovial Scottish tour manager, Tommy Crosson. We'd asked for a coach for the next tour, in April, of Holland and Italy, as the drives were horrendously long, but Doug was having none of it and booked us a minibus. Over to Tommy: "there was silence in the van for the first half mile, then all hell let loose. Within half an hour it was devastated, all the seats were on fire, the roof was ripped off. They made me stop at a post office, took a piece of roof, put a stamp on it, wrote a message - "So you don't want us to have a coach eh?" - and sent it to Doug. He got it as well. When we got back the van was gaffa-taped all over".
We duly arrived at the Palais Sports in Turin for the first Italian date. The stage was bare. Our crew had had a run in with the local mayor in a restaurant, become paranoid due to dodgy substances bought in Amsterdam, panicked and buggered off towards the border, leaving the truck driver locked in his cab. The promotor arrived with the local heavy mob, and they had guns in their pockets; politely but firmly he intimated it would be a jolly good idea if they escorted us to the hotel. They then confiscated our passports and put us all on separate floors. Dire retributions were threatened, he obviously had contacts in high places and was phoning border customs to see make sure the crew didn't get thru, but it was too late. It was now our turn to panic, I even called my girlfriend back home and made a will! By this time punters had got to the gig, found out it had been pulled and were amassing outside the hotel baying for blood. I was seriously wondering if I'd made the right move joining, but the rest of the tour went ahead, Doug had to get on the phone that night and bribe a new crew to fly out the next day.
We returned intact and it was all down to Rockfield, Monmouth to record "The Black Album". The whole thing was done in 3 weeks, it was a landmark album and the one that I'm most proud of. The ideas were flowing, things were very democratic and there was a close cameraderie in the band. Musically very adventurous, no instument or idea was immune to being tried out. We wanted a phase effect on one track (like the Small Faces "Itchycoo Park") and I remember engineer Hugh Jones inserting a pencil under the 24 track Studer recording heads and forcing them up and down. It looked terrifying but it worked! Nowadays you'd use a pre-programmed digital effect, but everything was analougue then and you had to experiment getting your own effects - far more satisfying. It was an immensley enjoyable period, and there were the inevitable high jinks. Rat and I used to rise earlyish and knock up Hugh about 11am. Captain would surface around late afternoon, and if Vanian was around he'd materialise for evening dinner. This meant that poor old Hugh was effectively working round the clock, and within a week his fresh youthful looks had been replaced by a deathly pallor. To remedy this we took him down the pub one night, got him drunk, and he didn't even drink! Next morning he was found by the cleaning ladies in his room stark naked and out for the count. Captain was going thru' a Clint Eastwood phase and insisted on wearing a stetson and poncho, with a roll up permanently dangling from his lips, including to the pub which we'd keep open half the night, returning with foaming jugs of ale to watch Beatles films until dawn. One morning I was woken by this awful rhinocerous noise, followed by female screams. The cleaners had woken him up hoovering, he'd run out of his room stark bollock naked, ripped the plug from the wall and chopped the lead into 10 little pieces. I too was woken at 6am to another bizzare noise. Looking out of the window, he'd dragged a full set of tubular bells out into the courtyard and was attempting to play them with a cricket bat. Such was life. It was a wierd place, too, and very haunted. We were all walking up the hill to the old house one hot Sunday afternoon. Rat had his dog with him and it started howling horribly and trembling, tail between its legs. It was dragged on up the hill much against its will, and once inside we settled down to watch a video with all the doors and windows open. Suddenly, everything slammed shut at once and went cold, and the dog went mental. It was very spooky. Later that night I got up about 3am to have a pee, the door creaked shut behind and I couldn't get back in - strange because there was no lock, only a latch. I thought someone was playing silly buggers, the door felt like it was being pushed from behind, but there was only me in the room. All of a sudden it gave way - wierd. The studio told us later that Black Sabbath had held sceances there years ago and they had fled as things went flying round the rooms...
Above: Captain at Rockfield. The horse was later to bite him painfully on the arse.
In September "History of the World" was released as single, closely followed by "The Black Album" itself, and off we set on a long UK tour. Support band was the Ruts. Singer Malcom Owen had died and they were down to a 3 piece of Seggsy, Paul Fox and Dave Ruffy. They got the train to Aberdeen and went straight on stage and they were marvellous. It was a great time, the album made no.29 in the charts and we were selling out everywhere. We all travelled on the same coach and it was one continuous party. I would pour over the Good Beer Guide before we left the hotel and pick a pub to stop at en route, the coach driver used to dread it as they'd often be miles down some country track and we'd be rather the worse for wear when we piled back on. A club was formed which involved pushing oneself to the limits, and the journey would be punctuated with cries of "24 hour club rah rah rah!". Not everyone could join, many fell by the wayside, but thats another story. At Xmas "There ain't no Sanity Clause" was released, we were gonna do a Slade and put it out every year thereby hopefully guaranteeing a Xmas bonus. Never quite happened tho'...
The next year saw us change managers several times (including Rats Dad). I think we had 7 during the 3 years I was with them - I don't know where Peter Scarboro came from and I don't know where he went, either. At the end of one tour we drove all night and pulled up outside his office in Great Portland Street. For some weeks our wages had not materialised in our bank accounts, he had given us a load of guff on the phone, and now it was showdown time. We entered his office but it was empty, everything had gone, including over 15 grand of our gig money. We never saw it, or him, again. We signed to NEMS Records, and although we knew they had money problems no one else would have us because we were considered too volatile. We took ourselves off for a week in Berlin, where Vanian managed to get spiked with LSD. We had an inkling something was up before the show, he was rather acting oddly, and when tour manager Kenny handed him the mike he jumped out of his skin like someone had handed him a firecracker. During the first song he simply stared at the roof, then started singing on his own, completely freaked out, fled thru' the punters, out of the gig and onto the Ku'damm, Berlins main street. Kenny found him on his knees, literally howling at the moon. The cops turned up, called an ambulance and dragged him off to hospital, where they kept him in for the night pouring orange juice down his neck. The next day he was back, right as rain as if nothing had happened.
Back home, NEMS put us in Jacobs Studios in Farnham, Surrey, to demo new material. We did our bit to support the local economy by checking out the local pubs, and when we returned a window in the studio got smashed by an orange that happened to be flying thru' the air. We never got round to playing a note. The studio people went apeshit, came down in dressing gowns and told us to leave first thing in the morning. I don't think they wanted us in the first place, but that was fine, we didn't like it anyway!
We then flew over to America to tour, which is a complete blur to me, and upon our return headed back down to Rockfield to record the "Friday the 13th" EP. Hugh Jones was unavailable so we used Tony Mansfield as producer, who Cap had started working with on solo material. He bought his own engineer who walked out on us at 2am on the first night, but Tony handled the chaos well and did a good job. We set off on another UK tour that autumn with The Anti Nowhere League supporting. They were a bunch of bikers, complete animals and without a doubt the most over the top bunch I have ever met. Modesty prevents me from regailing you with too many stories, but they seemed to exist for the entire tour on beer and speed. The only time I saw them near food was when I walked into their dressing room one night and bass player Winston was bent over with a carrot up his arse as part of a bet and no, sorry, I can't bring myself to tell you the rest. They would have eaten Slipknot and Marylin Manson for breakfast. Suffice to say it was another riotous tour, and for the first time we were augmented by a keyboard player. We'd actually spent a day at Shepperton rehearsing with an unfortunate who we promptly named Astroturf on account of his green barnet, but at the 11th hour he called to say his mum wouldn't let him do it, she didn't want her son corrupted! She would've been right, too. I'd met a guy at a Hot Gossip gig called Roman and he was roped in, he had a huge nose and we insisted he played keyboard solos with it, poor sod.
Later in the year NEMS went bust - it was back to the drawing board again. Lynne, my then girlfriend, had worked for labels and was friendly with the MD of Bronze Records, and she persuaded him to sign us. It was the beginning of the end, however - Rat never forgave her, for it seemed a woman had achieved something he and his father hadn't, and from that moment on the atmosphere suddenly changed.
Captain and I had always got on well and started working on other projects. Dolly Mixture were 3 girls he had seen playing in a pub somewhere, and he sent me a tape, asking me if I'd like to produce them with him (guitarist Rachel later became Mrs Sensible). They had some cracking songs, we did some demos which attracted the interest of Paul Weller, and later he put the dosh up to record an EP in Konk Studios. He never actually paid us tho', "the cheques are in the post" came the excuse from his old man, that sort of thing. They were the most bizarre sessions I have ever worked on. The girls would be sat at the back, eating sweets quiet as mice except for the odd giggle and the faint reproach of "oh dear, they're ruining our record again!" - Cap and I had discovered an excellent real ale pub opposite which we visited with some regularity, saying rude words and laughing uproriously at the absurdity of it all. But the songs turned out brilliantlly, and if you ever see a Dollies record in a second hand shop, buy it!
In the summer of 1982 we returned once again to Rockfield to record a new album, again with Hugh Jones engineering. The first thing he said to me was "don't expect it to be like the last time", and he was right. Vanian didn't show up until the end despite increasingly frantic telegrams from the record company - perhaps he had a premonition of what was to come. We had dozens of great songs to choose from (we all had recording gear at home and would send each other tapes) and for the most part the sessions went well, but the old magic had gone and there was a simmering resentment from Rat. The atmosphere was turning poisonous, it was like walking on glass. One night he came back from the pub very agitated, took exception to one of my songs and there was a fight. Everyone disappeared pronto. When I came to, 18 hours later, I'd had enough, packed my bags and went home. That evening Captain was on the phone trying to persuade me to come back. I loved The Damned and couldn't understand Rat's attitude, so a few days later I went back to finish the bass parts. Rat had returned to London, and we knew things had changed from that moment on.
The resentment deepend. Captain had also embarked upon a solo career, and "Happy Talk" was a smash hit, taking him away from The Damned for long periods. Against our better judgement we recruited his manager Andrew Miller to represent us too, trying to make the situation easier, but it soon became clear that he had no interest in us. Against all the odds "Strawberries" climbed to no.15 in the charts, and out we went again round the UK to promote it for the Nuns Tour. Vanian had grand ideas. He recruited 3 punkettes, dressed them as suspender-wearing nuns, and shoved them alongside us onstage against an OTT gothic church backdrop. It was high drama, it looked fantastic and it went down a treat. Despite, or maybe because of the problems, the band were playing better than ever, and we had reached our peak, but the whole time there was an unpleasant underlying friction. We then returned to America for the second time, and it couldn't have been more different. It was a disaster. There was no budget, no advertising, no money, no effective management, cameraderie had flown out of the window, and for the first time I couldn't wait to get home. I think we all felt the same.
In February 1983 The Damned had been booked for a UK club tour, and I wasn't sure that my heart was in it anymore. Then the phone rang. It was Paul Chapman, guitarist with UFO, a crazy Cardiffian who I'd occasionally bumped into and shared the odd drink with. "Hey Paul we're out in Spain on a world tour and our bassist's quit. D'you fancy joining us?". It was time for a rethink again...
The Black Album Tour, 1981
Yours for a fiver, guv, and cheap at twice the price!
Kenny the Tour Manager not doing his job, collapsed outside Berlin airport after drinking heavily on the flight from London. Moments earlier he had been attempting to dance on the baggage carousel...
Me, Lynne, Rats dog and Rat in happier times
"It'll be like giving strawberries to pigs" sighed Captain, referring to the effect the new songs would have on you, the audience. Hence the album title...