Gear Talks: An interview with punk pioneers The Damned

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Gear Talks: An interview with punk pioneers The Damned

The Damned Band
Words by David James Young

Raymond Burns, guitarist of iconic, legacy UK band The Damned sat down with Mixdown to chat punk rock funerals, the band's continued desire to write, and why he'll only ever love one guitar.

At this point in their career, The Damned do not consider themselves above nostalgia. They’ll still crack out all their best-known songs at every gig, and even reunited their original line-up for a tour in 2022 to pay homage to the early days of the band. Unlike many other acts of of their vintage, however, The Damned still find themselves compelled to make new music. When they arrive back in Australia in June for their first national tour in four years, it will be in support of their recently-released 12th studio album Darkadelic. What is it, then, that compels these legendary UK punks to keep themselves in the present tense from a creative standpoint?

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“The thing about The Damned is that we’ve still got something to say,” says guitarist Raymond Burns – better known to the world at large as Captain Sensible.

“Every album we put out is different to the last. We’ve been on this musical adventure, this journey, and if we started repeating ourselves then we may as well just become another heritage band. I always look back to The Beatles, who were so big for my generation. I didn’t particularly like them at the time, but they did so much in the eight or nine years they were making albums. Let It Be is so different from the nonsense they started out with. I feel as though bands are duty bound to progress, and see how far they can take it.”

On Darkadelic, the band explore a potent blend of their tried-and-true punk background with garage rock and psychedelia.

“We decided to take more risks this time around,” says the Captain.

“We don’t make an awful lot of albums, so it’s exciting for us to veer off in another direction – especially with the lyrics.”

He points in particular to the song ‘Wake The Dead’, which was written in response to the band discovering that their music was being played at funerals of those that loved The Damned.

“We raise two fingers to the Grim Reaper on that one,” he laughs. “The punk generation aren’t gonna go quietly, that’s my take on that.”

Burns also prides the band on tracking everything in the studio themselves, which they did with producer Thomas Mitchener across sessions at London’s Kore Studios and Watford’s Broadfields Studios. At a point in time with technology that can quantise and perfect everything down to a spotless T, The Damned still want their albums to sound like “five blokes in a room together bashing the songs out,” as the guitarist so succinctly puts it. “Our first album [1977’s Damned Damned Damned] was recorded on an eight-track recorder with one-inch tape,” he recalls.

“We then moved onto 24-track, which took up two separate machines, and then it all went digital. There’s all these insane plugins now that people can create those horrible AutoTune effects with. You can make anyone sound good in a studio now, and that’s a frightening thing. Any plastic surgery TikTok influencer with 10 million followers can get a top-10 single now. Without the AutoTune, it’d sound absolutely appalling. We still wanna do it the traditional way. Maybe you’d expect that from a bunch of old codgers like us, but if one bloke is playing the bass in London and the singer is in Los Angeles… I think you can hear that. It’s not cohesive – if anything, it’s cheating.”

Many guitarists will use the studio environment to experiment with different models, different pedals and different tones away from their live set-up – essentially making them a kid in a candy store. For Captain Sensible, however, he already has his favourite flavour when he arrives at the proverbial sweet shop – and that suits him just fine.

“I only ever use one guitar, and that’s a Gibson SG,” he states matter-of-factly. “I’ve got a second one that’s a replica, so if I break a string at a gig I’ve got the same one ready to go. Sometimes you go and see bands and they’re changing guitars like ten times or more throughout the show. If you’ve got that many guitars, you’re just showing off.

“The SG is the sound of The Damned, really. They’re great rock & roll guitars, and they’re not as heavy as a Les Paul. Les Pauls sound great, but they’ll do an absolute number on you shoulder. If you jump around a bit while you play, you’ll really know about it afterwards. I also like my SG because I can just plug straight into the amp – I use the amp distortion and I sometimes add some echo for the spooky-sounding songs, and that’s it. I don’t like pedals – if you’re at a punk show and everyone gets up on stage, the first thing that goes is the guitar because everyone kicks the bloody pedals off onto the floor. I’m not faffing around with those things!”

The Damned first toured Australia in 1987, in support of their seventh album Anything. When asked if he remembers anything in particular from that maiden voyage, Captain Sensible laughs and picks out some oddly-specific ones.

“For whatever reason, I remember having this fabulous veggie burger in Perth and going to a gay club with some chums in Sydney,” he says. “I had a very nice outfit on that night. I’ve had a lot of fun in Australia, and I intend to again.”

The Damned will be performing at Melbourne’s Rising this June. For tickets and more information, visit the festival’s website.