It’s 10pm in Australia. It’s early morning in London. Captain Sensible, born Raymond Burns, fires stories of old at his computer like its running out of battery. Our Skype session has caught him bright and early at the studio in which The Damned is piecing together the makings of its 11th studio album. Burns’ current tale of youth in revolt and the early incarnations of the English punk rock scene is interrupted by a loud thud, followed by silence from the 62 year old guitarist; another thud blasts through the speakers, succeeded by a series of whip cracks, similar to that of a snare drum. “I’m in the studio at the moment; in the drum booth. Can you [thud, thud] hear it?”
It’s clear that Burns is not one to take life too seriously, almost every statement is followed by a self-depreciating, light hearted gag – Burns is quick to extinguish the jaded, burnt out musician stereotype. His carefree demeanor takes a back seat when asked a question about the current state of the music business.
Burns muses on the modern age, both musically and politically – he has his opinions, but he is hesitant to point the finger, opting for a more diplomatic approach. “I don’t know what’s happening in music today,” he says. “I’m the wrong person to ask.”
The Damned is crowd funding its yet-to-be-titled forthcoming album off the back of a PledgeMusic campaign, a method to which he also admits naivety. “We did the pledge thing, which is amazing for an old fart like me to be dragged into the new millennium. I don’t recognise what happened to the music business. I’m not complaining or anything, because if people want to pay us to make a record, that’s great. We won’t have a record label breathing over our shoulder. We can do what ever we want now. To anybody who’s pledged: don’t worry, we won’t be pissing it up in the studio. Well, we might. 30 years ago, we definitely would have run off to the nearest boozer with that dosh and it would have been gone by now.
“I know there are good bands around like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard,” Burns says. “I really like them. There is a kind of psychedelic renaissance going on, but you wouldn’t find out about it watching TV, or listening to mainstream radio. It’s wall-to-wall plastic nonsense of the Simon Cowell persuasion, X-Factor and all that shit. But there is good music and bands like King Gizzard should be championed, just like The Kinks, The Move and the Small Faces were back in the 60’s. They all went on to have amazing careers, mainstream careers, but it was quality, kickass pop. I feel that at the moment it’s ‘machine’ pop. If you’ve heard one drum machine, you’ve heard them all.”
It’s been nine years since the release of the band’s last record, So, Who’s Paranoid?, a long time between drinks, but nothing out of the ordinary for the punk stalwarts. From the band’s early beginnings in 1976 to present day, there have been many reformations and musical incarnations of the group. One thing that has remained consistent is the essence of the band – its punk ethos. They are known to many as one of the ‘original punk bands’, championing an ethos that its PledgeMusic campaign states is a stand against ‘the face of plastic entertainment and scripted reality’.
“We have the benefit now of old age. If we’ve got anything to say to younger people – I mean I’m still fairly angry about the way society and the world is – it’s that it’s learned absolutely nothing since our day and age,” Burns says.
“Look at the 60’s, where things started to change for the better – civil rights, feminism and stuff like that. I look back at those days, and think ‘we’ll never go back to that’, the war mongering and old garbage governments dish up, but it has gone back to that. I’ve seen election after election and you pin your hopes on some new politician and you think ‘this time it will change’ and it doesn’t. In the new album, yeah we’ve got something to say. We think the world’s pretty insane. Let’s not forget that daft American election. I’m sure everyone’s writing a Trump song at the moment.”
We tackle the subject of inspiration. What, after 40 years, keeps a band who’s middle finger has been permanently perched facing the ‘establishment’ motivated and driven?
“There’s so much plastic garbage around, I feel that the reason we [as a band] exist is because people are fed up with what’s on TV. We just do the live thing and we do it well. It’s not choreographed – what ever happens, happens. The Damned shows are a law unto themselves. It’s a glorious live spectacle.”
The Damned live show is nothing short of legend. The list of lewd tales and shenanigans during the band’s heyday is long and hilarious – in 1977, they kicked Sting out of their dressing room, denying him their precious rider and exclaiming he was welcome to it when he was the headliner, encouraging him to work on his act in the meantime. It’s been a long time since the incident, and the many incidents that are a part of the band’s reputation. With an Australian tour immanent, what’s to be expected from The Damned live show?
“We [still] like to keep each other on our toes,” Burns says. “Mr. [David] Vanian, often looks across the stage to me and sometimes he’ll play with his watch as if the guitar solo’s going on a bit long, and I’ll have a go back at him. Sometimes the audience throws some choice comment of the derogatory nature and that might run through the whole gig. It’s just ‘what ever happens, happens’. There’s less debauchery these days, thankfully. I remember some gigs back in the day, I had to be carried on stage and plonked on a chair.
As for whether or not we will see new material take part in the tour set list, it seems to be in the hands of lady luck. “I don’t know if we’re going to finish it before we hit the road. We might have half, or even more than half finished. We haven’t even started rehearsing for the tour yet.”
One thing’s for certain, the 40th Anniversary Tour will be a celebration of the band’s lengthy history and back catalogue. “It’s difficult to write a set list for The Damned,” he says. “We are like two or three bands in one. We’re punk, we’re goth, we’re a bit garage psych – we could write a set list for every genre the band has covered over the years.”
The Damned will be touring nationally this March. For more information visit selecttouring.com.au.