Music History

The Damned Released the U.K.'s First Punk Album

Captain Sensible, forty years on.
Dod Morrison
Captain Sensible, forty years on.
The U.K. punk scene lacked glamour when the Damned launched in 1976, and many clubs had no interest in booking the band.

“I mean, we were all sleeping on each other’s floors, and nobody could afford to buy a train ticket, so we were often getting chased out of railway stations by ticket collectors,” says Damned guitarist Captain Sensible (born Raymond Burns). “It was pretty rough-and-ready times. Everyone was hungry, but you know, we were having fun playing odd shows in pubs.”

To get those pub gigs, Sensible says he and his bandmates would lie to pub managers about what kind of music they played: “I remember we used to say, ‘Go on, give us a gig, mate,’ and he’d say, ‘What kind of band are you?’ And we’d look behind the manager of the venue and see what’s on the wall and see what sort of bands he was booking. If it was a blues bands, we’d say, ‘Yeah, we’re a kind of blues band. A bit of heavy rock.’ Or there was one place I remember where we actually said, ‘Yeah, we’re a dub reggae band.’ They found out the truth when we started playing, of course.”

In those early days, the Damned, fronted by singer Dave Vanian, had only a little over a half-hour of material, which the group would rip through with raw abandon.

“Some nights we would play that material so fast the club manager would be standing at the side of the stage as we came off, demanding that we go back on and complete the hour that we were booked to perform,” Sensible says. “So that meant that we’d have to go back on the stage and play the whole set all over again.”

The Damned leaned on that list of songs to record its first single in 1976, “New Rose,” the first British punk track ever released; the 1977 album Damned Damned Damned, issued by Stiff Records and produced by Nick Lowe, was the group’s first full-length and also the first British punk album.

“We just steamed through the repertoire until [Lowe] was happy that he’d got the same sound on tape that the audience was hearing at the gigs,” Sensible says of Damned Damned Damned. “There’s very little overdubs on it. It’s pretty live, the backing vocals. I mean, it’s not Crosby, Stills and Nash, but it’s a punk album. Some people say it’s the punk album. It’s raw. It’s fun. It’s just a blitz.”

To celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Damned Damned Damned (a deluxe edition was just released on BMG in February), the group played the album on a recent British tour, which Sensible says made him want to sit down and have a beer.

“You think, ‘Whoa, what was that all about?’” he says. “It’s really a mindfuck. It’s quite a head rush. It’s just got so many bloody notes in it. It’s just so darn fast. The riffs just keep on coming. It’s relentless, really. Anyone who has a go at playing those songs would tell you the same. It’s a workout for your wrists and for your brain. It’s pretty exciting stuff.”

Sensible says the bandmembers will be playing material from Damned Damned Damned on the current tour, but they have ten albums to draw from.

“The Damned had a hand in two distinct kinds of genres — punk and goth,” Sensible says. “And we have quite a goth repertoire to feature, as well. And apart from that, we like to flex our musical muscles.

Sometimes that means playing psych rock, breaking out the fuzz guitar and the Hammond organ and “going mental,” Sensible says. “It’s difficult to write the set list to please everyone, really.”

Every one of the act’s albums has been quite different from the preceding one — and while some bands do the same thing time after time, Sensible notes, the Damned just can’t do that, and the bandmembers are always experimenting.

“And that’s how we became a goth band and had a big part in creating that whole style,” he says. “It’s just through experimenting, staying up all night and throwing ideas at the tape.”

And in keeping with that theme of making every album different, the Damned started work on a new album, which will be its first since 2008’s So, Who’s Paranoid?. Sensible says the new album, which can be pre-ordered through PledgeMusic, has a broader kind of palette, but it still has a lot of energy.

“And it’s still dark, but it’s more cinematic, if you like,” he adds. “It’s the way Dave Vanian kind of writes songs. It’s not verse-chorus-verse-chorus. He writes in kind of moods. So, that’s basically what we’re doing. It’s kind of moody, cinematic, adventurous. Not everyone’s going to like it, but we do. It’s what we want to do.

“The great thing about Pledge is that it allows you to do whatever you want, with no record label breathing over your shoulders, saying, ‘I want the hit records. Come on, write some hits.’ We don’t need to do that. We’re old and ugly enough to do what we want.”

Sensible says the Damned (whose current lineup also includes keyboardist Monty Oxymoron, drummer Andrew “Pinch” Pinching and bassist Stu West) won’t be playing any new material on this tour. He adds that it might be the last opportunity to see the group.

“The thing is, we’re unlikely ever to do another tour of this length again, because [of us] not being spring chickens anymore,” he says. “In fact, I’m not sure how this tour will go through, if I’m honest, because six weeks is a lot for a bunch of old turds like us. So, if anyone wants to come see us, now’s the time, because we’re unlikely to do a tour like this ever again.”

The Damned 40th Anniversary Tour
7 p.m. Wednesday, April 19, Summit Music Hall, 303-487-0111, $15-$80.