Words & Pictures : Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media
Interview with Dave Vanian : May 2017
Pictures taken during The Damned’s headline set at Camden Rocks on June 3rd 2017
As The Damned finish their 40th Anniversary tour in the US and head back to the UK to play Camden Rocks Festival as one of the headliners and British Summer Time in Hyde park with “young upstarts” Green Day, Adrian Hextall spoke to Dave Vanian about anniversaries, touring, injuries and Margate!
MGM: You guys are on tour still in the States, I believe. Is that right?
DV: Yes. I’m actually in Brooklyn tonight.
MGM: How are you all? Because of course, both you and the Captain have been worse for wear, shall we say, over the last few weeks. Is everybody on the mend now?
DV: Well actually, this is why I am in Brooklyn because officially the tour was over yesterday when we played Phoenix, but we’re playing catch-up gigs now with ones that were cancelled when Cap broke his rib, so we are doing Brooklyn, Boston and Montreal which are make-up shows and then we come back. But yeah, everyone is doing pretty well really, considering my shoulder right now. The thing with my shoulder dislocation and Cap having to go one better, he fell off the stage and broke his ribs.
MGM: [laughs] Was it just to upstage you in just trying to say, “Anything you can do, I can do better”?
DV: Well, to be fair, I’d like to say it was, but I looked at the YouTube video and stuff there, and someone had stupidly just thrown a beer on the stage, and you could see in this video he loses his footing completely; he’s right near the edge and he just goes over. Unfortunately, it was probably the highest stage we played for a long time. He crashed on to the the barrier at the front, the cross-member that comes down; he hit that full-on for his weight on his side, so the rib broke and that was that.
MGM: Bloody hell. I mean, when you catch the footage of things like that, you just realise what idiots are actually out there, don’t you?
DV: Yes. Well, wherever it was just in the spur of the moment and not meant maliciously; it’s just people never think that the implications of something as simple as that can do. It’s like a bag of marbles.
MGM: I suppose back in the day when you first started out, some forty years ago, you were getting all sorts coming at you on the stage, weren’t you? I mean that was one of the most notorious things.
DV: Yes. I’ve watched some old video footage of us from above and it was all stuff constantly flying towards us, but those days are long gone; thank goodness.
MGM: Absolutely, yes. Just looking back on that, I remember, I think it was an interview with the Sex Pistols, where they were saying somebody had spat in one of their mouths as they went past, and they had to have injections for Hepatitis I believe. Did you ever face anything as bad as that?
DV: Well, I never got it like that, but luckily I avoided, I’ve switched that side of it. I did get hit by a stiletto shoe once, hit me right in the forehead, thrown from the balcony, so I reeled for a second and he kept going, but thankfully I don’t think the actual spike hit me in the head, it probably would have stayed there.
Really makes you wonder, actually. I actually think about that, you wonder sometimes when the odd shoe came up on stage, these people then go home with one shoe on one foot?
MGM: Yes, or are they saving the other one for another night on the tour? [laughs]
DV: Yes, maybe, or they’re bringing their shoes.
MGM: You’re all very busy at the moment. You’ve got the book coming out and a new album. Where is that at the moment?
DV: What’s happening with that is we kind of got started on it, but then this tour became much larger than it was originally going to be, so we kind of halted. As soon as we come back, we’re going straight back to work and actually get that out as soon as we can.
MGM: Gotcha. Got you, so you’re still anticipated for this year, is it?
DV: Yes. Well, I think the plan is to actually, if I’m right it may actually not technically this year and not this or next year, but on New Year’s Eve. I don’t know yet.
MGM: Okay. That’s a pretty neat thing to do.
DV: Yeah, it could be. I’m hoping. That’s the plan.
MGM: Isn’t it just? Yes. Now of course, the fortieth anniversary tour that you’re celebrating now that you’re back on the road again, up and running. For the UK side of things of course, you came down to Margate, [40th Anniversary Tour – Live In Margate, recorded by Live Here Now on 19/12/16] which is my neck on the woods because I live down in Kent in the south east. Why Margate? Because its unusual venue to choose for such a big show.
DV: I don’t know. I think it was just one of those that came up, that seemed like a good one. I don’t know if we’ve played in Margate back in the day, but it’s one we’ve certainly haven’t done for a long, long time. I like doing seaside towns and stuff as well in the kind of old English town. I don’t think that there’s a particular reason behind it; it just came up and it looked good, and we did it.
MGM: It made for a very colourful album cover though, didn’t it? It’s not necessarily what we might have expected.
DV: Well, that’s the thing with The Damned, you come to expect the unexpected.
MGM: [laughs] Very true. If we do look back at the things that launched you, back in the day. When New Rose came out, for example, it was one of those things that really caused a bit of a fuss in the UK. All the sort of Old Guard traditional– I mean the Prog bands were still going at that point, you’d still got the likes of Cliff out there as well. Interestingly, as you all know on that 40th anniversary cycle, you’ve got the Old Guard also reappearing out the woodwork, you’ve got Phil Collins reappearing again playing the Albert Hall. Is it down to you guys again to re-initiate that Revolution to draw people back to what music should be?
DV: I’d like to think there’d be a bunch of young upstarts who would do that. But it doesn’t seem to be happening, but I think although we’re older our general battle cry is the same; that side of things hasn’t changed any. We’ve been doing this forty year tour all year now, the celebration, and to be honest I’ll be glad when I can move on. It’s been absolutely a fantastic ride because everybody has come out to see us, and the show has been fantastic. We’ve had a great reaction, and it’s been bringing young kids as well. I mean I think whether they get into it from listening to other bands and then look backwards at their parents or whatever– I think just, you know they understand the history of it and want to see it for real, and they’re quite surprised that when they do, it’s not a bunch of really old fat guys just standing up there going through the motions, it’s actually got some, hopefully got some life to it. When you see a committed hardworking band, you really enjoy and believe in what we’re doing. A lot of it was the chaos and humour around the den, but music was always the driving force of the band and it was, and still is very important. I think that was sometimes our problem was people wouldn’t look pass the kind of craziness and that would be the important thing to them, press-wise especially and this is amazing history of music which is forty years. There’s quite a lot to choose from.
MGM: Yes, and as you say, if you haven’t had the music as the driving force there, you wouldn’t be going forty years later because people let go of fads quite easily, don’t they?
MGM: If that’s all that there is available to them, but like you and The Clash for example, people have latched onto those bands over the years, and they’d still play with the reverence that it deserves.
DV: Yes. I think you’re right. That’s the good thing. In fact, the same reason why a sixties garage band track sounds fresh today as it did back then it’s just, it’s the pure elements of all that put together. We’re very lucky basically. I suppose we’ll keep doing it until we’re, too stupid to carry on. It’s one of the nicest things that is our 40th. It also embraces the fact that people are actually realising that this music was pretty good and the band played well. It’s so nice to some people just as a surprise that we can actually and we did actually play good music. They try and remember the —some people want to keep this stuff, they remember the name and everything, but don’t realise that being around for quite awhile is actually safe because the music is how they mean. The thing that’s kept this band alive for all these years are the people. Having been through the premise of the record companies or the management because we’ve had those who’ve come and gone. We’ve had our fair share of trouble and good times too, some disastrous things that would have probably completely obliterated most bands, but we’ve just kept at it and that’s because we really enjoy what we do, and we believe in it.
MGM: Yes. Although you say a year on for this anniversary tour now, you’ll so be glad and as I can imagine you would be after working that a whole year, but presumably, that’s also brought another level of freshness to how you’ve approached it because as you say, the energy from the fans and these new people coming to see you must have been a quite an eye-opener.
DV: Yes, it has been. No doubt about it. It’s fantastic. Part of you says, “This is great and that this is really cool,” and another part of you kept thinking, “Why didn’t this happen earlier?” It’s funny how it’s taken a long time to move. We’re very lucky that we can bar the broken bones! We’re very lucky that we can actually still do it justice. There’s nothing worse than times you’re going to see someone you really love and then thinking, “I wish I hadn’t gone there. It was terrible.”
DV: We’ve not become the nostalgic kind of act yet.
MGM: No, presumably on the set list and whatever you’re playing enough to keep the die-hards happy, but you’re also adding enough spice to it to keep the band happy as well.
DV: Yes, it’s an eclectic mix on this one of bits and we try different songs and they keep us on our toes different notes as well, but when this is done, we’ll be basically moving on. In our next tour we’ll include too much I suppose half new songs I hope, to be more. I guess I will always be doing New Rose. [laughs] I don’t know how many thousands of times I must have sung that thing.
MGM: Does it ever feel old? Do you sometimes think, “Oh God. If only I can do something different“?
DV: Not really because ironically, what is it? A three minute song, so it’s over so fast, and it’s just an exciting song. It’s like, I think you got all the elements right, everything’s right about it. It’s like, it doesn’t get old. It’s weird, I don’t know why it doesn’t. I should be up there thinking, “Oh dear, it comes again,” but no I don’t.`Every night we attack it with the same kind of energy. Same way that we did originally I think, sometimes even more so.
MGM: We get you back in July I believe, don’t we? You’re playing British Summer Time with Green Day, Rancid, The Stranglers?
DV: Yes, some new young upstarts.
DV: But ironically, what you said before is the day before we play, it’s Phil Collins, which is bizarre. Yes, I know; there’s some irony there. Phil Collins in there. I think the day we play, The Hives play, which I’m quite looking forward to; I haven’t seen them for years. We’re supporting Green Day, so it’s ironic but interesting.
MGM: Yes, but it is quite a good mix of at least bands in the right genres, isn’t it?
DV: Yes, that’s what’s nice about it is the eclectic mix. I think that could be a good day if you were down there. It feels good as well to be given Hyde Park. I haven’t done a gig, opened anything like that in London for a long time.
MGM: Have all of the US shows been indoor venues, or have you managed to double up on any of the the outdoor shows out there as well?
DV: No, we’ve not done any festivals because the closest one was a gig we just played out in Austin which is new, very strange. It’s like a venue with no roof, basically. That’s quite an odd one, but no we didn’t do it because everything was just club shows on this one, but it’s gone really well, pretty much packed out every night. The audience is energised and noisy actually.
MGM: At the beginning of the career you were one of the first Punk bands to tour the US. Was there recognition from the US audiences that it was actually quite a big deal for them?
DV: I think so, yes; seemed to be. I know a lot of people were actually travelling right across from east to west as well, which is quite a , big businesses obviously. Yes, I’ve seen a lot of familiar faces in the crowd, which is great.
MGM: Where they followed you around the country?
DV: You get a lot of people– a lot of people have seen this over the year before saying,” This is the best ever” and it’s generally a great feeling of– I think everything about the band is there’s always been a feeling of we’re of the people and a little bit of an underdog in a way; people love to see an underdog have it’s day. I think that’s how they view the band because even when back in the 70’s we were always on the outside of things because we were a little bit more honest should we say.
DV: That didn’t always work in our favour, but I think people are appreciating that now.
MGM: Yes. It gives you that unique status really, doesn’t it?
DV: It does. When a band is really on fire, it’s probably the best tour we’ve had for many years as a start.
MGM: Where you talk about that how it’s working out for you now and how wouldn’t it had been nice if that level of appreciation would had been earlier in the career for example– I mean there were ups and downs for you and the band, of course as things dissolved a bit and pulled back together. Were there times when you did wonder if it was all worth it? Did you have to consider alternative income streams and things like that?
DV: Of course. It’s always been– I mean I’ve been very lucky when I look at it because pretty much, all of the career, I’ve been in the music business and such, I’ve managed to make a living out of it somehow and I’ve not had to go back to doing a day job or another career or some sort. I’ve been very close. There’s been some terrible, hard times, but I’ve been very lucky, so I sustained this. It’s because I think whenever The Damned is going out certainly on the road, there’s always been people to support us and that’s kept us alive. whereas as I’ve said before there was a lot of problems, business wise over the years. There’s been times, of course, where you go, “Oh God. Maybe I should just walk away from it and do something else because it’s not working out no matter how hard you try.” It’s the music that keeps you going. You think, “Maybe this time it will happen. Maybe this time things will be different” because the music is so good. It deserves a better deal than it got. I can say that because I did not write all of the music, I write some of the music. I’m talking about the whole of it; you can look at it objectively, which is nice. I think we’re in a good place at the moment, so if we don’t blow it, we’ll manage quite well for a little while and see what happens next. This album will be the next thing. People might not like it, people will like it, whatever. We’ll see, but it will be a Damned album.
MGM: You straddle, I would argue, three genres quite neatly; there is the punk component, there’s the gothic element, there’s the almost alt rock element to you as well, how does the new album fit in to that? Are there components of all of it? Will it feel like a Damned album or have you gone one way or another?
DV: No. I think whatever we do, and I mean this isn’t really by choice, it just happens organically. Whatever direction we move in, it always seems to in the end sound like a Damned album. The elements are always there the way we approach everything it seems. This album makes at times sing to more extreme musical areas that people aren’t so familiar with. But it will be a Damned album and I think, like I said in the beginning, that comes through in experiment. We’re not playing the same things we’ve heard before, it isn’t completely formed yet. I can’t say for sure because they always simply just take on their own life as we go along with it. It’s exciting for us as well.
MGM: That’s got to be because you haven’t rushed it and pushed it out; in the old days it used to be, things like an album a year, and if you don’t do that, you were lost in time. This is allowed to gestate and grow and turn into the album that you want before it finally comes out.
DV: Well I think that’s part of it, definitely. We won’t actually take a long length of time to record it again. It’s work beforehand and the thought that goes into it has taken a little bit more time because I like the spontaneity of recording fast and getting performances down rather than angsting about a guitar solo or a part for six months. In the end you end up going back to the first take you do or something.
MGM: The fresh raw one that always sounded best. Yes, I can just imagine that.
DV: Yes. Everybody gets in that mode. Also, with technology you can get bogged down with all the toys in front of you and that sort of thing which we won’t do because we prefer to try and to create the stuff that people perhaps haven’t heard.
MGM: Can we expect any of it when we see you in Hyde Park?
DV: No. Hyde Park will probably be the end of our– this 40th tour that we’ve been doing. It won’t be until that’s over and then I think it will be– if we do any gigs towards the end of till Autumn time then it’ll start to happen. Also, the Hyde Park show, you got to remember we’ve got a very short time. They’ve only allowed us forty minutes, so it’s hardly time to get warmed up really.
No matter how you try and shake it around, our shows average ninety minutes and sometimes we’ve been playing for two hours apparently which is ridiculous. It doesn’t feel that way. That’s the set that’s driving along. There’s not lots of chat in between and reading fan letters on the stage and stuff like that. It’s just motoring along and man. I’d be horrified if I was nineteen. I would have said, “Oh, got to sit down. It takes two hours.”
MGM: Yes. The only thing you’d have got at that time would have been Genesis or something, wouldn’t it? Doing a two hour set back in a day.
DV: Probably, yes. I guess so. Or Queen maybe.
After owing the audiences in Camden last night, it’s safe to say that The Damned have lost none of their edge and bite. Again the audience was a real mix of age groups and the show from the band seemed timeless. Catch them next at British Summer Time in Hyde Park, London on July 1st.