“You’re a very kind man!” Captain Sensible tells me, as we walk through the door of the room at Leicester’s O2 Academy, where, before the thunderously brilliant gig they performed later, we had spent the last half an hour chatting about The Damned and a whole manner of other things ranging from football (the erstwhile Raymond Burns is a big fan of Crystal Palace), politics and of course, the old, formative punk days.
Sensible’s compliment toward me came because I arrived armed with a couple of apricot flapjacks to share, as I had read somewhere that he was a fellow vegan, so I picked them up on the way. He grinned at me when I told him this, so I am unsure whether it was actually true or not. He took the flapjack, but for all I know, he may have just been being polite and binned it as soon as he was out of sight. Regardless, no matter anyway, as Captain is by far one of the most charming, open and genial musicians I have ever had the good fortune to chat with. He even filmed a little video for my son. Thanks Captain!
Evil Spirits is the sound of a band who still sound vibrant and vital after all these years. What drives you on to continue making such great records?
Captain: It’s kind of just what you do when you’re in a band. You have to make records every now and again, I mean, we don’t make as many as we SHOULD, because we are a bit dysfunctional. I kind of liken it to Dad’s Army – more and more we’re resembling that, you know? Pinch is Captain Mainwaring, all bristling energy and kind of shouting orders out, Vanian is Sergeant Wilson, the easy going toff, Monty is Godfrey ’cause he’s always running to the bog – he’s got the weakest bladder in rock and roll – and I’m “Don’t panic!” Corporal Jones. No, but seriously, I am still a music fan, when I was buying records as a teenager, they meant so much to me that I just wanted to emulate my heroes. And my heroes were people of the stature of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, The Small Faces, Donovan…all that lot…they just made some stupendous records, and I always judge us against them. I absolutely loathe and detest buying a new album and hearing kind of “filler” tracks, so I won’t allow us to do that. So whatever anyone thinks of the new album, and it WON’T be everyone’s cup of tea, there isn’t any filler, it’s all top notch, because Visconti’s all over that album…
I think you can tell that he produced it. It sounds huge in places.
Well what happened was that the label and Visconti chose the material from about 22, 23 songs. They whittled it down to ten tracks, but they picked out all the really melodic stuff, so all that really weird offbeat stuff, like maybe the Krautrock influenced stuff or the more hard edged stuff, that all got sidetracked. So it really is very much a kind of “pop” album.
Do you reckon that might come out as the second disc on a deluxe version at some point? Or maybe as a separate album?
We’re raring to get back in the studio actually. We really want to get some of those songs recorded, but it won’t be recorded in the same way that this one has been; we’ve completely run out of cash, ’cause Visconti don’t come cheap!
I can imagine! It was crowdfunded wasn’t it?
Yeah. We could never have afforded him without the pledges. So gawd bless ’em, it enabled us to make the album the way we wanted to do it, you know, in a proper studio, with a proper producer, and with posh microphones and things, Valve gear and all the stuff that Vanian likes to use…
I guess all this made it kind of hard to fuck it up…
And also, he said to us “I’d like to introduce you to Kevin Killen,” and we just went “Oh right” and then he said “Yeah, the Grammy award winning engineer!”. So we’ve never worked with such ‘posh’ studio people before, so it was a completely new experience for us. But then we only had two weeks to record the fucker! Because their daily rate is quite shockingly high! Three weeks is normally about right for us because we usually do a lot of creating and experimenting in the studio. Vanian and myself always have kind of ‘brainstorming’ sessions in the middle of the night, sometimes going right through to the next day. We have some crazy ideas that have engineers tearing their hair out going “You can’t do that! You can’t! If you turn the tape over backwards, that means that track one will be on track twenty four and all the EQ’s and effects will be set up for the wrong song and it’ll sound absolutely terrible.”
So you turn the tape over backwards and it sounds…interesting. It’s that random chaos factor that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.
On the new album, the song ‘We’re So Nice‘ is a pretty damning indictment of the Blair administration. You set your own party up once, didn’t you?
I did, yeah. It was a direct reaction against Blair.
So, my question to you now is…how do we fix the mess that we’re in?
(laughs) I’m a punk rock guitar player, right? I would say that ‘We’re So Nice‘ is addressing that very issue, because Labour and Tory are two cheeks of the same arse. Whoever you vote for nothing seems to change – the rolling privatisation of the National Health Service, the never ending support for lunatic wars in the Middle East, the economic stupidity and all the rest of it. It just goes on and on – the decimation of our high streets by supermarket chains…I mean, they must have ALL the politicians in their pockets, these companies, because certainly, the politicians should do their absolute best for the people who voted for them, but they seem to be working for the corporations! So I thought “fuck ’em”, and I started my own political party, the Blah Party, which was basically “Blah blah to Blair.” I thought I’d do that rather than throw a brick through the TV. And insanely, we found that we were attracting a lot of interest. And you know, market researchers and that, they said “this Blah party thing has picked up about 100,000 followers” and all this sort of nonsense, which scared me! Because for one, it was kind of only a semi-joke thing, but it said something to me that people would rather trust a stupid punk rock guitar player than our official elected politicians wearing nice suits and stuff. I mean, I’m gobbing on life, and they’d rather trust ME! So what does that say about THOSE cunts? The politicians I mean, not the people!
I knew what you meant. Do you feel the same even about Corbyn?
No, I would vote for Corbyn. I like the cut of his jib. But having said that, you know, “won’t get fooled again“, Pete Townsend’s message is still wafting around my brain. You know, like what happened in the states with Trump. I mean Trump was…the anti-politician – he was not the establishment candidate, he was not the puppet of the corporations, SHE was. SHE was the warmonger. SHE was the one who promised war against Iran. She promised it! She sat there in an interview, looking at the camera, saying “I will start a war with Iran.” So whatever you think of that guy, he wasn’t the warmonger. And that’s why he was voted in.
He still scares me…
Oh I don’t support Trump or anything, but I have to say, she was a fucking nightmare. I said on stage in New York while the election was happening, “what a fucking choice you’ve got! The unelectable – Trump – against the same old same old;” I mean really, what could they do? But that is what ‘We’re So Nice‘ is saying – it’s basically saying we have no choice, and so called democracy is an absolute sham, because two party politics, as I say, is two cheeks of the same bum.
Going back to the music, some of the music on the new album has a surprisingly Tamla Motown kind of feel in places…
It’s always been there, for me. I love the old Tamla and Staxx records, back when R&B was R&B. I don’t know what R&B is now. When you listen back to things like The Supremes and Marvin Gaye and The Four Tops, those guys could really sing, you know? it was just stonking stuff, and now they’ve just got all the strangled cat autotune stuff on the vocals, it just drives me mad. So yeah, I DID shove some Tamla on the new album! I mean, I like it, so why not?
You’ll almost certainly always be labelled as a “punk” band, but I think you’ve shown on this album more than any other that you’re so much more than that…
I always felt that it depends on what you mean by “punk”. In ’76, when it all started in London and New York, and of course Melbourne with The Saints, and The Stinky Toys in Paris…oh God, you’ve got to remember them all!…there were just a few like minded people who were into a kind of music that just didn’t exist at the time, because everything had gone all ‘hippy-dippy’ and country rock and proggy and twenty minute drum solos. So anyway, even though we were all labelled as “punk”, we all had our own distinct sound. We had our own take on what we thought was going to be this kind of edgy, gritty rock and roll vibe, so the Pistols, The Clash, The Buzzcocks, The Ramones, and us, none of us actually sounded like each other. The Stranglers never sounded anything like The Buzzcocks, or The Saints didn’t sound anything like The Ramones, or us. So, like all these other bands, we’ve just gone on our musical adventure as you should do. Just look at The Beatles when they started in, what, ’62, ’63 and then think about how, at the end of their career, and it’s only seven years later, they’re so radically different! They went on a musical adventure and I think that’s something that every band should do. Everything you do should be a development. I think we’ve done that, and that’s how I’d like people to see us – as a band that weren’t afraid to take chances.
Did you all get on, in the punk scene? Was there much rivalry?
What, back in the day? Oh yeah, HUGE rivalry! Anyone who thinks it was all just ‘punk camaraderie’ is very much mistaken. I mean, we’d all go to each other’s gigs, but we’d stand there going “Cor, they’re rubbish aren’t they? Listen to that, God those songs are shocking, how stupid, that bloke’s voice is just completely out of control!”, but then it was a melting pot as well, you’d have people jumping from one band to another. Eventually it all solidified…I remember Chrissie Hynde was always really part of that whole punk scene, you know? She was there at ALL the gigs, right from the start, but she waited until she’d learnt to master the guitar before she formed her band…because she always had that golden voice, but she didn’t want to be a puppet…because women in rock in 1975 were really treated like puppets…sex objects and stuff…
and then The Slits came along, didn’t they, and even though the front cover of their album featured them with their tits out, you kind of always felt like they were doing that whole thing for themselves…
That was just two fingers to the machine, I think, because as I say, it was a really sexist business at the time.
That’s become extremely clear, given the amount of people who’ve been banged up since! Now then, I was eleven years old when you topped the chart with ‘Happy Talk‘. I must sheepishly admit that was my first knowledge of you and I went back to pick up The Damned stuff later on. How do you remember that time?
Well, it’s like what they called me – Britain’s most unlikely pop star! If ever there WAS such thing as a ‘punk rock attitude’, like an “I don’t fucking care” thing, I had it, because I LIVED that lifestyle. I was sleeping on people’s floors, drinking FAR too much. I didn’t change my clothes often. There’s a thing in the Boy George documentary – I don’t know if you saw it – where he says to Jon Moss “What’s Captain Sensible like?“, and he just says “Oh…his feet STINK“, because I went round Jon’s house, and his parents were posh, and they said “Will you please take your shoes off when you come in?” – well they regretted that! So anyway, I was basically absolutely lapping it up, the whole popstar thing. I only got signed on the strength of a few Damned rejects! When I sit down with a guitar and try to write songs, I can’t ‘write to order’ – I can’t go “Right, I’m gonna write a raunchy song today“, because I’ll end up with something that’s just very beautiful and melodic, like Bacharach or something. So anyway, I had a few Damned rejects, so we recorded them as demos, and got signed pretty quick, and all of a sudden it was on Top Of The Pops. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Well, I’d be tempted to say playing the Albert Hall was the highlight, you know, ’cause they banned us, back in the seventies: (adopts snooty accent) “They’re not the sort of act we want at our prestigious venue” or something. They sent a snotty letter to our manager at the time, so when we eventually played that, it was just magic because…well, not because we aspire to be gentile or kind of posh or any of that, but it was just a really grand setting for us to trawl through the whole back catalogue. And gig lasted over three hours. With an interval. I like the interval! I’m OLD enough for intervals now – I can go backstage and have a sit down and a cup of tea!
PHOTO CREDITS: PAUL RENO (Main pic and gig pics), MRS. SENSIBLE (Punk IPA and outdoor pic)
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.