Tales of the Damned, pt. 2
An Interview with Dave Vanian
"...if there was an enemy at all it was bad disco music, and
it seems now you've got the same equivalent, except it's got
this amazing packaging of Disney World all over it."
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: After taking part in one of the biggest sort of musical revolutions in the history of rock, you know, punk rock, what is your perspective on something like grunge in the early 90s?
Dave/The Damned: I thought some of that was pretty good actually. I liked it. It hasn't really... It's kind of petered out now, so it's gone back to disco basically. When we were sort of coming up in the 70s, if there was an enemy at all it was bad disco music, and it seems now you've got the same equivalent, except it's got this amazing packaging of Disney World all over it. You know, it's the Brittney Spears and 'N Syncs and the kind of... I don't know. All of these bands have kind of stolen Michael Jackson's sound and moves and, I don't know, it's pretty scary.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Yeah, do you see the tide turning anytime soon?
Dave/The Damned: Well, I hope so. I keep listening out for something that's going to blow everything away. But, I'm sure it's got to happen. It's time for it. It has to happen.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: It definitely feels like it.
Dave/The Damned: I mean, the good thing is that here in the States you have all of these college stations and you can play whatever you like really. Whereas, in Britain we have very few radio stations, anyway, no free college stations or anything like that. There's the odd pirate station, but not many, and they stick rigidly to a play list. And then you have talk, it's almost talk show stuff. First thing in the morning for instance, you have three guys, they'll be chatting away and they'll be playing music maybe every 15 to 20 minutes, and you never get to hear any music, and when you do, it's just Brittney, 'N Sync and whatever is in the top 10 at the time. It's all playlist stuff. So, it's a breath of fresh air when you come over here and you basically can hear anything on the radio. Lots of guitar-oriented... For a while we thought guitar bands were ended in Britain. It was all kind of like rap and dance, and obviously then you had the Oasis thing and all of that came up, and then the kind of... Blur, which I thought were always a much better band than Oasis. I always felt Oasis was far too much copying the Beatles for my liking. I guess I was never a Beatles fan either. So, I find it hard to swallow somehow.
"...and then they turned up in their limousines,
and it was history for us."
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Were you all into the Stones at all?
Dave/The Damned: I liked the Stones when they had Brian Jones. I thought they were most creative at that time. The early stuff's great.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Oh, that's great stuff.
Dave/The Damned: Guys like, um, I'm trying to think, The Zombies, things like that, which is probably the equivalent of the Left Bank here, it's similar somehow. And, lots of other stuff. Some Beatles songs, but I always thought they were, I don't know, a bit too cleaned up for my liking somehow.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: The Zombies have that song, "She's Not There".
Dave/The Damned: Yeah, yeah, that's a great song.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: That's a wonderful song. So, if you don't mind if we talk a bit about the early days back in 77 and what that was like. Now you all went on tour in 77, was that the Anarchy Tour?
Dave/The Damned: Yeah, but we'd been touring before that, which is the reason we were put on the Anarchy Tour. At the time, uh, when Malcolm (McLaren) put the bands together to do that tour, there weren't that many venues back then where bands, punk bands, could play in. They were usually venues that were hired out by people, or pubs, because you couldn't get into shows. And the idea of this was to get a whole pile of bands together so we could play in bigger venues. And uh, it was the Sex Pistols, us, The Clash, The Heartbreakers. And the Pistols, when they played shows then were playing... They didn't play very many shows and they were playing to 30-40 people at the most. And we were already out and touring, getting good crowds, so we were put on the tour to bring the people in, as were The Clash. And uh, the day before the tour started the Pistols went on TV and did the Grundy Show, and then the next morning they were on every front cover of every newspaper in the country, and suddenly every teen-age kid wanted to go out there and say, you know, "Screw everything, I'm going to do this."
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Yeah, it was kind of a lucky break for them.
Dave/The Damned: And then they turned up in their limousines and stuff, and it was history for us. Malcolm wanted us off the tour, and also the venues said they didn't want the Pistols. "We don't want this stuff and outrage in our town! Our young people shouldn't be listening to this!" You know. So, after a few shows it all fell apart anyway. Yeah.
"...I actually ran across the tables, in their pizzas
and things. It kind of got a little bit ugly."
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: And, did you all do a tour of the United States? Was it in 77?
Dave/The Damned: Yeah, that was 77, the first time we came. We came over. We did the East Coast and a little bit in the West, Midwest, a little bit, but mainly it was the East and West Coast. The idea was we were coming here we were going to play New York, which we did, with the Dead Boys, four nights and CBGBs and then when we finished here we were going to fly to the West Coast and join the Television tour. But, Tom Verlane got cold feet hearing after about The Damned on the East Coast and blew the tour out. So, we got to the West Coast and we had absolutely no money, because we'd spent it on the plane journey to get there, because it was really a low budget thing. And we were put up in someone's place, all sleeping on the floor. The manager frantically tried to get us some shows we could do, so we could fly back out again and go home. But it actually ended up better for us because we did a pile of shows with the Dickies and a few other people and it was probably better because we were topping the bill and stuff. The funny thing is we actually went to see the gig we were supposed to play at with Television and they just totally ignored us, you know, as if we weren't there. So, I must admit I like that Tom Verlane album though, things like "Torn Curtain", some great songs, but unfortunately, he had his head up his ass a lot of it.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: How did people seem to react to punk rock on that first tour?
Dave/The Damned: It was varied, you know, it was... Some places it was, it was wild, you know, and "Yeah, let's go". And other places it was kind of like uh, they just didn't know what it was, you know, and they would walk out, or they would just go arghhh, like springtime for Hitler or something. So, we played somewhere in Boston, it was the Rat Cellar, or the Rat Club, and um, the people that were there just... They were sitting eating pizzas and things at tables. They weren't even paying any attention. So, we got a table up on stage and started eating pizzas ourselves and then they got upset by it, but the worst they could do was throw a few ice cubes at us. I actually ran across the tables, in their pizzas and things. It kind of got a little bit ugly, but... But generally, it was pretty good. I mean, the New York shows were fantastic, playing with the Dead Boys. But New York was always kind of... I mean, that's sort of where things were had already started happening for quite a few years, anyway, with Richard Hell and, of course, I always think it started to bubble up in the early 70s with the New York Dolls and Lou Reed and those kind of things.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Were you out in California much on that tour?
Dave/The Damned: Well, that's where the Television side of it was. And uh, what we did is we got these shows and we did radio shows like this with Blondie, whose first album was coming out, as well. And that helped people come down and see what the hell we were about. It caused quite stir and it started up a whole pile of bands, so it was great.
"...at best it was over in a flash, and at worst it was just a drunken,
chaotic noise and mess, and probably a huge embarrassment,
but very, very fast and full of frenetic energy."
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: What was your live act like at the time?
Dave/The Damned: Well, at best it was over in a flash, and at worst it was just a drunken, chaotic noise and mess, and probably a huge embarrassment, but very, very fast and full of frenetic energy.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: A lot of fun. At the time you had such a novel look, sort of a Goth style, which (it) seems has been so influential.
Dave/The Damned: Well, I just kind of was doing whatever I did. You know, there was no kind of thing behind it. But originally, when The Damned first... Before The Damned formed, I was actually considered not as a singer, because no one had ever heard me sing. But because, "Well, he looks like a singer, let's get him in." So much back then, it was if someone looked the part. "You look like a guitarist, strap this on, have a go," you know, which is kind of good, you know. I think it pushed people to do a lot of things they maybe wouldn't have done.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: That's interesting. Back in the 70s, did y'all ever have a strong manager that stuck with the band for a while?
Dave/The Damned: We went through managers like people go through drinking water. It was terrible. Um, it was because we didn't have a proper manager. I think, they were kind of people who... One was a club owner, who I remember ended up drunk passed out on the front of the stage saying, "you'll never work again," at one show. And one went insane, you know. There was a whole pile of them. They'd try and run off with the money, or they would... Well, they just weren't... After a while we managed to sort things out and get a few decent people. But, that's what we could have done with in the very beginning. We could of done with a guy who ? knew the business. Because, when it all started, I think, a lot of older guys took advantage of the bands and realized that they didn't know... You know, we didn't know what the hell we were doing. We just wanted to make music. Now days, that's a big difference. I've noticed, a lot of the punk bands now that come out of America, they've got a real business head to them. And, it's kind of business first, music second almost, you know. They know exactly where, how to do that side of things, which would have been a... When we were doing it there wasn't anyone (to) even ask about it. You know, you couldn't... Because everyone was kind of creaming off and ripping everyone else off. It's always been a rotten industry, the music business. You've got to, you know, keep your eyes open.
"...where do you think all the limos come from,
and the cocaine and the dancing girls?"
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Would you say it's better now, when you deal with more reliable people?
Dave/The Damned: Yeah. Well, there's a lot more... It's different now. People are in partnerships and stuff now. There's not so much of that fat cat management stuff going on. But, at the same time, that is exactly what is happening to bands like 'N Sync I imagine. I imagine at one point they're going to find out that they've spent millions of dollars and didn't realize it. You know, and there's this, "Money? There isn't any money. Where do you think all the limos come from, and the cocaine and the dancing girls?" You know.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Right, right. All right, well, I guess if you could, just say a few things about what y'all are up to next and what we can expect...
Dave/The Damned: Well, we've got two more shows, tonight in Austin. Aw, but I don't know, what's it called?
Monty/The Damned: Back Room.
Dave/The Damned: The Back Room in Austin. It should be good. And then Dallas, which is Deep Elem. Uh, and then we're going back home.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Sounds great. It's been great to have you here and thank you so much for coming.
Monty/The Damned: We'll have our breakfast now, please?
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: We hope to see you again, hope you can make it to town.
Dave/The Damned: Hopefully. Hopefully more people buy our record so we can come back.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: This has been The Damned. And, if you've been listening, check out their web site, www.OfficialDamned.com. It's great, and (it's) got all the latest information.
Dave/The Damned: Captain keeps a diary up on that almost daily, so everybody knows what the hell we're up to, which is great.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Yes, and the latest album, Grave Disorder, is highly recommended. It's wonderful. Okay, we'll see you later. By.
Dave/The Damned: Great!
Special thanks to Darla Brown, who transcribed the interview.
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