THE DAMNED-THE STIFF AND CHISWICK RECORDS’ YEARS.
The Damned-The Stiff and Chiswick Records’ Years.
Not many bands are still going strong after forty-three years. Especially punk bands, which in many cases, were short-lived affairs, who released one or two singles, before calling it a day. However, there’s one punk band are still going strong after forty-three years, The Damned.
The Damned were formed in London in 1976, when members of two existing groups decided to form a new band. This included Dave Lett, Raymond Burns and Chris Millar, who previously, had been members of Masters Of The Backside. They were joined by final Brian Robertson, who had been a member of the London SS. They became The Dammed.
In The Damned, the four musicians sported new musical identities. Vocalist David Lett was known as Dave Vanian; drummer Chris Millar became Rat Scabies; bassist and future guitarist Raymond Burns sported the moniker Captain Sensible. Guitarist Brian Robertson became known as Brian James. Together as The Damned, they soon began making their presence felt in London’s nascent punk scene.
On the 6th of July 1976, The Damned made their live debut, when they supported the Sex Pistols at 100 Club. This was the start of a rivalry between the two groups, which saw one writing their name into musical history.
Having made their live debut, The Damned’s thoughts eventually turned to releasing a debut single. None of the punk groups had released a single yet. Somebody had to be first, so why not The Damned?
They headed to Pathway Studios, London, with producer Nick Lowe. That was where The Damned recorded their new single, the Brian James’ composition New Rose. On the B-Side, was a cover The Beatles’ Help, which was given a punk makeover. Once the single was recorded, it was released on October 22nd 1976, and made history.
New Rose was released by Stiff Records, and reached eighty-one in the UK single charts. It became the first single to be released by a British punk rock group. The Damned had beaten the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy In The UK to the title by five weeks. This wouldn’t the only time The Damned made musical history.
Damned, Damned, Damned.
After the success of New Rose, The Damned headed out on tour with the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Heartbreakers. The plan was to tour Britain, taking punk to the provinces. However, by then, the Sex Pistols had released Anarchy In The UK as a single. This resulted in many venues cancelling the concerts, in case anarchy in the provinces broke out. After a shorter tour than The Damned had expected, they returned to London, and completed the recording of their debut album.
Recording of Damned, Damned, Damned took place during three sessions at Pathway Studios, London. The first was in September 1976, with the album being completed in December 1976 and January 1977. In total, it had taken just ten days to record Damned, Damned, Damned. This left just the album to be mixed. It was completed on 15th January 1977, and just a month later, Damned, Damned, Damned was released.
Before that, critics had their say on The Damned’s debut album Damned, Damned, Damned. The reviews were mostly positive, and praised the energy and humour of the songs. Most were penned by Brian James, with Tony James cowriting Fish, and Rat Scabies contributing Stab Yor Back. Closing the album was a cover of The Stooges’ I Feel Alright. It was one of the tracks where critics remarked upon drive and energy of the rhythm section. Rat Scabies’ drums and Brian James’ bass were crucial to the album’s sound and indeed, success.
When Stiff Records released The Damned’s debut album Damned, Damned, Damned, on 18th February 1977, it reached number thirty-one in the UK album charts. Making the success even sweeter, was the thought that The Damned had become the first punk band to release an album. Again, The Damned had beaten their old nemesis’ the Sex Pistols again, and in doing so, had written their way into musical history. This was becoming a habit.
Alas, The Damned’s run of breaking records came to an abrupt end on 18th February 1977. The same day as Damned, Damned, Damned was released, Neat, Neat, Neat was released as a single. It failed to even trouble the charts. There was small crumb of comfort. Neat, Neat, Neat featured a truly memorable bass line from Captain Sensible. So much so, that in 2006 Stylus magazine called Captain Sensible’s one of the thirty-third best bass line of all time. However, back in 1977, The Damned hardly had time to worry about the commercial failure of Neat, Neat, Neat.
Straight after the release of Damned, Damned, Damned, The Damned headed out on tour, to promote their debut album. Then in March 1977, The Damned got the opportunity to open for T-Rex in March 1977. Things were happening quickly for The Damned, and as spring turned to summer, they then embarked upon an American tour. The Damned became the first British punk band to tour America. Again, they had beaten the Sex Pistols to the punch. However, by August 1977, changes were afoot.
In August 1977, The Damned brought onboard Lu Edmonds as a second guitarist. Around this time, there was also an ill-conceived and ill-fated attempt to bring Syd Barrett onboard to produce their sophomore album. Sadly, by then the founder of Pink Floyd was living a reclusive lifestyle and had serious health problems. However, his onetime colleague Nick Mason agreed to produce what became Music For Pleasure.
Music For Pleasure.
Now a five piece, The Damned began work on their sophomore album, Music For Pleasure. Again, Brian James wrote much of the album. He penned six songs of the ten songs; cowrote Problem Child and Stretcher Case with Rat Scabie and joined with Dave Varian to write Your Eyes. The remaining song, Idiot Box, came from the pen of Dave Varian and Rat Scabies. However, to onlookers, Brian James was playing a major part when it came to writing The Damned’s first two albums. Without him, where would they be?
When it came to recording Music For Pleasure, The Damned had come up in the world. They headed to Britannia Row Studios, which Pink Floyd had built after recording Wish You Were Here in 1975. It was a cutting edge facility, and very different to most studios that punk bands frequented. With Nick Mason taking care of production, The Damned recorded the ten tracks that became Music For Pleasure. Once it was recorded, Stiff Records scheduled the release for late 1977.
Eventually, Music For Pleasure was scheduled for released on the 18th November 1977. Before that, critics had their say on the album. Critics were far from impressed. Part of the problem was the quality of songs. They failed to match the quality on Damned, Damned, Damned. This isn’t unusual, as often, a band have spent months, even years writing their debut album. So when asked to write an album in a short space of time, this is often a step too far. Among the few highlights were Politics, Alone, Your Eyes and Creep (You Can’t Fool Me). They just about stood up to scrutiny, in an album that some critics felt, lacked focus and musical direction. Even new addition Lu Edmonds came in for criticism, with critics doubting that he brought anything to the table. Did The Damned really need two guitarists? That some critics felt was debatable. However, Lu Edmonds almost got away lightly. Other critics went further, calling the album a disaster and a musical misjudgement. This didn’t augur well for the released of Music For Pleasure.
Especially when Stretcher Case Baby had been released as the lead single, on 3rd July 1977, but never came close to troubling the charts. This must have worried members of The Damned and everyone at Stiff Records. Things got worse when Problem Child was released on the 28th September 1977, and failed to chart. Surely things couldn’t get any worse for The Damned?
By then, they must have been fearing the worst, and preparing for what was to come. However, even The Damned couldn’t have foreseen what would happen. When Music For Pleasure was released on the 18th November 1977, the album failed to chart. Neither did final single released from Music For Pleasure.
When Don’t Cry Wolf which was released in December 1977, it failed to chart. It became The Damned’s fourth consecutive single that failed to chart. Only their debut single New Rose charted, and even then, reached a lowly eighty-one in the UK single charts. These were worrying times for The Damned.
Little did The Damned know that two members of the band were planning to quit. Don’t Cry Wolf would prove to be two members of The Damned’s swan-song. That was in the future. Before that, The Damned were hit by two huge blows.
The first was when Stiff Records dropped The Damned. Suddenly, the band who were at the vanguard of the punk movement were without a label. To make matters worse, one of their most talented musicians walked away from the band.
Rat Scabies was so disappointed with Music For Pleasure, that he quit The Damned. Given the importance of Rat Scabies’ drums in The Damned’s sound, it was a blow the band wouldn’t recover from.
That is despite bringing future Culture Club drummer Jon Moss onboard. He couldn’t replicate the sound of Rat Scabies, and in February 1978, The Damned split-up for the first time.
For the next year, the members of The Damned worked on a variety of projects. However, in late 1978, Rat Scabies had formed a new band, Les Punks for a one off gig. Its lineup featured vocalist Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible and a rhythm section of drummer Rat Scabies and Motorhead’s Lemmy on bass. So successful was the Les Punks’ gig, that they reunited in early 1979.
When Les Punks reunited, they decided to change their name to The Doomed. This as close as they dare to using The Damned name. If they had performed as The Damned, there was the likelihood that they would encounter problems with the use of the band’s trademark. By then, Captain Sensible had switched to guitar and keyboards. This left the band without a bassist. While Lemmy filled in when recording demos and playing a few live dates, he had other commitments.
This left The Doomed searching for a replacement bassist. They thought they had found it in Henry Badowski. He spent part of 1978 playing with The Doomed. Then Henry Badowsk was eventually replaced by The Saints’ former bassist Algy Ward. The Doomed’s problematic bass position had been solved. At last, The Doomed had a settled lineup. The only blip came in December 1978, during The Doomed Scottish tour. Gary Holton had to briefly fill in for Dave Vanian. Apart from that, things were looking up for The Doomed.
By April 1979, The Doomed were now The Damned. The group was now, officially able to play and record as The Damned. It was a big relief to the band, whose career had been on hold. Now The Damned could begin to play live and sign a new record deal.
The Damned made their ‘second’ debut in April 1979. By then, Dave Vanian’s vocal style had changed, and he was no longer just singing in his former high baritone style, but crooning. It came as a shock to those who remembered The Damned’s early days as punk pioneers. Another difference was The Damned had adopted a much more melodic style. It was a mixture of speed and volume, and driven along by Captain Sensible’s keyboards. The times they were a changing.
Later in 1979, The Damned’s good luck continued, when they signed a record deal with Chiswick Records. Not long after signing their new recording contract, The Damned headed to Wessex Studios to record what became Machine Gun Etiquette.
Machine Gun Etiquette.
Before heading to Wessex Studios, The Damned had written ten new tracks and cowrote I Just Can’t Be Happy Today with Giovanni Dadomo. Gone were the days when The Damned were reliant upon one songwriter to write most of an album. Belatedly, The Damned were a democracy as far songwriting went. Machine Gun Etiquette was a much more collaborative album. It was also album where they paid homage to one of their musical heroes, MC5.
On their debut album Damned, Damned, Damned, The Damned covered The Stooges I Feel Alright. This time around, The Damned covered MC5s Looking at You. This was fitting given the new direction The Damned’s music was about to head in on Machine Gun Etiquette.
The Damned would combine elements of sixties garage rock, pop, punk and psychedelic rock. There was also a more experimental sound Machine Gun Etiquette. It seemed as if The Damned were in the process of finding themselves musically. Helping them to do so, was producer Roger Armstrong.
When The Damned arrived at Wessex Studios, London, they immediately encountered another of the punk pioneers, The Clash. They were in the process of recording their classic album, London Calling. The new lineup of The Damned must have been hoping that their comeback album would enjoy some of the success that previous Clash albums had enjoyed. They were now one of the biggest British bands, while the third lineup of The Damned were starting over.
This new lineup of The Damned featured vocalist Dave Vanian; drummer Rat Scabies; bassist Algy Ward and Captain Sensible who was switching between guitar and keyboards. It took two lots of sessions to record Machine Gun Etiquette. The first began in March, and finished in May 1979. After a month which The Damned spent playing live, they returned to the studio in July. They spent the next two months completing their third album Machine Gun Etiquette. By August 1979, The Damned were ready to begin their comeback.
For The Damned’s comeback single, the album opener Love Song was chosen, and when in it was released in April 1979, it caught the imagination of the record buying public. Love Song reached number twenty in the UK, and was then released in France, Germany and Holland. The Damned had just enjoyed the biggest hit of their career so far. Soon, The Damned were on a role.
Having enjoyed a hit single with Love Song, The Damned were keen to repeat the experience. The song that was chosen for their second single, was Smash It Up. It’s a song of two parts, where the melodic first half giving way to riotous fusion of pop and punk. It was critique of hippie culture, and a call for political revolution. This the BBC took offence at, fearing it would lead to anarchy in the UK. However, this was the best thing that could happen to the song.
Smash It Up was released on the 28th September 1979, with ironically Burglar on the B-Side. Burglar saw Rat Scabies take charge of the lead vocal. Suddenly, curiosity got the best of record buyers, who bought the single to see what the fuss was about. When this was combined with The Damned fans who bought Smash It Up, it reached thirty-six in the UK. The Damned’s call for political revolution, had been a successful and profitable exercise.
Having released two hit singles from Machine Gun Etiquette, things were looking good for The Damned as November 1979 release date approached. There was only one hurdle left to overcome, the critics. All The Damned had to do, was avoid the slings and arrows of over critical critics.
Unlike their sophomore album Music For Pleasure, Machine Gun Etiquette was hailed a resounding success by critics. Some went as far as to use the c-word, and called Machine Gun Etiquette a classic. This some critics said, was The Damned’s second classic. However, whether Damned, Damned, Damned was a classic is debatable. Machine Gun Etiquette certainly was
Critics enjoyed, embarked and welcome The Damned’s exploration through sixties garage rock, pop, punk and psychedelic rock. They hadn’t turned their back on their punk roots, but The Damned knew that their music had to evolve. What hadn’t changed was The Damned’s ability to create music that is witty and sometimes, full of social comment. Elsewhere, The Damned swagger their way through Machine Gun Etiquette, as they created riotous, rocky and memorable music. It’s akin to an adrenaline rush as The Damned rock, and rock hard. They kick out the jams, referencing Detroit’s finest MC5 on Looking At You, a blistering, driving fusion of garage rock and punk. However, one of the highlights is I Just Can’t Be Happy Today which stylistically and sonically, is reminiscent of the Electric Prunes. Hooks aren’t in short supply on this fusion of pop and rock. However, on other songs, other sides to The Damned shines through on Machine Gun Etiquette which was hailed a stonewall classic.
When Machine Gun Etiquette was released in November 1979, it was to critical acclaim. Ever since their comeback, The Damned’s luck had changed. This continued when Machine Gun Etiquette reached number thirty-one in the UK album charts. Eventually, it was certified silver. The Damned had released the most successful and finest album of their career, Machine Gun Etiquette.
Nowadays Machine Gun Etiquette recognised as a classic album. The Damned come of age on Machine Gun Etiquette. No longer were they the punk band that made their debut on Damned, Damned, Damned. While The Damned hadn’t turned their back on their punk roots, they had moved towards a much more rocky sound.
The Damned incorporate elements of sixties garage rock, pop and psychedelia to their punk roots on Machine Gun Etiquette. This resulted in a much more accessible album than their first two albums. Machine Gun Etiquette had a much wider appeal than Damned, Damned, Damned and Music For Pleasure. Partly, this was to do with the new lineup.
With Captain Sensible switching to keyboards and guitar, this left a void. A new bassist was needed, and Algy Ward fitted the bill. He slotted into the rhythm section alongside drummer Rat Scabies, and they formed a formidable partnership. Meanwhile, Captain Sensible proved a talented keyboardist and guitarist. This game of musical chairs had worked. So had the other change since The Damned had reformed.
This final change was that no longer were The Damned reliant upon one songwriter. Suddenly, the band was a democracy as far as songwriting was concerned. Their lyrics were clever, controversial, witty and sometimes, full of social comment. These songs came to life in the Wessex Studios, and gave The Damned the most successful album of their career. The big question was could they surpass the success of Machine Gun Etiquette?
The Black Album.
Having just released the most successful album of their career, and one that was hailed a classic, The Damned got to work on their fifth album. Most bands would’ve have decided to pickup where they left on Machine Gun Etiquette. However,The Damned weren’t most bands. Instead, they were about to head off on a musical journey through disparate genres.
For The Black Album, David Vanian, Rat Scabies, Captain Sensible and Paul Gray wrote ten new tracks. The Damned also wrote Wait For The Blackout with Billy Karloff, and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde with Giovanni Dadomo. These twelve tracks were recorded at two studios.
One of studios that were used was the famous Rockfield Studios, in Monmouthshire. It had been where many classic albums had been recorded. Now The Damned became the latest group to use its prestigious studios. The rest of The Black Album was recorded at Shepperton Studios, Shepperton, in Surrey These studios became a home from home for The Damned as they recorded The Black Album.
When recording of The Black Album began, The Damned had decided to produce the album themselves using the alias The Kings Of Reverb. The exception was History Of The World (Part One), which Hans Zimmer who played synths, produced. The rest of The Black Album featured just The Damned.
For the second album in a row, drummer Rat Scabies had a new partner in the rhythm section. This time, it was bassist Paul Gray. He joined Captain Sensible who played electric guitar, acoustic guitar and keyboards. As usual, David Vanian took charge of the vocals. As the sessions began, it quickly became apparent that The Black Album wasn’t going to very different to Machine Gun Etiquette, in more ways than one.
Quickly, it became apparent that The Black Album was a much different album from its predecessor. The Damned were veering between, gothic rock, indie rock, new wave, psychedelia, punk and rock. It’s a much more eclectic, expansive album. This made the title The Black Album all the more fitting. So would the album cover. That was still to come.
The other difference between Machine Gun Etiquette that The Black Album was a much longer album. One track, Curtain Call, lasted just over seventeen minutes. There was no way that The Black Album would fit on one album. However, there wasn’t enough music to fit on two albums. Then came the idea to have side four feature live tracks.
Fortunately, The Damned had recorded a concert especially for members of their fan club. It had been recorded at Shepperton Studios, on 26th July 1980. Six songs were chosen from the recording of the concert, and found their way onto side four of The Black Album. This included Damned classics and favourites, including Love Song, Second Time Around, Smash It Up (Parts 1 & 2), New Rose, I Just Can’t Be Happy Today and Plan 9 Channel 7. These six songs were a tantalising taste of what The Damned live sounded like. So was the entire recording of the fan club concert, which was released in 1982 as Live Shepperton 1980. By then, The Black Album had been released.
Before that, The Damned decided that the The Black Album deserved an album cover worth of its title. Against a plain black album cover, Damned was written in gothic script, which holly leaves surrounding the nameplate. However, when The Black Album was reissued in 1982 as a single album, the album cover parodied The Beatles’ White Album. However, even in its present form, the album cover was perfect for The Damned’s ambitious, sprawling and genre-hopping double album, The Black Album. It would be released in October 1980, but before that, the lead single from The Black Album was released.
Just a month prior to the release of The Black Album, The History Of The World (Part 1), was released as single in September 1980. On the flip side was a non album track Sugar and Spite. When The History Of The World (Part 1) was released, it came with the credit ‘credit:’ “overproduced by Hans Zimmer.” Ironically, the synth driven History Of The World (Part 1) was a poppy and polished track, and one that radio stations should’ve picked up on. Alas, it reached just fifty-one in the UK singles’ charts. This was another disappointment.
Meanwhile, critics had received their advance copies of The Black Album. It was an ambitious, sprawling double album, where The Damned experimented, flitting between, and sometimes, combining disparate musical genres. This includes on future Damned classic Wait For The Blackout, a dramatic fusion of punk and psychedelia. There was also The Damned’s first foray into gothic rock, which the album cover more than hinted at. Gothic rock was a genre The Damned would embrace throughout the rest of the eighties. That was still to come. Before that, The Black Album was released.
Eleven months after the release of Machine Gun Etiquette, The Black Album was released by The Damned in October 1980. It reached number twenty-nine in the UK album charts, which was the highest placing of The Damned’s four albums. However, the only slight disappointment was that The Black Album wasn’t certified silver like its predecessor. However, the commercial success of The Black Album was a reason to celebrate. A hit single however, would be the cherry on the cake.
So The Damned released There Ain’t No Sanity Clause in November 1980. It wasn’t a track from The Black Album. Instead, it was hoped that There Ain’t No Sanity Clause might make an impact on the lucrative British Christmas singles market. It wasn’t to be, and the single stalled at ninety-seven in the UK singles charts. Maybe The Damned would have better luck next time?
In February 1981, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was released as the second single from The Black Album. Alas, the single failed to chart. The Damned were out of luck.
The Black Album was the final album The Damned released for Chiswick. However, a year later, in May 1982, Chiswick imprint Big Beat Records, released Wait For The Blackout as a single. Sadly, lightning struck twice, and the single failed to chart. This was a slightly disappointing end to The Damned’s time at Chiswick. However, the two albums that The Damned had released on Big Beat Records, Machine Gun Etiquette and The Black Album were two most successful albums of their career. Machine Gun Etiquette is a classic album, while The Black Album finds The Damned’s music evolving.
The Black Album find The Damned moving towards goth rock, which they went on to embrace throughout the eighties. There’s also a psychedelic influence to The Black Album, as The Damned begin to move away from their punk roots. They didn’t cut the ties entirely, for fear of alienating their older fans, who had been around since The Damned released the first punk single and album. That was just four years before the release of The Black Album in 1980. A lot had happened since 1976.
Forty-three years later, and incredibly, The Damned are still going strong. They’ve had their ups and downs, but still keep making music and playing live. They’ve released over thirty albums since The Black Album. However, The Black Album and its predecessor Machine Gun Etiquette are both reminders of The Damned in their prime, when they swaggered their way through albums, displaying a devil may care, rebellious attitude. This resulted in some of the most memorable music of their forty-three year career. Thos included the classic album Machine Gun Etiquette, and the album where The Damned came of age musically, The Black Album which featured a much more sophisticated and eclectic style.
The Damned-The Stiff and Chiswick Records’ Years.