The Damned formed in London in 1976. Former cemetery worker and aspiring graphic artist Dave Vanian (abridged from ‘Transylvanian’; real name Dave Lett) teamed up with Rat Scabies (Chris Millar), Captain Sensible (Ray Burns) and Brian James (born Brian Robertson) and the band were signed to the new Stiff label by Jake Riviera.
The group released the classic track New Rose (1976), produced by Stiff stablemate Nick Lowe and became the first punks to release and chart with an album, the enduring Damned Damned Damned (1977). One of the classic punk debuts – and clocking in at just over 31 minutes – the LP pogoed and thrashed through a collection of three-chord wonders.
Neat Neat Neat, the band’s second single released simultaneously with the album on 18 February 1977, supercharged an old Eddie Cochran riff into an instant pogo-friendly classic.
Live, the band were one of the major attractions on the London scene with Vanian’s Goth affectations, Sensible’s beret-topped antics and Scabies’ demented drummer persona all competing against each other. The Damned were indeed a motley crew.
Their musical assault was bolstered later that year by a second guitarist, Lu Edmonds, who debuted on the flaccid Music For Pleasure (1977). The album was universally derided and Scabies left, broke and broken.
Although future Culture Club man Jon Moss was drafted in briefly as a replacement, the band splintered early the following year.
The original band regrouped early in 1979 and emerged rejuvenated into the UK Top 20 with Love Song. With Algy Ward completing their line-up, the band scored a second chart hit with Smash It Up, releasing their lauded Machine Gun Etiquette album (1979) later that year. A third single, I Just Can’t Be Happy Today, followed.
The perpetual adolescence of The Damned on stage masked how they had been growing up in the studio. Machine Gun Etiquette was an album that punk bands were simply not making: complex, contentious, and hugely ambitious. Throw in tunes and velocity and you have Motörhead meets The Beach Boys.
Paul Gray replaced Ward for 1980’s Untitled (known as ‘the Black Album’), an even more surprising ambitious double set which flew in the face of punk convention with its rampant experimentation. The poppy Strawberries(1982) marked the last stand of Captain Sensible who had scored a solo hit with the annoying Happy Talk earlier that summer (from the musical South Pacific).
Vanian and Scabies continued on with Roman Jugg and Bryn Gunn, enjoying major chart success with a string of extremely commercial pseudo Goth rockers, the biggest of which was a cover of Barry Ryan’s Eloise which made the Top Three.
Phantasmagoria (1985) became their biggest selling album to date, catering to a whole new generation of fans. By now, The Damned had changed almost beyond recognition (with Vanian adopting a Zorro persona in place of the old Goth) and finally faded in the late 80s.
When Croydon’s Ray Burns joined the band he wanted to be called ‘Duane Zenith’ but was instead christened Captain Sensible.
Dave Vanian (Lett)
Brian James (Robertson)
Captain Sensible (Ray Burns)
Bass, guitar, keys
Rat Scabies (Chris Millar)