Uncut Editor's Diary
Fear and loathing with The Damned, 1977
The announcement by The Damned that they'll be playing the London Forum in April to celebrate Captain Sensible's 60th birthday and tickets for it will cost what they would have in 1977 has caused a lot of excitement among the band's venerabe fans and reminded me of the following mad escapade from that lively year.
The night before goes from bad to what you might call worse, a quick drink after work turning into a cocaine and tequila-crazed binge of somewhat devastating proportions. I wake up, frankly surprised to be alive, in a hotel room in Maida Vale, blood on the bathroom walls, in the company of people I don’t know and certainly can’t remember meeting.
I feel like doing not much more than spending the next week starting at a wall and dribbling, but realise through the murk of returning consciousness that I have shortly to be at the west London HQ of Stiff Records, where I’m supposed to meet The Damned.
They’re starting a UK tour tonight in Middlesbrough – MIDDLESBROUGH! – and with typically reckless disregard for what’s left of my physical well-being I’ve volunteered to go with them for a larky on-the-road feature for what used to be Melody Maker.
Anyway, I stumble around the hotel room putting bits of myself back together, wondering what one of my shoes is doing on top of the wardbrobe. No one else is moving, but from the ungodly amount of snoring, moaning and groaning I’m fairly sure none of these people are dead, whoever they are.
I stumble then into the early morning cold, twitching like Joe Strummer’s leg, nearly pass out and fall into the back of a cab that takes me to Alexander Street, which is near Paddington, where Stiff have their offices. As usual, it’s bedlam inside, but this has nothing to do with The Damned, who are nowhere to be seen, although it’s been impressed upon me that we need to make an unpleasantly early start.
I had spoken the day before to the band’s tour manager, Ron, and this Ron had gone on at some length about the need for me to be at Stiff not long after the crack of dawn itself. So here I am, but where the fuck is Ron? Where, come to that, are the fucking Damned?
I sit there fuming, feeling like I’ve been dragged naked over sharp rocks and beaten with logs, bones growing out of my head, a stunned and sullen silence my only response to the busy mayhem around me, telephones shrieking like alarm bells now and people shouting at each other.
After considerably more than a while, a curious-looking cove wanders in off the street, looking baffled beneath a battered black bowler, an overcoat easily three times too big for him hanging from his lankily emaciated frame. Turns out this is Robert “Lu” Edmunds, enlisted a couple of months ago at the insistence of Brian James as the band’s second guitarist, a recruitment that immediately worsened the relationship between James and drummer Rat Scabies, the latter recently jumping ship altogether during a European tour. Rat’s been replaced by the dapper Jon Moss, who goes on to rather better things with Culture Club.
That’s Jon, by the way, coming through the door behind Lu, who is followed in turn by the black-caped Dave Vanian, who looks like I feel – which is to day like death with a hangover. The vampiric Vanian is limping badly and soon telling us in gruesome detail about a growth he has discovered on his thigh.
“What happened?” asks Brian James, who’s also now turned up. “Get bitten by one of yer bats?”
James guffaws rawly at this vague stab at humour and there is much sniggering from the hapless Lu, who I am beginning to think might be suffering from some form of advanced gormlessness for which there is at the time no known remedy. I’m also frankly worried by the way he keeps staring at me, as if he’s wondering whether my head will fit in his fridge.
Such morbid ponderings are duly interrupted by the arrival of Captain Sensible, who is preceded by more clanking than you might hear at the London Dungeon, the Captain decked out in sundry chains and padlocks.
“Get yer fucking hair cut you hippie c***!” are his first words to me. “Let’s go to the pub,” are his second, on being told that Ron has yet to turn up. Over ensuing drinks, the Captain briefly describes the auditioning process for rat’s replacement.
“Most of the people who phoned were c****,” he says. “The first thing we asked them was if they was the best drummer in the world. If they paused, we’d hang up.”
An unbelievable four hours after we were supposed to have left Stiff we are finally off in the general direction of Middlesbrough, a lengthy journey made virtually unendurable by the wretched Sensible, whose pathological inability to settle down means that every passing fucking moment has to be occupied by some desperate prank or mischievous jape. And so there is much farting, giggling, flicking of burning matches sand the dropping of burning matches down the necks of unsuspecting victims.
“Something’s burning!” screams the band’s minder, Marty, somewhere just outside Birmingham. This isn’t news to me, because it’s hair that’s on fire. I turn around in my seat and slap Sensible on the head.
“Why did you do THAT?” he whimpers.
“Why do you fucking THINK?” I shout at him, my hair smouldering and smoke filling the van.
By Sheffield everyone’s calmed down a bit and the Captain is telling me an amusing story about Elvis Costello. Seems The Damned and Elvis and The Attractions were returning by coach from the Blitzen festival. Elvis had apparently got howlingly drunk on the evening prior to departure and the next morning was bundled onto the coach close to death.
Jake Riviera – then managing both Elvis and The Damned, or “The Dimmed” as he often liked to call them – told the delinquent Sensible and equally disruptive Rat Scabies that under no circumstances whatsoever were they to attempt to tease, torment or generally molest the suffering Elvis.
“Then Costello fell asleep,” the Captain recalls with an evil little grin, horns sprouting from the side of his head, “with his mouth open.”
He’s chuckling like a bastard now.
“Anyway,” the captain continues,” me and Rat tipped an ashtray into his mouth and then set fire to his shoelaces. He woke up with his feet on fire, tried to scream and nearly choked on the dog-ends.”
The memory of this hilarious incident keeps the Captain chuckling until we get to Middlesbrough, when things turn bleak again.
We’re sitting in a cold, miserable dressing room backstage at the Town hall when the woman who’s promoting tonight’s show gravely announces that there are punks fighting in the hall and her bouncers have lost control. She corners Sensible and tells him The Damned must adopt a responsible attitude. “Tell them,” she beseeches, “that if they don’t behave, like, there’ll be no more poonk in Middlesbrough.”
“Too fucking right there’ll be no more punk in Middlesbrough,” Sensible fairly wails. “If they start throwing bottles and looking for a fight, there’ll be no more punk and no more Damned. We’ll be off home, don’t worry about that. I may be a c***,” says Sensible, “but I’m not fucking stupid.”
The Damned in 1977, pic: Erica Echenberg/Redferrns