The Damned: “We were horrible English hooligans”

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The success of Phantasmagoria – and the non-album single, “Eloise” – was not without its downside. After two years’ solid touring, The Damned were exhausted. Their next LP, Anything, was underbaked. Dropped by MCA, Scabies mooted a reformation of the original lineup in June, 1988. Scabies even hoped an album might come from it – could The Damned pull off another dazzling rebirth, along the lines of Machine Gun Etiquette? “We had one reunion and that’s where we should have left it,” says Brian James. “Then we tried again and it wasn’t fun. I split, I got pissed off with people.” This was 1991; the original four have never played together since. But The Damned have since released three further albums – one with Vanian and Scabies, two more with Vanian and Sensible – although for a period their energy was increasingly diverted into a series of feuds, principally between Sensible and Scabies. “There were rows over royalties, but it’s so bloody long ago,” says Sensible. “It’s nice that we’ve stopped slagging each other off.”

Could the four get together once again? While Sensible and Scabies keep their counsel, Vanian and James are more vocal in their support for a reunion. “Dave would do it, I know Rat would, I would, as long as everybody kept their promises,” James says. “But I worry that it’ll take somebody dying before the other three say we should have done it.” That’s echoed by Vanian. “I’d love to play with the old lineup,” he insists. “It’s something the audience would love and the band, while they can do it, should do it at least once. It would be nice for closure. Is it impossible? Not while we’re still alive.”

It’s been a long journey since Vanian’s deadpan opening line, “Is she really going out with him?”, and Scabies rat-a-tat drum introduced “New Rose” – and punk – to a record-buying public. Much of their story can be seen in Wes Orshoski’s fine 2015 doc, The Damned: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead. In May this year, The Damned’s present five-piece lineup, led by Vanian and Sensible, celebrated the group’s 40th anniversary with a show at the Albert Hall, a venue from which they were banned in 1977. Much has changed during the intervening years – not least, lineups, musical direction and inter-band violence – yet Rat Scabies, for one, believes there is still unfinished business. “Even today, I believe we could make a brilliant record,” he says. “I had that faith then and I have it now, faith in the people and attitude, the way they did things. They were all talented, there were no wasters. I’ve always thought we could pull it off.”

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