Good morning! “Good morning!”
How early is it over there? “Too early – ha-ha! I’ve only had about three hours sleep.”
So where are you right now? (Looking around) “I’ve just crawled out of bed and I’m in the luxury confines of the Ibis Hotel in Shepherds Bush. I say “luxury” with my tongue firmly in my cheek.” You’re wearing a Rotosound shirt! (Rotosound bass strings) “Great shirt, great strings!”
I’m a Roto guy too. Love ‘em. “Great! Excellent strings. I’ve been using them for the last forty five years.”

So, what’s happening at the moment? Rehearsals? “It’s our last day of rehearsal today… yeah. We’ve had two days rehearsal so far and today’s the day we’re deciding which songs to play, which songs to leave out. And then we’re on a big silver bird to Japan.” And then down to Oz. “Yeah! Absolutely.”

I was at the Sydney show last year when you guys were on the Darkadelic tour. Great show. One of my favourite albums of last year. “Oh nice. Yeah, we’ll be doing a couple of songs from that. And I love Sydney. That was my second time there. I don’t think we’ve got a day off there this time. I like doing the boat trip around the harbour, trying out all the local breweries and everything. Fantastic.”

So, just in one city then on to the next city? Like that? “Yeah-I don’t have the itinerary in front of me, but I think we’ve got a day off somewhere, but we’re flying each day to the show we’re doing. There are no days off from flying so it’s a bit tiring, but it’ll be fine.”

So, tell me, how did the whole Rat Scabies reunion come about? “Good question… a couple of years ago, before COVID, I think David (Vanian, vocalist) wanted to get the seventies line up back for one last hurrah, with Brian (James, original guitarist), so they did five dates in Britain and didn’t play anywhere else in the world, with Brian, Rat, Captain (Sensible, seventies bassist, current guitarist) and Dave, and that kind of got Captain and Rat especially back together again and you know, you have the ups and downs in bands over the years, and everybody got on fine and it sounded really good.” And that lead to…

“The next logical step in the wacky world of The Damned was, well… we’ve done Darkadelic, we’ve done the original line up, so let’s do the classic Black Album, “Strawberries” line up. Which made it a bit easier because I was already in the band (for those albums), so it’s been slowly put into place from probably the end of last year. Didn’t know how much work was gonna be coming in, but it seems to have taken off quite spectacularly so, you know, we’re coming to you guys, we’re going to Japan, we’re doing America. Doing a lot of festivals, which we don’t normally do. A lot of stuff in Europe.”

I imagine there’s a lot of preparation then? (Smiling) “In classic Damned style we’re not spending weeks rehearsing. We’ve had two days and this is our last day, so it’ll still be that nice kind of garage-y roar, anything can happen vibe that we had back then. That’s the difference with Rat: it’s kind of like that classic on the edge thing and nobody plays those drum rolls like him, so great fun to play together again.”

That was my next question: Will (Taylor, previous drummer) was a certain kind of player, quite solid, straightforward; how does it feel, not just overall for the band, but for yourself in particular as a bassist to go back to that kind of more frenetic snappy style? I mean, Rat is almost from a Keith Moon school in his approach. Flies around the kit. “All over the place, yeah. It’s a bit like putting on an old favourite pair of shoes you haven’t worn for years that you’ve just found. And you think: “That’s why I liked them!” It’s kind of a bit like that. I mean… I have played with Rat recently. I’d worked with a couple of American guys – a band called Profession of Madmen – and Rat jumped on that stuff, so we’ve done three albums together. But it was all remotely recorded. So, they’d send me the stems (recorded tracks) to put my bass on after Rat had done his drums, so it was already really familiar to play to Rat’s drums and his particular way of drumming. And often one of his unique things is the drum rolls don’t go over one bar to another, which is really nice for bass players, because it gives you extended ideas that you can do. And one thing Rat and I have always had is this weird kind of, without thinking about it, empathy where you kind of figure out what’s coming. You kind of guess what the other person’s gonna do before they do it, and then you just happen to do it together and it works. You’re a musician, you understand this: things that you don’t come across that frequently to be quite honest.”

Yeah, I get that. After a time, it gets telepathic. “Telepathic, yeah. You can play with great musicians, but maybe there’s not quite that feel there, and with Rat there’s always that feeling that anything can happen. And it’s never the same twice, which is great fun, I’ve gotta be honest. It keeps you on your toes. That not everything is ‘click- click – click’ – set in stone and precise. And both Pinch (Andrew Pinching) and Will were phenomenal drummers in their own right, but it’s like what I said, it’s back to that comfy pair of shoes and that’s why I like doing this, you know.” You can fall down the stairs and land on your feet and it feels good. (Laughs) “Good way of putting it, yeah.”

And how is Rat personality-wise these days? Has he quietened down a little? Still a bit mayhemic? Have the years mellowed him a little? “Thankfully we’ve all quietened down a bit. I mean, it’s not the twenty four hours rah rah rah, anything goes of yesterday. You know, we’re all in our beds now at night rather than getting into the room at seven in the morning thinking maybe I should actually have gotten into that bed at some point! So, yeah, we’re all a little bit more sensible these days. Now it’s all about the playing and the music. And to be honest it’s about… you know, we’re all mid-sixties. How long can this go on, probably not very long. So, let’s just have a bloody great time while we can.”

Since you mention that, the coming tour has been billed as the last Damned tour of Australia. Does that mean the last tour for this line up? Could there be a return to the previous Darkadelic line up, or do you actually see an end in sight for the Damned? “Actually, it’s the Damned, isn’t it? Anything could happen. I think, honestly, it’s finite now. The travelling is pretty gruelling, I’ve got terrible hearing problems with tinnitus and other problems, and I struggle a lot. And you know, spending twenty one hours in the back of a plane – we don’t earn the kind of money that allows us to travel business class – so the travelling as you’d know is pretty brutal. In Japan we’re flying between shows every day. In Australia we’re flying to shows on the day. As I said, one day off, so there’s five flights for five shows and that’s after a long flight from the UK and Japan. So, I do think it’s unlikely we’ll come back to Australia. But who thought the original line up would get back together? Who thought Rat would come back? Who thought we’d be doing this? But at this point in time, it’s not a cynical marketing ploy, put it that way.”

Not with The Damned. (Laughs)” I don’t think The Damned have ever been guilty of cynical marketing ploys. We all thought one last… this might be the last year, I don’t know. I hope not, but it could go that way.”

Is there at least the possibility that this line up might make another record? “There are no plans to do one. I mean… it’s one of those things… Would we have the time to do it? Would we have the songs to do it? Would we wanna do it? (Shaking head) I mean, we’ll see how it goes… we haven’t really played together yet. Japan in a couple of days will be the first time playing together so… it’s The Damned. Out of all the bands in the world, I can honestly say: if anything is unexpected, it could be with The Damned. So, we’ll have to see.

Going back a little, tell me about your time in UFO. “Yeah, I did two albums with UFO. Misdemeanour and Ain’t Misbehavin. Ain’t Misbehavin was actually a mini album.”

With regards to your bass playing, despite the difference between UFO and The Damned, I didn’t see any real difference between how you play with The Damned and how you played with UFO. It just always sounded like you playing. “You’re the first person to have said that and you’re absolutely correct. You’re exactly right. Because most people say it must have been really strange going from a punk band to a metal band, and I don’t really think of The Damned as a punk band. I just think of them as a rock band. And UFO weren’t a metal band; they were a bloody great rock band. The top line melodies were different and the songs weren’t quite as frenetic.”

So, did you settle in pretty quick then? “I had no rehearsals with UFO and I had to join them after Billy Sheehan (Talas/Mr. Big/David Lee Roth virtuoso bassist).” Right. He filled in with them for a while, I remember that. “Yeah, he’d filled in. Billy had supported UFO in America with a band called Talas and he had got very friendly with Paul (Chapman, UFO guitarist). Paul was a very technical player and they used to jam a lot together and I think it was Paul’s idea to get Billy in. And if there’s two bass players that are opposite it’s me and Billy Sheehan, ‘coz I just can’t do all that, it’s not what I do. So, I remember actually flying out to join them in Madrid, I got to the venue and I went to the mixing desk to watch them and there’s Billy doing all the (wiggles fingers in the air) stuff he does and I thought ‘Oh man, what have I got myself into! I’d been given the albums to learn on my Walkman and of course Pete (Pete Way, original UFO bassist)’s bass playing is completely the opposite to Billy’s. I thought this is great, melodic rootsy stuff, a bit bluesy. So, I went backstage and met Phil (Mogg, UFO vocalist) and I said: ‘I’m in the wrong band. I should go home tomorrow! I can’t do all that stuff.’ He said: ‘Thank God for that!’ I mean, bless him, he’s a phenomenal bass player, but wasn’t right for UFO. And I easily felt at home with the UFO blokes. It was like ‘welcome’. Just a lovely bunch of guys. And you’re right. I played exactly the same in UFO, Leeno, as I did in The Damned. Didn’t change a thing.” That’s what I got from listening. “Didn’t need to, yeah.”

Now, I recall seeing a pic of you at a festival with UFO plying a white Rickenbacker bass?  “Yeah! I had a red 1974 mono Ric that I had sprayed white. I just fancied a white bass and that one met an untimely end. I unadvisedly trashed it on the stage at a Budapest show.” (grinning) (Me groaning) Oh no… “Yeah. And I didn’t have a spare bass at that time.” Just the one. “Just the one, yeah. And the next show was in Stockholm, so I had to get the record company to take me around the shops to get me another bass. And I got a Thunderbird. I didn’t set out to get a Thunderbird, but Phil liked them and obviously Pete had used them, and I was looking at this Ric 4001 stereo bass when I picked up this Thunderbird and thought ‘this is gorgeous’, so I got the record company to pay for it and they billed Chrysalis Records (UFO” s British label) back in England. They were meant to charge me for it, but never did so I got it for free.” (Big smile) Excellent!

How about your other recent project, Wingmen? I thought the album was great. Will there be more music to come? “Oh, nice, thanks. We’ve got three new songs in the can. That album was just something to do during lockdown. We had songs that didn’t suit The Damned, Ruts or Stranglers. I actually had a couple on there that got used that I’d written for The Damned. You can hear the influences there. That one’s a bit Stranglers or that one’s kinda very Damned. We put our own stamp on it. And obviously I don’t play like JJ (Burnel, Stranglers bassist) and Baz (Warne, Stranglers guitarist) doesn’t play like Captain (Sensible, Damned guitarist). So, it changes them, which is always fun to do, because you’re never quite sure when I send an idea to Baz what’s gonna come back, and when he sends an idea to me what’s gonna come back. And then Marty (Love, Wingmen drummer) and Leigh (Heggarty, Wingmen guitarist) put their bits on… so it ended up we managed to do an album and the record company put it out, and we managed to do a tour last year. And we liked it so much we’ve continued sending ideas. It’s just been very difficult to find a period to do more stuff. I think The Stranglers like to keep things a little more contained, while The Damned don’t give a toss what I do outside The Damned. And it’s The Stranglers’ fiftieeth year this year, so it’s a big year for them, and The Damned have got more gigs than we thought now with Rat back and Leigh’s always busy. So, no Wingmen touring this year, but we’ve got songs that we’re constantly twiddling about with, so I think – I’m pretty sure – there will be another Wingmen album next year.”

Getting back to the Damned; your first record back with them was Evil Spirits – which you made with Tony Visconti (producer) – how was that experience for you? “Yeah, you know… obviously he worked with T. Rex and all of that. It was a weird one for me, because I’d only been asked to play on the album and I hadn’t been asked to rejoin the band, but only a few months before Captain said ‘we might be doing the album with Tony Visconti’ (and everything with The Damned is “might”, you know), would you be up for playing bass again? (on a permanent basis)’. And I was working for the Musicians’ Union at the time and said ‘Of course, I’d love to’. And it ended up Visconti wanted to do it in New York, so I took ten days leave and I actually heard the ideas for the songs about a week before, so I had that week to go through twenty or thirty ideas for what they were gonna record. And we only had ten days to do it, so we went and got straight into it. It was a great fun album to do. And Visconti was great, but not a real hands-on guy. He had a great engineer and he was a great raconteur. So, it was another experience, but a fantastic experience, let’s put it that way (laughs). One of the zillions I’ve been lucky to have. And am still having!”

Hey though, you coming back to the band after all that time, Visconti, New York… not too bad! “That’s what I thought: ‘you gotta grab this one’ -like jumping from The Hot Rods (Eddie and The Hot Rods, Paul’s first band) to The Damned and then to UFO – grab it. What can happen – let’s see… It was a happy surprise. And just jumping back in with The Damned felt as natural as jumping in the shower in the morning. It all clicked.”

Catch The Damned on their final Australian Tour later this month:
20/03/24 – Brisbane, The Tivoli
21/03/24 – Sydney, Enmore Theatre
22/03/24 – Melbourne, Northcote Theatre
24/03/24 – Adelaide, Hindley Street Music Hall
26/03/24 – Perth, Astor Theatre