Damn, you’ve got to say – 40 years after they formed in the UK, The Damned are one of the only torchbearers left from another era. As they say on one of their live albums, “All that was around was The Partridge Family, the Osmond Brothers and drum solos. Then we came along.”
They were fast, energetic and set themselves apart from other punk acts by exploring various styles (goth for one). Their legion of ex-members also spread their tentacles throughout the music scene (ie. Sister of Mercy’s Patricia Morrison). And somehow founders Captain Sensible and Dave Vanian carry on with even more vigor today. With their last visit to Hong Kong a smash success, the quintet is returning this week to play at KITEC. Adam Pinching (aka Pinch), a founding member of the English Dogs who has been drumming with the group since 1999, talked about why this quintessential British punk act keeps steamrolling along.
The Damned have really had quite a resurgence lately. I cite the new live album and recent documentary of the group as two examples. Why do you feel there's continued interest in the group?
Pinch: I guess apart from releasing a varied catalogue of music over the years, this band never play the same show twice. We like to keep changing up the set list and messing about with song arrangements on the fly, depending how we feel on the night. We definitely don’t take ourselves too seriously. There have been some hilarious moments walking back in the dressing room after shows. We often use a football analogy of away wins and draws. We don’t often lose, but when we do, we put our hands up and make it better the next time.
Obviously, you enjoyed your time in Hong Kong enough to return. What kind of vibe did you feel here and what surprised you (onstage and off)?
Pinch: Initially, the city looked like something from the future, but when you get into the underbelly, it really is a wonderful vibey place and very welcoming. Everyone we met, ate and drank with, was super friendly and proud of their city. The crowd at our last gig had the biggest set of lungs for a long time and we stopped playing during “Ignite” just to listen to the crowd chanting the “whoa whoa” bits in the middle. A great moment.
You, of course, were in English Dogs. But what are your memories of The Damned when you were younger?
Pinch: I remember getting the “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today” single at lunch time at school while the kid next to me bought a Meatloaf LP. I felt pretty special and part of an exclusive, switched on club. I also remember sharing a stage with them at “Welcome to 84” festival in Leeds and us two being the only bands who got great reviews from Sounds Magazine. That was a great moment. Apart from that, I was more into the UK82 side of punk and it wasn’t till I joined the band in ‘99 that they really went back on my radar. I was just a couple of years too young for the ‘76 punk thing and was playing sports six nights a week while they were setting journalists on fire. Heard some great stories over the years, their reputation is very well deserved.
Much has been made of the UK punk era. Was it as great as it seemed...or overrated? Discuss....
Pinch: How can you deny so many great albums and singles from the era of 76/77/78 and then again from ‘82 onwards? This was a fresh and exciting time for music and its legacy is that it is still so influential 40 years later.
What do you feel are the best acts/albums to come from that era. Pick a few...
Pinch: The Saints, Devo, X-Ray Spex, Killing Joke, Rudimentary Peni, Discharge and GBH.
Pick one Damned album that resonates with you and explain why...
Pinch: Although “Machine Gun Etiquette” is undoubtedly a fantastic record, I have a soft spot for the “Black Album”. Such a variety of songwriting, very ambitious. Something that shouldn’t work, working so well, has to be applauded. I had a friend pass away, and at the funeral, my friend played an acoustic version of “Curtain Call” as the coffin left the room—a moment that still brings hairs up on the back of my neck. That song is such an emotional rollercoaster and a masterpiece of songwriting.
How has it been for you playing as part of one act...and then taking over in another...and back and forth...which group has your heart?
Pinch: Ha! Difficult choice. English Dogs was my band and I was joining a completely alien organization with The Damned, but I feel part of the family now, so I’m not going to choose one over the other.
You're at the Royal Albert Hall playing a 40th anniversary show. Describe it all...
Pinch: In there at 8.30am as part of the production load in. Drank a LOT of coffee. Walked the hallways soaking up the history. Sound check went well. Worked out a lot of things at the very last minute in usual Damned style.
As everyone was pacing up and down the backstage getting stressed, I ran off to the pub to drink with the fans and take my mind off it. I wanted to be part of the celebration too. Realised I had 10 minutes ‘till showtime so jogged back from the pub, grabbed my sticks and went on.
In the first song, the monitor guy muted my mix and I had nothing at all in my ears to play to. It took me a while to recover from that as the adrenaline was flying, but I decided nothing was going to spoil that night and I’m glad we all got a moment to drink it all in at the end of the show with a very Un-Damned rock and roll bow with the full cast. A night I will never forget and a huge bucket list moment.
What's the chemistry of the group like when you all go into record...and what kind of music do you all want to make these days?
Pinch: It’s pretty exciting, as we really never know how things will turn out until we are in the moment. Things can and do change a LOT. Being creative and not doing things by the numbers has been both the genius and tragedy of this band.
Frankly, we're all getting older. How does that reflect the music you record and play live? Does it factor in?
Pinch: Sometimes we wish we were in a reggae band so it wasn’t so tough playing two and three hour shows, but once you are in the zone, time flies. It’s a great workout.
What's your favorite Damned moment to date?
Pinch: The pre flight drink at the airport. Always hilarious.
What's life like for you during the downtime? What do you get up to?
Pinch: I work as a production director in the States for a company that puts bands into casinos. We have many, all over the country and I am constantly working on the shows even when I am on tour.
To relax, I hang out with my wife in the Clapping Monkey, our Tiki Bar. We also have four rescue cats, endless amusement!!!
You have 24 hours to go anywhere, see anything, eat anything. Travel and time are not factors. You can go to multiple cities. What would you get up to?
Pinch: Fiji, Island hopping, cocktails, swimming with dolphins, avoiding sharks, then take a time machine home.
The Damned will be performing in Hong Kong as part of their 40th anniversary tour on February 28th at KITEC in Kowloon Bay. Doors open at 7pm. Tickets are $HK650 and still available via www.thepointofsale.hk
Written by Scott Murphy