Punk Pioneer Captain Sensible of The Damned is not known for his good decisions — hence the name bestowed upon him all those years ago. The Captain’s (real name Raymond Ian Burns) only real good choice in life was choosing a life in music.
For 40 years as a member of England’s The Damned (first on bass, then on guitar) The Captain has helped steer the band as they shifted from punk pioneers to goth and beyond — with occasional time off for bad behavior and good, solid and diverse solo records including “Wot,” “One Christmas Catalog” and “Happy Talk.”
To mark four decades in the business, The Damned are hitting the road for a string of dates including a stop at Baltimore Soundstage Tuesday. The Captain discussed the evolution of punk, his Christmas song and how Lemmy saved The Damned.
Question: Do you ever get tired of hearing punk rock?
Answer: No. But there are a certain bunch of punk records that I’ve heard so many times. I like the sound of a loud guitar and thrashing drum kit, but if I hear “New Rose,” “Anarchy in the U.K.” or “Rock the Casbah” one more time, I’m going to … go out and kill somebody.
I like punk rock, but they always play the same songs. It’s like in Britain, every Christmas they play the same songs. That spoils Christmas for me.
Q: Among those Christmas songs, do they play your song?
A: Have you heard my song?
Q: “One Christmas Catalogue.”
A: That’s my favorite song that I ever recorded. Apart from what I do with The Damned, it has been my dream, my quest to write the perfect pop song. I judge everything I do against “Pet Sounds” and “Sgt. Pepper.” I’m just Captain Sensible, but that’s what I aspire to.
Q: Your solo music seems so different from The Damned. Was that intentional?
A: I got a solo deal on the strength of songs I had written for The Damned that were rejected. All the solo stuff I do, I offer to the band first. But, obviously, extremely melodic pop doesn’t fit with the dark [Damned leader singer Dave] Vanian’s vibe.
Rather than throw them away, I just record them. I was as surprised as everybody else when it got me in the bloody charts.
Q: Can you believe The Damned have been together for 40 years?
A: When our founder and leader Brian James left after the second album, not many people gave us any chance to survive that long because none of us had written a tune ever in our lives. Brian had done everything. I owe him so much.
Amazingly, we found we could write songs and have carried on till now.
Q:When Brian left, did you think that was the end of TheDamned?
A: At that point we all went off doing solo things. We paid to play and were sleeping on people’s floors. [Original Damned drummer] Rat [Scabies] called me up one day and said, “I love my new band but I’m [expletive] broke, Captain.” I said, “I could do with a payday.” He said, “Let’s get The Damned together again for a just a couple of gigs [and] find some bass players.”
I was now playing guitar. He said, “How about Lemmy?” We all knew him. He was a permanent feature of the pubs on Portobello Road [in London]. He said, “Yes.”
We did a couple gigs that were so popular, we decided to bring The Damned back and keep going. After that we had to find a permanent bass player. Lemmy was only standing in. In some ways, he saved the band.
Q: What is the relationship like between you and singer Dave Vanian these days?
A: On paper it wouldn’t work because we are complete opposites. He is suave and sophisticated, elegant and urbane. I’m a slob.
The one thing we do agree on is that punk rock comes from the garage rock scene of the late-‘60s. The Seeds. Electric Prunes. That’s what we love.
The Damned has been a musical adventure. We don’t like to repeat ourselves and always try to make the best record of all time.
Q: What does punk rock mean to you?
A: Punk rock became a generic kind of homogenized sound after the original 1977 bunch did their thing. Punk should be lo-fi and gloriously so. It should be a bunch of people with a minimum amount of equipment trying to make something special.
I never believed in the punk template that it’s gotta be a certain sound and a certain look. Punk rock for me was always creating something from not listening to people say, “It can’t be done.” You have to ask yourself, “What is punk?” For me it’s not even about music. It’s an attitude. An underdog’s charter to make something of yourself.
Q: How has touring changed for you?
A: In the late-‘70s in punk rock, the more you drank and the more out of control you were, the worse your behavior was, the more column inches you got [in a newspaper]. It was the perfect job for people like me and Rat Scabies. We were out of control and everyone seemed to love it.
Obviously it’s not good for your health. Somehow we all survived. I still drink. I’d be dead if I still drank the same amount. My name, Captain Sensible, is obviously ironic [and was] imposed on me by some other band that thought I was a complete wanker. I never managed to shake that off.
Now I’m a vegetarian and I don’t drink as much. So maybe now the name is not so funny anymore.
Q: Has Captain Sensible become sensible?
A: I think I have, despite everything.
The Damned play Baltimore Soundstage Tuesday. For tickets go to Ticketfly.com.