Saturday, 20 June 2015

"The Damned: Don't You Wish That We Were Dead" film review

Coming home from the cinema after seeing this film I almost felt like I'd just seen The Damned in concert, there having been so much live footage of the current line-up, clips of past line-ups and the band formed recently by founder members Brian James and Rat Scabies.

To say that The Damned have had a chequered history is something of an understatement. With interviews to camera and also footage of them captured when they perhaps weren't so aware of being filmed, this is a real warts and all documentary, or rockumentary if you will. The warts were provided literally by Lemmy giving his thoughts on the band and we also saw him playing on stage with Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible and co a few years back, revisiting his brief tenure as one of the band's many bass players. 

One of the most interesting parts of the film concerned their enigmatic singer Mr Vanian. That adjective was actually used by one of his band mates to describe him and while Vanian looked happy enough to be interviewed for the film, he was clearly less enamoured at cameras being left running in dressing rooms where he could be caught off-guard. This did indeed happen as near the end of the film he was shown having a rant about how badly The Damned have done financially compared to some of their contemporaries. The large sums given to members of the Sex Pistols for their Filthy Lucre reunion tour was mentioned with some venom by Vanian obviously hacked off at the blatant favouritism shown to the Pistols by the music industry. 

At some cinemas audiences have had the chance of asking questions to past and present members of the band and I noticed online that bass players Paul Gray and Bryn Merrick have been doing these Q&A sessions together. It turns out that their current friendship is based not just on them having been amongst the nine bass players who have played with the Damned since 1976 but also by a bizarre and unpleasant coincidence - they were both diagnosed with cancer around the same time and saw each other at their regular treatment sessions in Wales. Bryn suggested that the cause of his illness could have been the amount of phlegm he had accidentally swallowed due to the lovely habit of audience members gobbing at him on stage, something which Rat Scabies has apparently been blamed for starting.

Having read an interview with Captain Sensible about how he and Scabies can no longer bare to even be in the same room at the same time, let alone play music together, I was curious to hear Rat's side of the story. During the course of the film he went from being quite calm talking about the financial problems the band has faced over the years to sounding pretty pissed off with life in general and making out that the records the band have recorded are no big deal. But the most memorable scene was when he was talking about the mid 80s when The Damned finally got some recognition due a deal with a major record label. 

This was the Eloise era when Vanian well and truly took centre stage after the departure of Captain Sensible. However all was not well. Rat got quite emotional when he described how they arrived at an air-conditioned rehearsal room, complete with roadies on hand, which was set out with top of the range amplifiers and instruments provided by the record company. But they found that they couldn't actually play anything. The Captain described a similar turn of events in his life after the success of Happy Talk which brought in more money than he was earning with The Damned. He found that after two years of being a pop star, with all the pressures which came with that, he was so burnt out that he admitted himself to a clinic.

But despite all these ups and downs, The Damned continue touring and making the occassional new record. After the numerous personnel changes of the early years, the last 10 years have seen a settled line-up after Patricia Morrison (aka Mrs Vanian) left in 2004 to be replaced by Stu West. Pinch occupies the drum seat while long-time Sensible side-man Monty Oxymoron tinkles the ivories. 

The film ended with scenes from a gig in London last year celebrating the Captain's 60th birthday with the words Old Age Punk written on the back of his jacket. The final song of the film was, suitably, Ignite. Long may they continue to set the world alight.

This review is dedicated to Bryn Merrick (12 Oct 1958 – 12 Sept 2015)

Friday, 19 June 2015

The Damned & The Phantom Chords in concert

Here are a couple of extracts from my concert memories book 
"Drum Solos, Bottles and Bands" which I self-published in 2012. 
It is available in paperback and as an ebook and you can find more info about it at

The Damned - Brixton Academy - 2 July 1989

In 1989 original Damned members Brian James and Captain Sensible rejoined the band for a farewell tour which included a gig in July at London's Brixton Academy supported by The Milk Monitors, Horse and Claytown Troup. The set was pretty much the same as the one recorded for a reunion concert the previous year at The Town & Country Club and released as Final Damnation.

The original line-up took to the stage first and played most of their debut album Damned Damned Damned including the hits 'New Rose' and 'Neat Neat Neat'. Brian James then left the stage, the Captain switched from bass to lead guitar, Bryn Merrick took over on bass and Roman Jugg played keyboards. We then got some of the old favourites from albums Machine Gun Etiquette and The Black Album along with three cover versions: The Beatles song 'Day Tripper', 'Looking At You' by the MC5 and The Rolling Stones track, 'The Last Time'.

I can't remember during which song it occurred but at one point I collided with a large bloke in front of me and got a bloody nose. I headed off to the gents and fortunately the bleeding stopped soon after so I was able to enjoy the rest of the gig. As he was prone to do, Captain Sensible came back on for the encore wearing little more than his beret and shades. At least he could cover his modesty with his guitar unlike Iggy Pop and Perry Farrell who have been known to let it all hang out on stage.

The Phantom Chords - T&C 2 - 15 May 1990

Later in 1989 Vanian, Jugg and Merrick formed a new band called The Phantom Chords and in May the following year I saw them play at the T&C 2 supported by Ugly As Sin. I got to the venue early so found a nearby pub and had a beer. Whilst supping my pint a girl came up and asked if I wanted a ticket for the gig. I'd already bought mine but we chatted briefly about what we might hear that evening from Vanian and co. As The Damned had covered songs by MC5, The Stooges and The Doors my new friend wondered if we might get extended versions of LA Woman and the like. As it turned out this was wishful thinking and instead we got a mix of old rockabilly covers and some new songs. I can't say it was a very memorable gig but there was the novelty of seeing members of The Damned up close in a small venue. The band released one single on Polydor and recorded some other songs but it wasn't until 1995 that an album was released. Prior to that Dave Vanian had been persuaded by Rat Scabies to join a new line-up of The Damned so The Phantom Chords were moved onto the back burner.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Singer songwriter mix

A selection of singer songwriters including a track from "Fairy Lights" the new album by Jenny Lascelles which is released on the 19th of June.

Teddy Thompson - I Should Get Up : This track from Teddy's album "Separate Ways" features his dad Richard on lead guitar.

Chris Wood - Spitfires : From "Folk Against Fascism Vol 1". This song was written as a direct response to a BNP leaflet bearing the image of a Spitfire that came through Chris Woods’ letterbox. 

Jenny Lascelles - Unlike Myself : Jenny is a singer, songwriter, pianist and occasional ukulele player from Newcastle Upon Tyne. This track is from her new album "Fairy Lights" which is being released on the 19th of June. 

Coreen Scott - Shelter : Composed by Eric Bogle this is a love song to Australia written by an immigrant Scot to his adopted homeland. 

Chris Bradley - To My Ears : from his 2008 album "Voices". He released a follow-up two years later and according to his web site this is "a 3rd one unreleased". He also writes music for TV and film.

Fabian Holland - Welcome To The Magic Show : Says Fabian, "This song is all about businesses that glorify and glamorise themselves and a lot of the time thrive on people's weakness, greed and vanity. The first is a casino, then a fast food place and then a salon."

Kim Edgar - The Steamy Note : As well as her solo work and involvement with community choirs in Edinburgh, Kim is part of the folk group Cara. 

Kelly Oliver feat Will Pound - He Walked On The Side Of The Sea : a song from Kelly's 2013 EP "Far From Home" which features the harmonica playing of Will Pound.

Martin Stephenson - All Ways Us : An 8 minute long track from Martin's self-titled 1999 album. 

Michael Chapman - Which Will : a cover of the Nick Drake song from Michael's "Sweet Powder" album.

Karan Casey - The Heron : from Karan's album "Two More Hours", her sixth solo album and her first of entirely self-penned songs.

Mary Dillon - The Boatman : Mary is a former member of Irish band Déanta and this song is from her debut solo album "North" which she released in 2013. 

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

At the mini-roundabout

Yesterday I went out on my bike. It was only the second time this year that I've gone out cycling. I should go out more often. In fact a physio recommended it earlier in the year to help with a lower back problem but I'm lazy*. Also my bike is ten years old, rather rusty and the front brakes don't work. I keep meaning to look on YouTube as there is bound to be a video (or dozen) which shows how to fix faulty brakes but I procrastinate, I get distracted so I haven't got round to it. Maybe today.

When I do go out on my bike I always stick to the quiet roads or go along the canal towpath because of the number of idiots there are on the main roads. Lancaster is supposed to be a good place to be a cyclist. There are plenty of cycleways, cycle lanes and so on but despite this there seems to be quite a high number of accidents on the roads involving people on bicycles. Of course just because the town is cyclist-friendly doesn't mean that other road users are necessarily going to be more courteous to those on two wheels. 

But today I went out in my car as I needed to take some rubbish to the tip. I hadn't gone very far, just to the top of our road where there is a mini-roundabout. I slowed down. A car was coming up the hill but the driver showed no sign of slowing down despite it being my right of way. This is quite common. Many drivers treat the mini-roundabout as if it is a T junction and when they drive up the hill they assume they have right of way. I don't know what the Highways department of the County Council can do about this other than put up a large sign saying, "Give way to traffic on the right!" Might be worth a go.

Being distracted by this other driver I failed to look to my right and I started to turn the corner. If I had looked I would have seen a cyclist coming down the hill. But I hadn't seen him because I hadn't looked. As I was soon to see at close quarters he was wearing a bright yellow high visibility jacket so if I had looked I'm sure I would have seen him. 

My window was open so I got the full force of the abuse he shouted at me as he did an emergency stop next to my car. The phrase at the end of it was, "You fucking tool!" 

Fortunately he was unhurt and carried on down the hill. I followed him, keeping my distance and pulled in to a side street as I was somewhat shaken by the incident. I had apologised to him and maybe just as well hadn't said the classic line, "I didn't see you" which I imagine would have further enraged him. He was a big bloke and had he decided to get off his bike and pull me out of the car I would probably have been composing this in A&E.

So I rather proved my own point - I don't cycle on main roads because there are too many 'fucking tools' like me driving cars and not looking out for cyclists. 

As that old safety advert on TV used to say, "Think once. Think Twice. Think bike!"

Here we go. A job for this afternoon... 

* I also have some anxiety issues which can make a simple thing like going out on my bike quite difficult. I think I suffer from General Anxiety Disorder but no doctor or therapist has actually stuck that particular label on me.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Off the Beaten Tracks 5 June

After the popularity of my 'Blues for BB King' mix the other week I thought I'd include some acoustic and electric blues in my latest show. 

Little Whitt & Big Bo - I Got A Woman
Keb Mo - Tell Everybody I know
Oh My Darling - Roustabout
The Delmore Brothers - I Let The Freight Train Carry Me On
Lightnin' Hopkins - Once A Gambler
Jimi Hendrix - Bleeding Heart
Suzy Thompson - How Can You Have The Blues
Woody Pines - Hobo and his Bride
Keb Mo - Anybody seen My Girl
Big Blue & The Dive Club - Lights
Amos Garrett - Walkin' Blues
The Be Good Tanyas - A Little Blues
Jerry Lee Lewis - Workin' Man Blues
Derek and the Dominoes - Anyday