How The Damned made Darkadelic, their surprise contender for Album Of The Year

The Damned - press shot
(Image credit: Imo Jäger)

"The tortuous road to The Damned’s latest album Darkadelic – a career-encapsulating return-to-form that finds the revitalised quintet at the top of their game – begins on the stage of The London Palladium. 

It’s October 2019. All Hallows’ Eve is imminent, and the gothically inclined punk veterans’ Hammer House Of Horror-approved NightOf A Thousand Vampires is upping the ante for live rock theatre. Freaks caper, aerialists twirl, jugulars gape, and Damned vocalist Dave Vanian enters a coffin as Dracula before re-emerging post-interval, head freshly shaved, as Nosferatu. 

No one is more impressed than the rest of the band, when they finally see the show upon its release on DVD (last October). 

“That gig was a revelation to me,” admits perma-bereted guitar maestro Captain Sensible. “I didn’t see any of the visuals until I saw the film. I had no idea all that stuff was going on, I was concentrating on playing my guitar in the bloody dark. I’m so glad I had a decent tone that night, because Jimmy Page was watching. When I spoke to him after, I said: ‘I’m ashamed to have to admit, Jimmy, that I may have stolen a few of your licks over the years.’ He laughed and said: ‘You wouldn’t be the first, Captain.’” 

For Damned Disciples of long-standing, the Night Of A Thousand Vampires seemed to mark the culmination of a significant period ofstability – within a band historically synonymous with anarchy and chaos. That Vanian and Captain had been comfortably back in harness since ’96 was remarkable enough, but that they’d managed to retain the services of the same drummer (Andrew ‘Pinch’ Pinching) for 20 years appeared to border on the miraculous. 

Surely, all the 2019 Damned line-up had to do to reap the rewards of two decades’ hard work was stay together. Almost inevitably, Pinch chose this very moment to tender his resignation. 

“He told me a couple of days before the show,” Vanian remembers. “Took me aside in a hotel room.” 

“It was a bit of a shocker,” adds Sensible. “He’s a tough act to follow. His style of drumming’s so precise, so powerful.” 

“He had a really good run,” says bassist Paul Gray, before concluding: “But we’ve got Will [Taylor] now.”


And so they have. But before we concentrate on 2023’s immaculately remodelled Damned, let’s consider the next significant announcement regarding their future. It came after Pinch’s departure, and after the Palladium’s inundation with the undead. 

Calling a between-covid-lockdowns press conference in October 2020, the band’s original line-up (Vanian, Sensible, guitarist Brian James and drummer Rat Scabies) revealed their intention to re-unite the following summer for a run of UK shows. The shows were ultimately postponed until late last year. 

To the outside observer, the impression given was of a band in uncharacteristic retreat. Following decades of forward motion, which had culminated in landmark shows at the Royal Albert Hall and the Palladium – and an unprecedented Top 10 album in the shape of the Tony Visconti-produced Evil Spirits – this latest reunification of the old firm appeared to be a step backwards. A direct reaction to the departure of Pinch, and, despite the coincident release of The Rockfield Files EP (the last to feature Pinch), a step aside from the ‘proper’ 21st-century Damned line-up completed by Monty Oxymoron (keyboards) and Black Album/Strawberries veteran Paul Gray. 

But, as is so often the case with fact-deficient speculation, all was not quite as it seemed. 

“Plans had been in progress to reunite the original band for about fifteen years,” says Vanian. ”It’s taken a long time to put various bits and bobs together to make it happen. It seemed never-ending, certainly over the last ten years. It was now or never in some respects.” 

After years of rumours concerning insurmountable antipathy, the original Damned managed to play relatively nicely throughout a run of shows that teetered permanently on the brink of mayhem. 

“We all wanted it to happen,” Sensible says of the reunion tour. “And it just didn’t make any sense not to do it. Various Damned lineups have had a stab at playing those songs since that era, but the original line-up recreated the original garage wall of sound beautifully on that tour.”

Captain Sensible studio portrait

(Image credit: Imo Jäger)

Still, it was noted in certain quarters that some members of the band were not quite as match-fit as others. 

“I can understand that point of view,” Captain says, nodding. “But Brian and Rat always were the anarchic side of the band. I saw my job as a bass player on the first album was to hold them together and stop them going off in different directions.” 

As Sensible notes, both James and Scabies (“The best drummer of his and several other generations,” according to Vanian) employ immense power when they play. And so, of necessity, in order to maintain the band’s trademark “controlled chaos”, Vanian and Sensible always had to be “the soberer of the four”. 

“It sounds daft to say it about myself,” a smiling Captain says. “What with my legendary prowess with alcoholic beverages…” 

“It was a real pleasure,” Vanian insists, giving the impression of a man who’d rather be moving on. “We all got along and it was a nice full stop to the career of the original band. The tour was mainly for the fans, but also to bury some baggage. And also a thank you, because I don’t think I would have even gone into the music business if that first meeting with Rat and BJ hadn’t happened.” 

And will it ever happen again? 

“I really don’t think so.”

Dave Vanian

Dave Vanian (Image credit: Imo Jäger)

Concurrent to the release of 2020’s The Rockfield Files EP, the announcement of the reunion tour, the postponement of the reunion tour, rehearsals for the reunion tour and ultimately the reunion tour itself, the actual, present-day, one true Damned were busily moving forward. Not least of all, they were auditioning for a new drummer. 

“There were several in the running,” says Vanian, “but none impressed me like Will. I also wanted somebody a bit younger. Not because of energy, but attitude. The hardest thing to maintain in any group is that optimism and fire in your belly to do something. And The Damned have always insisted on that, because we’re always pushing boundaries and trying new things, things that might be hard for us to do, but that we do anyway.” 

“He was a bit different to previous drum stool incumbents,” offers Paul Gray. “He had everything down pat and was incredibly versatile, but he also looked cool.” 

“Some good people turned up,” Captain explains. “But, crucially for him, he was the only one that was wearing a cravat.” 

Stylish percussionist in place, work duly commenced on the raw materials that would eventually become Darkadelic with producer Thomas ‘Mitch’ Mitchener. Having done such a good job of mixing the Night Of A Thousand Vampires show, Mitchener was a natural choice. 

“I wanted to work with a producer who had a young ear but also an appreciation for live recorded music,” says Vanian. “And when I say ‘live’ I don’t mean all done step-by-step on computers with various auto-tunes and god-knows what else. I wanted to go back to what we do best, which is five guys in a room that play the song and overdub a few bits on. And I wanted a more guitar-based sound on this album, because Evil Spirits wasn’t as guitar-led as I would’ve liked.” 

“We don’t want perfection, or any of this bloody studio wizardry,” attests a proudly zeitgeist-averse, vinyl-devoted Captain; a man who will, by his own admission, walk out of a supermarket mid-shop if they’ve got too much auto-tune on their muzak. “Well, I say we don’t want any of it, we don’t want too much of it… Obviously you want a bit of sparkle.” 

Following a timely break six months into the first covid lockdown, which had stymied plans to get on with the album, work finally commenced on rough demos that would become instrumental backing tracks in the brilliantly named Shabbey Road, a small studio in Caerphilly. 

The sessions doubled up as a chance to get used to playing with Will Taylor. They were intense daily, 10-hour stints, with the band honing rhythm parts (“We arranged the songs a little bit better this time,” says Captain. “I don’t like to use The Beatles as an example, but the way Ringo plays the drums is always the right bit at the right time. We spent two weeks putting the backing tracks down for this record, and Will was absolutely brilliant”) while allowing embryonic material – pretty much an equal split of songs from Vanian and Sensible, and one from Gray – to flow and develop organically. 

“We had some really great jams, Captain, Will, Monty and me,” says Paul Gray. “Just freak-outs to see what would happen."

A further 10 days of painful editing, and inspired vocal performances from an exceptionally in-form Vanian at Kore Studios, West London with an intuitively in-tune Mitch at the controls ultimately produced a dozen tracks of pure gold, vintage Damned. 

“One of the joys of being the bass player with The Damned is that nothing is set in stone,” says Gray (previously helicoptered back into the line-up just in time to appear on Evil Spirits). “The band’s made so many diverse albums, encompassed so many genres, that there’s no rules for doing anything. The Damned has no parameters, there’s no control asserted by any publisher or record company, it’s what anyone comes up with that fits into the general feel of however the record is going to be.” 

“Each member guides their own song to completion,” Sensible adds. “All the editing is done by the songwriter, and I’m so glad that they’re all as fussy and anal about stuff as I am, because they work really hard on the arrangements, but not in a poncy way; we left some rough edges. I was amazed when Dave came up with the title, which only came up when we had just about finished it, because that pretty much sums it up.”

Darkadelic irresistibly echoes moments from the band’s post-punk past: the warm, strident, Rickenbacker-driven, Who-alike harmonics of The Black Album, the imaginative garage/psych of Strawberries, the gothic chamber pop of the Grimly Fiendish-spawning Phantasmagoria

“Each album reflects change,” says Vanian. “And somehow between the different creative input of Paul, Captain, Monty and myself, Darkadelic has elements of everything we’ve done previously… Which is great, and what we intended.” 

Lead single and opening track The Invisible Man reflects Vanian and Gray’s love for the gothic end of 60s pop and psychedelia, with Vanian’s lush melodrama exploded into hyperspace by a “mad, double-time, frenetic psych freakout” middle section inspired into being by Paul posing the question: “What would The Seeds do?” 

The bassist’s up-tempo Motorcycle Man concludes with an evocative and cinematic Sensible outro: “I could see the camera panning back as the motorcycle goes off in a cloud of dust into a pinpoint horizon perspective. Cue camera three,” muses Captain. “Obviously, that comes from The Black Album. We tried to have musical interludes in there, I love instrumental music.” 

Elsewhere there’s Wake The Dead, a song co-written by Sensible with long-time collaborator Martin Newell (“a genius”, according to the Captain) from Cleaners From Venus, which Gray claims “encapsulates the entire feel of The Black Album and Strawberries in five and a half minutes, and almost sums up The Damned’s entire career in one song.” 

Inspired by the fact that some fans choose to have Smash It Up played at their funeral – not to mention the recent loss of “force of nature” Nik Turner – Wake The Dead calls for a celebration of lives lost rather than a descent into abject misery. 

“Give your loved ones a bloody good send-off,” says Captain. “Celebrate the life. It’s punk rock, innit? Give two fingers to the Grim Reaper… I hope it’s played when I kick the bucket.”

Darkadelic concludes with Vanian (who presents complete GarageBand demos of his songs to the band, complete with guitar and keyboards) set-piece Roderick. A goth-tastic, Poe-drizzled masterpiece in the tradition of Curtain Call (a Stravinsky-laced epic that Vanian conjured up for The Black Album on a second-hand harmonium bought for 40 quid), it comes with timpani, violin and a multi-tracked Latin-chanting coven of Dave Vanians emoting for their immortal souls, as the criminally undervalued Monty Oxymoron gives it plenty on the pianoforte. 

It’s a stunningly ambitious conclusion to an album that captures The Damned bursting through yet another artistic glass ceiling. An early contender for Album Of The Year that could be considered the band’s finest yet. Vanian’s ambitions for The Damned, meanwhile, remain firmly rooted in banishing persistent, if misguided, preconceptions. 

“I’m hoping it finally translates into people understanding that we’re a bit more than just a comedy act or a three-chord punk band – which we never were. We’ve had a fair amount of prejudice against us over the years. The name’s sometimes stood in the way of people listening to the music. So it’s a tricky one.” 

Tricky indeed. Whether celebrating a legendary past or powering into an unwritten future, they’re Damned if they do and Damned if they don’t. 

Darkadelic is out now via earMusic.

Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.