Why I ❤️ The Groundhogs' Thank Christ For The Bomb, by The Damned's Captain Sensible

Captain Sensible
(Image credit: Future/Fire Records)

Thank Christ For The Bomb is just the most amazing album I’ve ever heard. One minute it’s a full-on power trio playing this manic, almost punk rock – angry, antiestablishment, anti-war stuff – and the next minute it drops right down into this extremely quiet and subtle finger-picking stuff. 

Tony McPhee, the guitarist, is an absolute genius, I used to stand and watch him at the Croydon Greyhound. I’d stand right at the front and work out which chords he was playing. But he made most of them up himself. He was the British Hendrix, y’know? He could do soaring feedback solos, and really took the whole guitar-playing thing as far as he could. 

And what he doesn’t know about the blues isn’t worth knowing. I mean, Clapton? Don’t get me on to that tosspot – he had one solo and bored us to death for 30 years with it. He’s a turgid git. McPhee’s the real thing. Every night he plays a song, he plays it differently. And that’s a wonderful thing, not to repeat yourself. 

Thank Christ… came out in 1970. I got it then. I must’ve worn out about three vinyl copies over the years. I used to play it all the time. When I got into songwriting myself – I wouldn’t say I nicked from it – but I was grateful to be influenced by that stuff.

I thought of it as psychedelic punk – them and Soft Machine and Syd Barrett. The problem with the expression ‘prog rock’ is that it’s been sullied by the likes of Yes and Genesis and ELP. So if you say you’re into prog rock, everybody thinks you’re into that [booming voice] ‘Oh, I saw a wizard walking through the woods the other day. The pixies were running around…’ Dum dum dum dum – 20 minute guitar solo… ‘And then the wizard said…’ 

I mean, fuckin’ ’ell, what’s that shit about? But it’s like classical music. There’s great classical music. Rachmaninov – he’s brilliant. Sibelius – he’s fucking genius. And then there’s crap like Mozart and Beethoven. Same with prog rock. There was some wonderful stuff, like all the Krautrock stuff with Neu! and Kraftwerk, and then there was the bombastic nonsense that Yes produced. 

The Groundhogs were probably the finest example of prog rock you can possibly get – a mixture of blues and psychedelia and pop that’s never been bettered, before or since. Thank Christ… is a perfect album. There’s not a filler track on it and the sequence is brilliant. 

Plus, McPhee produced it all himself. There’s all these beautiful echoes on it. There’s not many ‘talent boosters’ on there – you know, like flange, phase, chorus or stupid effects like that. The only real effect he uses is a bit of reverb and echo – he’s got this wonderful slap-back echo on the vocal that’s really effective. 

It’s also as moody as hell. It deals with very big issues like losing one’s mind in the face of an insane world. It’s not a barrel of laughs, it has to be said.

Captain Sensible was speaking to Scott Rowley.