Captain Sensible is wearing a giant necklace that boldly reads, “Captain,” nameplate stretching from one side of his chest to the other. “It’s a piss-take on the Marshall logo,” he cackles, his signature smirk plastered on his face as he reveals that the necklace is 3D-printed. The guitarist and songwriter for The Damned (and formidable solo artist in his own right) is known for his humorous antics. He approaches press interviews as a one-man show, leaning conspiratorially toward his computer camera, like he’s letting you in a swindle.
The Captain is on a short break from rehearsals with The Damned who are on the verge of releasing their 12thstudio album, Darkadelic. Following the release, the group will tour Europe and the UK and make a stop at Punk Rock Bowling and Music Festival in Las Vegas at the end of May.
They are camped out at a studio in West London, which, for the Captain who resides in Portugal (“Food’s nice, people are tolerant, property’s reasonably cheap…”), is full of memory triggers. “Coming back, I get all nostalgic,” he says. “I used to go in that pub, or I got thrown out that pub, or I got chased down that road by skinheads. London’s full of places like that for me.”
Darkadeliccomes five years after the self-referential Evil Spirits, which was crowdfunded by the group’s devoted fans. This is a relatively quick clip for The Damned who are less concerned with quantity than they are with quality. The first British punk band to release a single, “New Rose” in 1976, and the first to release an album, Damned Damned Damnedin 1977, over the course of almost 50 years The Damned have taken numerous musical twists and turns. In the process, they have become increasingly accomplished songwriters and left their fractured punk counterparts in their musicianship dust.
“Anyone who can strum a couple of chords has done their lockdown album,” says the Captain with a chuckle. “The enforced layoff was good for songwriting. We brought a lot of songs to the table, more than was necessary. The tracks that were instantly appealing got chosen and the slightly strange stuff got shelved. Consequently, the album’s full of melodic tunes.”
The group worked as they always have with each member bringing in ideas, riffs and partially finished songs, which they flesh out with the rest of the members. They brought in producer Thomas Mitchener, whom they chose because he had “good ears” and knew how to “keep his hands off the [studio] toys” and because he was a “purveyor of the ‘70s sound” they were going for on Darkadelic.They recorded everything live in a two-week session and mixed it in Mitchener’s father’s garage-turned-home studio.
“It was a very different process of recording compared to [1980’s] The Black Album,” says the Captain. “I can remember what those sessions were like. We worked all the way through the night, and then we’d go to the pub the next day and then we’d carry on recording. I don’t know how we did it, to be quite honest. You would think it would sound slovenly. But we seemed to be able to make stuff that sounds good regardless of what shape the band were in at the time. These days, we’re older and the debauchery has pretty much gone, I’m sad to say. I wish I could go back and relive it all. It was bloody good fun.”
The topics on Darkadelicrange from timeless, such as the heroic goth “Wake the Dead” (written by the Captain, specifically to be played at funerals) and the R&B-tinged “Motorcycle Man,” to contemporary, like “Follow Me,” about influencers and political-leaning “Beware of the Clown,” about which the Captain says: “When you get to a certain age and your hopes have been dashed so many times by pinning them on someone who gets voted in and turns out to be as big of a clown as the one they replaced, and the one before that, it’s just a conveyor belt of complete fools. They’re all clowns. Fuck them, basically.”
Back in 2006, the Captain went as far as forming his own political party called the Blah! Party. Modeled on direct democracy, the Blah! Party was part tongue-in-cheek and part extremely serious, gaining some traction and even brand sponsorship and support.
“I started [the Blah! Party] right at the peak of my drinking,” he remembers. “I was an absolute pisshead. The incredible thing was, the people in Britain know that. They’ve seen me on stage, naked and behaving extremely. They’ve seen me outside the venue, slumped in a gutter. They know what I’m like, and yet they were willing to pin their hopes on me, rather than the professional, highly paid politicians. That says a lot about politics, doesn’t it?”
The Damned has generated this type of tribal dedication from the start. Their fans have only become more steadfast, their numbers growing with each new generation who discovers them. When The Damned released the Darkadelicposter, it sold out in record time, as will any collectible items they produce. Still, they carry on with the same vim and vigor they had half a century ago.
Says the Captain, “I rather like the fact that we never became multimillionaires. Otherwise, why would we bother continuing? If you’ve got enough money to buy yourself a yacht or something, you just wave two fingers at Britain and say, ‘Go on, get lost, I’m out here.’ But we have to do it because we need the dosh, and, because it’s what we do.”