❉ The punk legend on the new Professor And The Madmen album, and more.
The world in 2020 has made things seemingly impossible for so many of us. But inspiration can be found in music, despite all the obstacles. Rat Scabies, the man responsible for the pounding drum intro to New Rose, The Damned’s debut single which heralded the dawn of the punk rock 45 in the United Kingdom, has helped create a whole stack of releases during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On 13 November 2020, Séance hits the streets. It is the fourth album issued by the transatlantic supergroup Professor And The Madmen. Rat is joined by fellow classic-era Damned bassist Paul Gray and US Punx Alfie Agnew (Adolescents, D.I.) and Sean Elliot (D.I.). Prior to its release Rat found time to talk to We Are Cult about the record itself, and his other output in 2020 by The Sinclairs, One Thousand Motels and Bob Calvert. Plus, his time in that legendary band who helped make the music world a more liberated and inclusive place. And who are returning in their original format for shows in 2021, as things turn out.
How’re you doing? Mad world we live in eh?
Isn’t it. I’m okay thanks.
The new Professor And The Madmen album is a hell of a piece of work. Was it enjoyable to make?
Yeah – their albums always are. I really like the tunes they come up with and Alfie and Sean really are a couple of fine musicians. They play real good guitar and sing really great. They both have this alternative attitude to everything which kind of complements. They really are professor and the madman!
Alfie is an actual professor isn’t he? In mathematics?
That’s right. Alfie. Alf. They’re always good to work with.
Four albums in four years suggests exactly that. Did you hit off from day one?
Well yeah. I met them by accident. I was at this dodgy old night club that was having a bad Christmas party and I got up and jammed with them. We got chatting and they invited me over to Alfie’s house the next day just to hang out. I ended up putting drums on a track. Thankfully they liked what I did and we all got on okay. So, we started doing the long-distance drummer thing.
How does that work?
It’s the same process in many ways as you record the drums and when everyone’s happy with that they kind of dump on top of that. So, it’s the kind of the same process but you don’t have the vibe of having other band members there. You don’t get that kind of buzz.
The thing with technology is you can record the drum parts and before I get home they’ve received them in California and they’re telling me they like it. Thankfully, I don’t know whether it’s because they’re scared of me, but they’ve not sent anything back yet! (laughs).
How would you describe the new album?
To me, the first album is a lot more punky. There was a lot of ‘angry middle-aged man’ (laughs). It’s like they ran that from their system and now they can run in any direction they want. They can please themselves. Consequently, this record is a lot more musical and grown up.
There were hints on the last album – a couple of psychedelic moments.
Yeah definitely. For a couple of guys who are absolutely straight and don’t drink or take drugs they do a good line in psychedelia.
It shouldn’t be allowed!
It cost me a fortune to get into a state like that! (laughs).
The new album appears quite conceptual. There’s a story. Were you a fan of the concept albums of the seventies, the stuff Yes or Jethro Tull would throw out?
No not really. Tommy was about the closest I came and once that was done I didn’t have time for much else. I do like the idea of pieces of music you make working a bit like a being on a journey.
That’s exactly what I’d say about this album. A journey.
I like the way it puts you in different moods, in different frames of mind.
Would you say your collective punk background stopped the album from becoming even remotely self-indulgent? It’s very succinct. No fat on it whatsoever.
Yeah. There’s not a lot of noodling on guitars and synthesizers. I think that’s where our punk rock generation has got it over our predecessors. ELP didn’t mind a 15 minute drum solo or guitar solo whereas the punk ethic was that it was unnecessary. So, I think that’s good – you don’t get bored of something that goes on forever and you’re happy to go to another place with it. So, you’re right – the punk background is something that influences this.
In The Damned you did a few challenging pieces. Did they help with a project like this?
Well it makes it ok to do a project like this. You know you’ve got the background of doing something similar. I presume you’re talking about Curtain Call?
That was something Dave came up with and was something what he wanted to do. The whole band had got bored of just doing three chord songs. Mind you, we’d sort of drifted away from that by then, anyway. By the time we got to Curtain Call we wanted to make a bigger statement of what the band was capable of.
Was Curtain Call recorded with all the band in the studio at the same time?
Yeah we were. At Rockfield. We were live in studio situated in the Welsh hills so you couldn’t escape. You could only go to the pub and when that closed you’d have to go back to work.
Séance is not a continuous piece of music but does the fact it’s conceptual effect you as a drummer?
No. I had no idea about that. The lyrics weren’t even written so I didn’t know it was going to be a concept album. They just la-la’d over the tracks they sent me. But as each track came along and I had to put a different hat on. It kind of reminded me of The Archies or The Monkees.
There’s a definite sixties influence. The Monkees. The Kinks. I’m guessing you were a fan of that sort of music?
Well of course. Everyone was a Monkees fan. You didn’t get a choice. But the Monkees had great songs. Great songwriters behind them. Compared to what stands up today, they deserve a greater place in history than what they’ve got.
It must be very strange to have had so many releases during the pandemic. I know you don’t tour anymore, but promotional activities must still be limited. How’s it been releasing this stuff at this time?
Well, on the one hand it’s really good because there is a captive audience. There’s a lot of people sitting at home looking for something new and something they don’t know. So, you’ve got that on one level. But on another level the majority of your public comes from YouTube which is an incredibly bad payer.
The reason we do this is that it’s what we do. I’d be playing drums even if the project wasn’t released. That’s part of the fun and why we all do it. I’m very lucky I’ve got a lot of records out at the moment but none of them are destined to do anything other than be lost in the pandemic.
They won’t be lost for those that anticipate and love them.
No, not for the initiated I know. But you’re never going to take a place in the history books with so much going on around you.
The thing with being in a band before the pandemic would be that you’d go out and play shows. You would sell t-shirts and CDs and that’d be enough to finance the next recording, to keep you ticking over and working.
So, when you take that away plus the fact most venues are not open or open at less than half capacity, it just makes it virtually impossible because you can’t go out and play a show. You can’t go out and play and pick up a few people who buy a cd or a t-shirt and tell their friends about it. All of that’s disappeared.
What’s the morale like amongst musicians?
It’s bad to be honest. Gigs are few and far between and those that are there aren’t normal. Nobody can afford to play a band because of audience numbers. It’s tough.
So, The Sinclairs got ourselves into the video market. We wanted to do Rebellion as you say because it’s a great show to do and we’d hope to convince people we were worth another listen. The only option we now have is to make videos.
Speaking of The Sinclairs, I’m a fan of Billy Shinbone and Flipron. His lyrics are so great. So, it’s amazing you decided to make an instrumental album – how did that come about?
Well mostly because of Billy. I’ve known Billy for a number of years, and he is always so concise. He was the only person I’ve ever met who would go ‘I’ve got half an hour I’ll write a song’. He has this way with lyrics and the way he put words and phrases together that make you think ‘my god that’s just how I feel.’ Mingers In Paradise. There’s absolute beauty in what he does. He’s a very talented boy.
How did you come across him?
I had a recording studio underneath Kew Bridge and he’d been poking around in a guitar shop next door. He came in and asked how much time can I have for a hundred quid?
So what did you give him, three weeks? A day?
(Laughs). Well I think it was about two and a half years. It was because I was so into his tunes and he is one of the nicest people on the planet. He’s intelligent, smart, talented. Because of that, and the fact he was so wordy and precise, we got to the point we wanted to make an instrumental record. And being as random as I was, he said he had this idea for a punky surf record. So, we went in and recorded it and didn’t know what to do with it after that. We let it sit a while and then got a 30 quid Korg synth and a set of second hand bass pedals and we said, ‘why don’t we have a go and see what we come out with?’ It was all so random and worked really well. We managed to get some interesting noises. We got some mates in to do some synth and theremin things. Because of bluffing the way we did, it has this unnerving edge on the album.
It certainly does. The Sewers of Carcasonne sounds like it should be on a movie soundtrack.
Yeah. There’s so little money right now in terms of being a pro working band. So, doing instrumentals means you don’t have to write any lyrics – it makes life a lot easier – and secondly your chance of getting placements on films and TV is much better. It’s about the only income a lot of musicians have.
I heard The Sewers of Carcasonne is about looking for the Holy Grail. Is that true?
Well I have been (looking for The Grail) for some time. It’s something I grew up with with my parents and we knew all those Grail kinds of stories. It’s one place in France which is my favourite place to visit. It’s a beautiful medieval city. There’s a fabulous wealth of stories, monasteries, secret societies, blah blah blah. So, I’ve spent quite a lot of time mucking about round there. I didn’t expect to find anything, though!
Back to music, there’s also the One Thousand Motels album with Chris Constatinou. Another great album, completely different to the other two. Was that enjoyable?
Yeah. It’s been a long time in the making. Again, Constant’s a great writer and he’s great to work with because he’s very open. When we’re in the studio he lets me have my own reign. He’s open to ideas and not blinkered in any way. It’s always a good thing because if you’re setting boundaries about the end result or what you want things to be then it knocks all the creativity away. It’s what it’s all about. We don’t pick up guitars and drums not to be creative. That was the whole motivation in the beginning – can I do something that’s different?
It’s been a feature throughout your career, starting early on with The Damned. You must be proud.
Well yeah. It’s funny because it was so personal. I wouldn’t say it was just a big part in my life, but it WAS my life. I lived and breathed every second of it. But it was something I didn’t listen to for a long time and then a mate of mine happened to put Strawberries on when I was round. It was like listening to it for the first time. I felt as if I was a complete stranger and thought ‘actually this is a pretty good band and I’d be buying it if I was a punter’.
And of course the sound of your drums was the first sound of punk rock for a lot of the British public, starting up the first UK punk single. Do you ever reflect on that?
(Laughs). No cos it was the cheapest nastiest drum kit I could afford!! I couldn’t even afford two drum skins on each drum. It was part of the sound. New Rose was the sound of poverty.
With the benefit of hindsight, I have probably got a lot more clarity now, certainly more than I did at the time. Now I listen to it and think, ‘it sounds good to me’. And then you have the validation that it’s still around today and people still have time for it. It’s gotta have legs of some kind.
Another release this year is your re-mix of Lord Of The Hornets by Robert Calvert. Were you fan of Hawkwind?
Some of it, yeah. I used to be quite personal with Lemmy and Bob Calvert. It wasn’t so much I was into Hawkwind – more I liked them as people. When I heard they were doing a Bob Calvert re-mix album I rang up and asked if I could have a job to do on one of the tracks and they gave me Lord of the Hornets. The file they sent me were done straight to the tape and had all the sounds and all the effects already on it. That made it quite difficult as I wanted to freshen it up rather than just polish up the old version. So, I got Billy (Shinbone) in to play guitar and Chris Constantinou to play bass, as I like keeping things in the family. They did a great job and Bob’s vocal is, you know, great. He was such a great performer. So that came together well.
It sounds a big, powerful and modern result.
You can only do it because it’s a great song. If it hadn’t been it would have been a dirgy mess. Bob was great with melody and arrangements. I’d like to think he would appreciate it.
I’m a fan of Calvert’s Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters.
I played on that with him.
I didn’t know that.
Not on the record but on the stage show which ran for two days and was closed down.
Got you. As a teenager I loved it. Widowmaker, the ‘G for Germany’ bit – always made me laugh.
Yeah. (Laughs). Captain Lockheed.
That about wraps it up. Thank you for your time and good luck with all the releases. It’s been a big help for people during this period. Do you think you’ll play live soon?
Yeah. Next year.*
That’s something to look forward to. Take care.
And you. Take it easy.
*A couple of days following the interview came the news of The Damned’s original line-up planning to reform for shows in 2021. Séance is released on 13th November 2020. Look out for a review coming shortly in We Are Cult.
❉ Professor And The Madman: ‘Séance’ is released on November 13, 2020, and will be available on yellow vinyl, CD, and digital download via Fullertone Records. Pre-order at www.professorandthemadman.
❉ Paul Matts is a writer from Leicester, England. His first novella, ‘Donny Jackal’, a kitchen-sink coming of age drama set in English punk rock suburbia in 1978, is out now both in paperback and as an E-book. His fiction has been featured in Punk Noir Magazine, Brit Grit Alley and Unlawful Acts. Paul also writes articles on music, in particular on the punk and new wave movement, and is a regular contributor for We Are Cult, Punkglobe, Razur Cuts and Something Else magazines. See https://paulmatts101.wordpress.com/ for more details, and to subscribe for updates.