❉ Legendary Damned sticksman chats with We Are Cult’s Eoghan Lyng, previewing his debut solo album.
“The way I play is my non-musician way, honest and passionate. I mean, Joey Ramone would never get through the X Factor these days, but he knew who he was and that way he had a great voice. Slade, Noddy Holder, those guys knew who they were and they brought that through in their music. Great band Slade.”
“I read recently that Jimmy Page called New Rose one of his favourite records”, Rat Scabies recalls. “Zeppelin came to some of our gigs, and that was a bit like, woah, very flattering. Me and Brian James were one of the last guitar/drums combo, before everyone started listening to the bass player, stuff like Townshend/Moon, Hendrix/Mitchell and Page/Bonham, so it was all very flattering that Jimmy came and liked us”.
Such was the raw power of New Rose (1976), a purging powerful play of unparalleled energy, The Damned’s introductory single and finest hour. The first single released by a U.K. punk band, it helped propel a new generation of music fans, who drove to punk music with similar speed to the manner Scabies pounded that legendary drum intro. Even Led Zeppelin caught some of The Damned DNA- their pounding Wearing and Tearing (the best Zeppelin song the radios never played) featured few of the guitar extravagances displayed on Presence. Scabies played with The Damned until 1996, his time with them included classic singles Eloise, Smash It Up (Part 1 & 2) and Alone Again Or (one of the best Forever Changes covers). But it’s New Rose that the band will be forever remembered for (and rightly so), brought back to life by contemporary performances from Blondie, Guns N’Roses and Eagles of Death Metal (the last of whom Scabies sat in with).
“I love their first album” Scabies explains. “I wrote David Catching an email asking if I could join [laughs]. He invited me around, so I went to Joshua Tree and hung out with the Eagles of Death Metal in the desert. I never joined in the end, but they’re honest guys, and we’re good friends.”
Scabies values friendship. Here, unveiling his first album, he describes his approach. “Some of the songs are from the late eighties, I suppose. I’ve had a small studio, four track recorders, to put the stuff down, write ideas down, some of which never saw the light of day, not because they were bad, but because it was the wrong time or something. I play a lot of the instruments, but I’d have my mates around, like Robbie Allen, and I’d say “here, play some bass” or “put some piano down”. I could have had lots of famous people playing on the album, but then it wouldn’t feel like mine anymore. So, it’s me and some of my mates.”
P.H.D. (Prison, Hospital, Debt) has a throve of differences and styles, every song different to the last. Chew On You is a vampy, upper ramped blues raised savage track, a killer opening guitar riff played with sliding grounded blues precision and incision. Barrelhouse jive Sing Sing Sing oozes with jazz bar cool, you can practically smell the wafty cigarette lines and flapper dresses tip-tapping to the shuffling drums. Glam rocker Un Noveau Balai (A New Broom) plays with resilient instrumental boogie. Dazy Bones, the closest thing to a punk pop standard, has that essential choppy guitar riff. Glad You Could Make It is enjoyably spacey and Floydian Slip, complete with psychedelic keyboards and sonorous voices, is an intriguing listen. “That’s meant to be kind of a homage to Pink Floyd. It came about, The Damned shared the same publishing as Pink Floyd and there were so many samples going on at the time, sampling everywhere and someone said why doesn’t someone record something and say it was Pink Floyd? I thought that was funny, so I put the spacey, trippy music on the track and recorded UFO researchers talking!”
He remembers Nick Mason with fondness. “I liked Nick, he was off the acid, so he was business like and professional. There was no bloodshed and he had a difficult task, doing that difficult second album, but he did a good job. It has taken me thirty years but now when I listen to Music for Pleasure, I really quite like it now. It was just the wrong record for the time”.
The album features Scabies performing a wonderful choreography of drums, he’s genuinely flattered when we inform him that he’s one of the finest drummers of his generation. “Well, thanks very much, that’s very kind of you, but it’s not for me to say. I like to be insecure in my playing, there should always be that kind of insecurity in your music. I find jazz incredibly difficult, and don’t consider myself a jazz drummer, but I’m very good at bluffing. When I was small, jazz was the only thing you’d hear, it wasn’t until later that there were other types of music. There was always drum solos in the jazz. So, one night I went to my living room and put down that drum track, just playing. I listened to it later and thought, that’s not bad, so that’s Sing Sing Sing”.
His writing process reflects his life. “I slide myself into different moods, there’s a lot different things going on the album, if you know what I mean. I find myself in different, almost schizophrenic moods and try to bring the passion out into the music. The way I play is my non-musician way, honest and passionate. I mean, Joey Ramone would never get through the X Factor these days, but he knew who he was and that way he had a great voice. Slade, Noddy Holder, those guys knew who they were and they brought that through in their music. Great band Slade.”
Scabies has plans to give talks this May at TeaTray Cafe and Lewes Con Club. Punk fans are in for a treat. “Pretty much, I’m going to be talking about the punk thing. In 1976, 1977, they didn’t have these classic punk line-ups, the press were writing that The Sex Pistols were a bit of a menace, but not a lot else at the time. People like to hear stories, about The Damned playing football with The Clash as they were recording albums, and I like to tell my part in the punk story”.
P.H.D. is another worthy chapter in the punk story.
❉ Rat Scabies – ‘P.H.D. (Prison, Hospital, Debt)’ released by Cleopatra Records on 18 May 2018. Visit http://ratscabies.com/