Andrew Pinching once saw The Damned perform sometime in the late 1980s or early ‘90s, he left unimpressed.
“I thought I’d never see them again,” he says of the three-decades-old English Punk band. “They were fucking terrible. Nearly everyone on stage was drunk or a bad musician.”
Chuckling a little, he recalls deciding: “Damned: Scratch them off the list!”
Within the next decade, Pinching received an opportunity to join the group that once disgusted him. As The Damned geared up to spend six weeks tearing through America in 1999, drummer Spike T. Smith quit to join Morrissey on a world tour. Before he left, he vouched for Pinching — a drummer who performed in Hardcore acts like the feisty, unrefined English Dogs — as his short-notice successor. The Damned were left with two options: Give Smith’s recommendation a shot and hope that he works or cancel international plans.
“They weren’t auditioning,” Pinching says. “They got me because they were desperate.”
For one weekend, the drummer trapped himself in his sweltering kitchen, learning 22 songs. The following Monday, he played a handful of tunes with most of the band, save for vocalist David Vanian. His meeting with Vanian would take place at Pinching’s first show — five minutes before they took the stage.
“But if you know The Damned,” he says, “that’s nothing weird.”
The group has carved its rep out of going about things in an off-kilter fashion. When The Damned released the ebullient “New Rose” in 1976, it wasn’t just their first single — it's usually credited as being the first Punk Rock single, period. In the same year, they snapped up a spot on the “Anarchy in the U.K. Tour” — a pioneering run racked with conflict and cancellations — sharing a lineup with the likes of The Sex Pistols, The Clash and Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers.
As those other pioneers were gradually exterminated by drugs, The Damned survived the snorting, smoking and shooting to keep going. Albums like 1977’s Damned Damned Damned and 1979’s Machine Gun Etiquette became crucial Punk milestones but are largely unknown to the mainstream.
While The Damned went through a litany of members, new releases gradually grew infrequent. Nevertheless, the band members remained steadfast in contorting their sound whenever they did put something out, branching out of Punk and into some mixture of Pop, Goth, Psychedelic and Garage. The Damned has always worked on its own peculiar wavelength.
Upon joining, Pinching was surprised to not see any sign of the band’s notorious reputation. “They were supposed to be this nasty bunch of pissheads that did more drugs than Johnny Rotten but they were really, really nice people,” he admits.
With this in mind, he must have felt privileged to be part of such a project, right? Not quite.
“I felt like a savior!” he exclaims. “I was like, right, they’re going to get some spunk back in them! I had a Hardcore Punk background, so I wasn’t ever going to play something too slow or not make it sound like fresh energy. It’s important that if you go see a legendary band — whatever the lineup — it takes you back to when you liked them. You get some nostalgic buzz. If these bands can’t do that, then what’s the point of them playing?”
Pinching’s curious straightforwardness is both refreshing and appropriate. It’s refreshing because it’s good to know that, no matter how established a group might be, no outfit should be immune to criticism, especially from within.
What makes his seemingly caustic comments appropriate for a member of The Damned is how gloriously tongue-in-cheek they are, which syncs right up with the band’s sense of humor. There are definite bits of truth strewn through the drummer’s words, but the way he twists them is such that you can’t be certain when he’s leveling with you and when he’s having a bit of fun.
While he’s long been part of the band, Pinching still thinks of himself as “the new boy” and can’t wholly speak for how the founders assess their legacy.
“I think they’re proud of what they achieved,” he says. “I don’t necessarily believe for a minute that they thought 33 years later that they’d be in a band, let alone the same band. I think they’re just shocked by it.”
The best evidence of the band’s age: “We tend to remember shows by what restaurants we went to rather than what the gig is like.” (On that note, he encourages readers to suggest good local eateries to him via the comments section below.)
No matter how he once thought of The Damned, Pinching is proud of his band.
“This is the longest-lasting stable lineup in our history. We all get on with each other,” he attests. “We’re out quite a lot. It’s important: You need to let the public know that you’re still a viable force to be reckoned with. I would put us on any stage against anybody in the world and come off it laughing, saying, ‘Follow that!’”
THE DAMNED TOUR STOP AT BOGART'S HAS BEEN CANCELLED; GET REFUND DETAILS HERE. They were scheduled to play Bogart’s Thursday with Danko Jones (see Brian Baker's Sound Advice recommendation for Danko Jones here).