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British Drum Icon - Rat Scabies
Interview with Rat Scabies
Rat Scabies is an enigma who I first bumped into 32 years ago in Henrit’s Drumstore at a time when he and his punk mates were aggressively and enthusiastically changing the world of music. Some of this change was long overdue - like the ridiculous practices of paying to play at The Marquee, or paying a fortune you never had (which the record company kindly loaned you) as a contribution to buy onto a tour with any of the big rock stars of the day. They also prised-open a few doors as far as gigs were concerned since they wouldn’t (make that couldn’t) restrict themselves to playing proper venues: theatres, City Halls and the like. They would play just about anywhere mainly because regular places of entertainment wouldn’t entertain them (pun intended).
We met at Borders in Charing Cross road and reminisced about Drum City, Ajax cymbals, Gerry Evans, Soft Machine, Ginger, Moonie and how Bonzo and the rest of Led Zeppelin came to see The Damned at the Roxy on Sunset Strip.
What do I call you these days?
Whatever you’re comfortable with, Rat or Chris is fine. The funny thing was that at the point we first met [at Henrit’s Drumstore] I preferred to be known as Rat really. Punks used to keep their real names as a closely guarded secret, but I realised that that was the wrong way to go about it because the more you tried to hide it the more people would be likely to try to find it - and then make a big deal out of it. So if you told people what your name was, like you you’d call me Chris because you were comfortable with that but it didn’t really matter. But if I’d said I’m not telling you you’d probably be having a whip round, and suddenly it becomes gossip.
All that fake ID thing and the aliases there were a lot of reasons behind it. First of all we didn’t want the dole to find out that we were gigging. We were very lucky, the first gig we got we were pretty much reviewed so we knew we had to keep the real identity otherwise they’d cut the money off and we wouldn’t be able to carry on as a band. People forget how important the dole was to the British music scene, without the dole we wouldn’t have had one. Also don’t forget I’d been playing before punk came along.
That’s one of my questions; you didn’t start out with that punk attitude did you? You started out as a drummer.
Yeah, but I think the attitude was there anyway, I don’t think being in a punk band changed the way I thought, I think that’s the reason I took to the punk bands because I felt I belonged.
And you were into anarchy?
I knew I was getting a rough deal off the police and everyone else who represented authority and there wasn’t really a place in the world for the way I thought, so I was quite happy not to have that. But by the same token I felt that because it was such chaos, we knew then we were causing trouble, and I thought this is probably going to last for three months and then what am I going to do? So I thought if I stick to being Rat Scabies when the bubble bursts and its time to go back on the dole again then I can revert to being Chris Miller again and get myself a job in an orchestra pit or on a boat. I was going to play no matter what.
Did you have lessons when you started?
No. Much later in the ‘80’s I went to Francis Seriau for some lessons. I got very bored with playing and I wasn’t moving on, I was just playing the same thing and I was losing interest and that really frightened me. I’ve had a drum kit since I was 8; it’s all I ever wanted. I decided that was what I was going to do ever since I saw Eric Delaney on the London Palladium show when I was a kid. I had Dave Clark 5 records and a Glenn Miller album that had “Sing, Sing, Sing” on it, I was quite a jazz fan even though I’ve never been able to play it, but with jazz there’s a drum solo in every song and for me that was fantastic. I loved the Dave Clark 5 and Sandy Nelson because the sound of the drums. It wasn’t ever the performance because for years I’ve hated Buddy Rich because he was just unfathomable, but the sound of Sandy Nelson banging those toms, it sounded great. When I saw Eric on the London Palladium show, it was kind of yeah…
Prior to The Damned and the other bands before them, did you play Rock n Roll, The Shadows and all that stuff?
I was in very few bands, probably 3 or 4. The first band I was in at school, we were called the Tarts, a four piece from Kingston, we wrote our own material
Was it angst ridden?
So it wasn’t punk
No, nothing like that, just 6th form common room. So I wouldn’t say it was particularly brilliant but the beauty of it was that we could play. The others had these wonderful parents who would let us set up in the living room and rehearse, because being a drummer you can’t ever practise without someone complaining, you have a very limited time slot to do your thing. So there were two guitarists and a bass player so suddenly it was fantastic - we could go and rehearse.
So you were in 6th form?
No, I didn’t make it that far, just as an analogy. I left the second my exams finished at school. I would never have been anything except a drummer no matter what I did. I was seriously let down at school in music. I wasn’t a drummer because no one would ever let you play the drums, so I was a trumpet player. I played in the school orchestra and when I got to the fourth year I found out that because I used to truant a lot and I wasn’t in the O’ Level stream for maths or English I couldn’t take music because it was an O’Level subject, so suddenly having set my sights on being a musician the rug was pulled from under my feet. I wanted to go to music college, anything musical, but that’s what I was going to do, but of course they said no, you can’t do it, so I was totally disgusted so as soon as I finished my last exam I pretty much left home and left school on the same day.
So what drum kit did you have in that band?
The very first kit I had was a John Grey Autocrat with a very nice turquoise sparkle finish, I’ve still got the kick and snare, in terrible condition but its still got Chris Miller painted in colourful notes on the bass drum which my auntie did when I got the kit. That was my first proper real kit, before then it had been Chad Valley shit.
So fast forward a little bit possibly to 1976. When did you meet Chrissie Hind?
That must have been 1975, I guess.
It was before Drumstore days then. Somehow I thought the whole thing coincided with Drumstore in 1977 because she was often there.
I had answered this advert in Melody Maker which was Bernie Rhodes looking for a drummer for a band called ‘London SS’ and Malcolm had got the Pistols kind of together and they were just starting up and Bernie wanted his own band because they worked out if you had three bands doing the same thing it became a movement as opposed to two bunches of chancers so that was the logic behind it. I met Malcolm one night up at Dingwalls at a Pink Fairies gig and he’d heard about me and spoke to me for a while, got my address and the next day he came round to my house with Chrissie and Nick Kemp and said did I want to be in a band with these two.
So we sort of put something together very briefly, Nick Kemp vanished very quickly, and Chrissie was going to play guitar but she wasn’t much of a guitarist and she wouldn’t sing, and Malcolm’s idea was to disguise her as a boy and she was the guitarist. For me anyway it was OK and I liked Chrissie, she was always nice to hang out with, but she’d sing like at the bus stop outside Capital Radio waiting to go to Camden or something and she would just start singing. She would be there with a horrible Dee Dee Ramone haircut and leather jacket, when girls didn’t wear leather jackets, only Hells Angels wore leather jackets then. So she would start singing at the bus stop but she wouldn’t sing in the band.
So we ended up with two singers a guy called Dave, who was very dark and mysterious, and the other was this guy also called Dave who was the total opposite, blond, very effeminate, very camp and we couldn’t find a bass player and the only person I knew who had a guitar or any equipment was Captain Sensible so we roped him in. We just did covers of ‘Give Me Some Lovin’ stuff like that and it was really about Chrissie learning to play guitar and then eventually me and Brian had been working together and he said he didn’t want to do London SS and that he’s rather go off and form a band with me, so I said OK lets do that then and that was The Damned.
So the ‘Masters of the Backside’ didn’t last long then?
No, a few rehearsals.
I saw you with the Damned, it was the first real punk gig I went to at the Rainbow and everybody who was anybody in the punk movement was on but it was really low key and I thought what are these guys up to? They’re at the Rainbow, there’s not enough PA happening and there’s no lights. Well you lot came on and there were the lights and there was the PA and it all erupted and I thought these guys are going to make it over all the rest simply because you understood it was showbiz. Whatever you called the music it was still showbiz. Whoever said “put the lights on now, and can we have a bit more PA” was absolutely right, your show was chalk and cheese. I must have been there with my partner Gerry Evans when Drum Store was just up and running. I guess he brought me there to see you lot.
The thing with The Damned was we all understood what we were supposed to do when we were up there and the rest was just filling in really. I think we never consciously decided to use production like that but what we did do was think we were the best one in the band so generally when we played everyone was like “I’m going to get picked up by someone proper soon”. I guess nowadays people just call it chemistry but we got on well enough in the band and were having a blast, but when it came to going on stage really we were there just trying to further our individual careers and outplay everyone else in the band. Don’t forget The Damned were probably one of the last generations of bands where you had drummer/guitarist combinations. We’d been brought up on Townsend, Page, Bonham, Mitchell and Hendrix, it was all about the drummer and the guitar, that’s what I loved. We were just doing that and I think now when you listen to all the other punk bands they changed the format, the drummer’s not quite so orchestrated, you played the kit as a whole instrument. I think when other bands came along the drums became something that kept time and maybe gave you a little bit of a push in the chorus.
But not you?
No, I was up there to do it as loud and flashy as I could get away with.
So what was the drum kit you had then?
That was the Pearl. I got a deal with Gerry Evans. The whole Pearl thing really was because I was already using them and I was quite happy with them as they were. They also represented something that was new. Up until then it had always been American or English kits, suddenly there was this Japanese thing happening.
And it stood up for a thumping that was the other thing.
You had proper cymbal stands that didn’t fall over, not like the flat Olympics
Or even the Ludwigs come to think of it at that time.
There was very little. Yeah I remember the Ludwig kit; you’d always be taking a spanner to something. Also the way the drummers actually played, Ludwigs sounded really heavy and hard work, they were solid but not built for speed.
So you had the wood-fibreglass?
They were loud and you’re right, you didn’t have to hit them quite so hard because they banged anyway.
They had a sound and the response was really good, that’s what I liked. But then when Gerry went and Roy [Holliday] took over he wasn’t a real fan. He didn’t like me or punk, he used to hate it. I used to go up there and Gerry would give me what I want and he’d be sweeping the floor and he would be going ‘he’s not a proper drummer’.
He’s still playing you know?
Yeah I’m sure he is, in some pub somewhere.
I remember the Old Grey Whistle Test because they did a recording and I got a bunch of heads [from Pearl] and Roy put a collection agency on me for £60 worth of heads or something. I had this debt collection company ringing me at 6 a.m. I forget who I contacted but I contacted someone at Pearl and I said “listen, this guy’s making my life a misery, I’m either one of your drummers or I’m not. If I’m one of your drummers you better tell your new governor to get the fuck out of it” so they told him to do what I want.
So I went down there, we were doing The Whistle Test the following day and there was a really beautiful white Maple shell kit and I just said “I’ll have one of them” which was a 6 piece and I said “no actually you know what Roy, I’ll have 2 of them” and then we did The Whistle Test and I just smashed them to pieces on the TV because I’d bumped into the guy who owned Premier at the airport. He came up and asked who I was, gave me his card and said “you’re using Pearl now if you ever want to switch to Premier give me a call”. Because Pearl had been giving me such a hard time and Roy had taken over, it was obvious it wasn’t going to last. I actually found that I much preferred the Premier hardware and stuff. Don’t forget Rolls Royce were doing the chrome on them.
You were the first punk band to release a single weren’t you? How did that happen?
Yeah. We were very aware of what was going on around us in terms of record companies we liked. We had quite a simple philosophy: record companies release things we liked that we’d heard stories about that we though had people who were with it, we took to them and when we met Jake Riviera he was just so on the money, he had taste in music, he owned a record company and he liked The Damned. We played at a London gig and it was absolutely horrendous, probably one of the worst gigs we’ve ever done and he came up to us after and said “I want to do a single with you, do you want to do it?” so we all said “hmm I don’t know, let’s think about it”.
It was Jake actually understanding the industry and wanting Stiff to go forward and at the same time that benefitted us because we put out a single before the Pistols, (I don’t think the Clash were even formed them).
And it had ‘Is She Really Going Out With Him’ at the beginning of it didn’t it?
Yeah they tapped in the vocal.
‘Help’ was on the other side.
Yeah we tried to pay the Beetles 50% of the royalties because we played it at twice the speed.
And they said?
It was actually a good try.
So Damn, Damn, Damned was actually the first punk album
Well English one, yeah
That begs a question then. Who would you have called a punk band in those days, The Ramones?
On a personal level, yeah The Ramones I would have to say, but to be honest with you I find a lot of the New York punk scene quite constructed, more part of the Arts scene.
But what used to happen is we would go and sign-on on a Thursday at Lisson Grove and then we would go to Sky Dog Records in Praed Street that was run by this French guy, Larry Dubois, who was a big Stooges fan and we’d go and hang out in there. They used to have Punk Magazine in there, so we could look at photos of the Ramones, Richard Hell and the Talking Heads, but we didn’t actually know what they sounded like then
So did you think Talking Heads were a punk band then?
Well only because they were in Punk Magazine and they had the haircut and the cheap guitars.
None of us knew what they sounded like, so when we were looking at pictures of them going “I like that haircut, look at the T-shirt” but really you didn’t have a clue what they were. Brian James was always a big jazz fan and avant-garde so when we heard them on television we realised actually that’s what they were. Then the punk ethic, if you like, wasn’t about playing fast in just three chords, it was actually about being accomplished musicians but being free form and how they went about that song.
So it was the attitude that made it rather than the ability which was different to what was going on here wasn’t it?
Exactly, yeah. Because over here it was all about ‘you have to be dumb, you have to play 3 chords’ but really none of the bands actually felt like that or thought that way. It’s like The Stranglers, who were a totally opposite kind of band to us musically, they still carried the same attitude, if you listen to them, if you heard their record today for the first time and compared it to say The Exploiters, you would say The Exploiters were a punk band and The Stranglers were not - they’re a rock band.
You were the first of the punks to go to America weren’t you?
It was the first time I’d been on an aeroplane. We did four nights at CBGBs [in New York] with The Dead Boys, then we flew to Los Angeles to open for Television at The Whiskey. We got to The Whiskey and Tom Delane wouldn’t have us on the bill because he said we were a punk band and he wasn’t going to have any punk band supporting him. We were quite fans of Television, we liked what they had done, so when we got there and we were blown out, we were too poor for a hotel so we ended up with the whole band sleeping in the living room of a band called The Screamers. So it was kind of strange for us on that level to feel so let down.
How long were you out there for?
Only a couple of weeks. Long enough.
But did you do any gigs in LA?
Yeah we played at The Whiskey which turned into a riot, with a fat American who wouldn’t know punk if it bit him, letting off road flares. We let them know we were there. I just remember lots of long fluffy hairstyles throwing things at us going “you suck” and us going “don’t care, we’re glad we suck”.
Sid Vicious was supposed to be in The Damned wasn’t he?
We were going to audition him as a singer so Brian and me decided to get together at The Nashville Centre, as it was then, at a Pistol’s gig and we were just talking about who we could get as a singer. In those days, you would just look at someone and if they had the right clothes and the right attitude then they would do, really it didn’t matter. Sid walked in wearing his spiky hair, gold jacket, looked fantastic and Brian said “he’s interesting, who are you?” because people who were punk you could just go up and talk to them. “I’m Sid, “I’m putting a group together, do you want to be a singer” the same night Dave Vaney turned up as well and Brian said the said thing “look at that bloke” and I said “I know him” and he said “well get him down as well” so Dave got down there early so he could see what Sid was like, Sid didn’t turn up so Dave got the job.
Nick Mason produced “Music for Pleasure” didn’t he, how did you get on with him?
I like Nick, he observed as I remember.
A lot of the time with producers you don’t see what he’s doing or the instructions he’s giving to engineers, and the decisions they make about the takes and what their criteria is, you never really see. But he was really sweet to me and we’d do the takes and he would be objective, but I thought everything was very clean, you could hear everything. I think at that stage I think the others in the band wanted to make us more psychedelic, more kind of garage. Well, that’s what they say now, but that’s why we got involved with Lol Coxhill, because we met him at a petrol station in London.
Like I say about The Damned, The Captain was into avant-garde, jazz back then Soft Machine, all that left field stuff. .I used to go and see Family at the Round House, I used to adore Family. So we always had this kind of alternative jazz thing, so when we met Lol at that petrol station near Waterloo Bridge, [we said] let’s go get him. So we just said hello. It’s the thing I’ve found all the way through, musicians who weren’t very bright tended to shun or ignore us, but the ones who had any kind of love of music were actually ok, and Lol was actually one of those. He wanted to find out about us and what we were doing. So he came down and of course when you hear someone like him playing it was a nice bridge for me. It was about the only step towards psychedelia we managed to take on the record.
There was some stopping and starting with The Damned wasn’t there?
We had three main stages through our career. We had the first and second album and then I quit because I’d become very disillusioned with what we were doing. I didn’t want to make the second album, in fact I’d left the band before the second album but Jake Riviera talked me into staying on the grounds that at least I would earn a few quid. So I had already decided that because Brian wasn’t writing anymore that was it, it was over. I had left.
Then the whole thing went down for a bit and when it came down to putting something new together, Captain still lived down the road, he and I were still pretty matey, we’d written the first song on the second album, we’d never written a note before but he had always been a guitar player anyway but we just made him play bass because he had the gear. So I put a band together called The White Caps, very temporary and I was really happy with the songs, I’m not a great song writer, I can write parts of songs.
Did you write stuff for The Damned?
Oh yeah. You can tell anything I write because you can play it with two fingers and you don’t have to change chord shapes because I could never manage all of that. Everything I wrote I wrote on two strings which kind of worked on the intro to “Smash It Up”. When I just accidentally played those notes it happened to be the day Mark Bolan had died and everyone was totally sombre, Captain immediately heard it and knew where to take it from there. We did have a cooperative writing thing were I could have some riffs and ideas for bits and Captain would say that’s great yeah and if we change this bit around. That’s what it was, we’d either write a whole song or we’d have small bits and then we’d get together and see if we could put the bits together. It was actually artistically great and generally satisfying, that’s what I call the second stage of The Damned, when we did Smash It Up, that’s where we really found ourselves. When we did the Black album [it was groundbreaking] the whole thing of a punk band doing an 11 minute long piece of music.
Which track was that?
That was called “Curtain Call”. That was the second stage. That’s when we used to have a lot of squatters and dogs on bits of string at gigs, that whole clog-wearing, anarchists scene. Which was great. Then after that of course Captain had “Happy Talk” and the whole situation of working became impossible, so we got a new guitar player, new bass player and we decided really it was time to become commercial and Dave Vaney was the front man and maybe it was time we pushed him to the front. So that was kind of the three stages.
What’s going on now?
I haven’t played with The Damned for 11 years.
And there’s no plans?
No. There was talk of it, but its never going to happen. I’ve been working with Brian Jones a little bit, we’ve been recording and it’s still really good fun because it’s predominately guitar and drums. We did it about 10 years ago like that, just the two of us, Brian is like the loudest guitarist in the Universe.
You known Buddy Holly started like that, didn’t have a bass player, just Jerry Allison, and they went out and did gigs, nobody said it was weird. I suppose in those days people didn’t know you needed a bass player anyway. Who says you need a bass player?
I went to see Del McRory in Tucson, there were these guys in suits and bootlace ties, they’ve got just one microphone on stage and when he’s singing he’s at the mic and when its time for the band he steps back and the band move up to the mic and play, that’s how they do it.
Do you go there a lot?
I spent a lot of time there working as a producer.
How often do you go out there then?
That time I was out there for 8 months, it depends what I’ve got to do, I’ve been doing some stuff with Dave and Chris from Eagles of Def Metal, Queens of Stone Age crowd so I go and hang out in Joshua Tree and do a bit and come back, all good fun really. I’ve just been in Washington for a week.
Were you recording?
No I had a meeting. Like you do.
What drums have you got now?
I’ve got two kits at the moment one’s a 1958 Leedy, Gold Sparkle, which I got on Ebay two years ago, they’re just such hard kits to find. It’s taken me about two years to get used to it, doing what I want it to do.
Is it a five drum set?
Yeah. There’s an extra drum from the 60s which was an add-on but it matches up beautifully. When I got the set and all the shells were dried out so I waxed them. And the other kit is a George Hayman, Silver.
You didn’t have that set in the punk days though did you?
No, but I always wanted one. See the Hayman was my goal in life. I used to stand and look in music shops at Hayman drums and Paiste cymbals and say “one day I’ll have those” and of course by the time I could afford them they stopped making them.
The Hayman is four drums. I got it through luck really. When Ronnie Verall fell down the stairs and couldn’t do the Frank Skinner show they asked me to dep for him.
I didn’t have a drum kit. I’d been in America and I came back and I’d been sponsored by Premier up until then and I sold the Premier kit because I was so broke and then when that came up I rang up Premier and said ‘look I need a kit’ and nobody was there to make a decision to give me one.
I just saw an ad in the paper Hayman Kit For Sale, I didn’t even know it was a George, it was a few years ago and Hayman hadn’t really picked up as collector’s pieces at that time they were still just an old drum kit. I’ve had about 3.
So how often do you play?
As often as I can
So you do gigs?
No, I’ve been doing a lot of recording. The last on the road stuff I did, (apart from jamming with Eagles of Death Metal because they always chuck me out for the encore, as the cool old punk bloke) was with Donovan. I really wanted to do it because it stretched me a lot, there’s a lot of not playing. I really like a challenge. It’s a bit like doing hip hop, I did quite a lot of dance stuff, with my mate Dougie who does The Chemical Brothers, stuff like that.
I love The Chemical Brothers because they use drum patterns but not necessarily drums making the sounds.
That’s my mate Dougie, he’s really on it. So I got really used to working that way and again it was a challenge, having to play the kit but not play the beat, it was hard.
Tell me all about “Rat Scabies and the Holy Grail” - is it tongue in cheek?
Everything in it is absolutely right, factually and historically.
I mean compared to Dan Brown’s.
Absolutely. Well Dan Brown, I don’t know if there’s any truth in that at all to be honest. It’s entertaining. What happened was there was only “The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail”, kind of pseudo-academic books about the subject and it just so happened that the guy who moved in over the road to me was a writer and I had cut myself so I wasn’t able to do anything for a while.
How did you cut yourself?
I was whittling of all the stupid things, so I asked him to roll me some joints and we got talking about the whole thing and what we decided was I didn’t want to do something that was hard work. I wanted something you could understand, and so when you present people with historical facts you knew what time scale you’re talking about, it’s as much the journey as the discovery.
Had you thought about it before you met him or was he an expert?
No, he’s not an expert. No I was brought up with it by my parents, they’ve always been on the Holy Grail Trail or interested in alternative religions.
Are they Catholics?
No devout atheists. So when the TV programme came on that Henry Lincoln did about this corrupt priest in the South of France, because the story was so great, I just grew up with it. Every now and then I would dip into it, there weren’t any books or anything, there were only a couple of things to find out about it so it was just always there. So I renewed my interest in it. Like I said, I’d cut myself, I’d left the band, I wasn’t really doing anything, I kind of get fed up with being Rat Scabies the mad drummer and I just really wanted to get out of the music business for a while.
So you got on your bike and went round all these places, how long did it take?
We spent about 1 ½ to 2 years on the book over the period of going out looking.
How do you get to be a Templar?
Just ask. I don’t know. I think they have to be approached.
What about Opus Dei?
That’s your private Catholic education system isn’t it?
According to Dan Brown it’s more of a secret society.
Well it’s guarded but they are very public about who they ask and invite to join Opus Dei.
So is that a strand of the Grail as far as you’re concerned?
No, because it’s fairly new. Opus Dei is not even 100 years old. But the trouble with secret societies is they’re secret, so it’s hard to find what’s true and what’s not.
Is there truth in it? You’re obviously fascinated enough to go out and write a book on this subject.
What you mean the Grail?
Yeah is there one?
I can tell you where there’s two physical Grails. I can tell you that many Templars I’ve spoken to will tell you it’s a spiritual grail and not a physical grail. It’s about how you feel about yourself and how you live your life. If you feel good about your life then you’re achieving spiritual perfection and therefore you’re happy and the Holy Grail is part of feeling good.
So the Divine female, all that stuff, is that just a McGuffin that Dan Brown has used?
I don’t know. I know a bloke who thinks he’s found Mary Magdalene’s body as we speak in the South of France in a cave
But that’s going to be absolutely unprovable isn’t it?
Well they have DNA samples that places the body 2000 years old and from the Middle East. Something to do with the DNA strand. He just managed to get hair samples but he also knows the body is female so it’s such a can of worms.
It’s ever-so interesting though isn’t it?
Yes, fascinating but a lot of people don’t want that out. Not that they believe it is the body of Mary Magdalene but they would rather those kind of rumours weren’t flying around.
In that respect then Dan Brown’s book is reasonably accurate in that the Catholic church wouldn’t want that to be broadcast.
Anything that denies the resurrection is a pain for the church. You have to have the resurrection otherwise there’s no longer the Son of God, this is what the Cathar’s problem was, they denied Jesus is the Son of God. The Cathars believe anything physical is the work of the devil and because God is pure spirit and doesn’t have a physical being therefore anything that is physical is not God it’s the other side. Therefore Jesus the Son of God isn’t feasible but Jesus the son of Mary Magdalene is.
I’m playing with Brian James and I’m lecturing a lot at the moment. Just off to the Weird Weekend in Dorset with the Fortean Times.
And you’re talking about the Grail?
Yes and whatever comes up.
The Damned did quite well, but when it came time to getting money out of anybody you would go to a lawyer and the lawyer would say “yeah you’re right there’s some money there but I’m going to cost you more than what there is [to get it]”.
Was the book successful?
Yeah we did really well, I’m not sure if it’s 5 or 6 editions we went to, which is really good. It’s sold in America, it’s translated into German and Russian, we just got a French one going. I sold a lot more books than I would have done records.
Were you ripped-off with the records?
I don’t think we ever got paid what we should have. Problem is The Damned did quite well, but when it came time to getting money out of anybody you would go to a lawyer and the lawyer would say “yeah you’re right there’s some money there but I’m going to cost you more than what there is [to get it]”. If you’re earning you can’t do it on Legal Aid, so it’s a Catch 22.
But I’m hoping you still see some royalties?
We do now, we licensed it to Sanctuary so I think Universal have it now which is kind of OK but they’re very big.
Finally, I wanted to ask what you guys did with the record advance because you didn’t spend it on gear, you might have done but the other punk bands certainly didn’t?
Later on we did, we started using Boogie amps, Ampeg, Sun Coliseum, stuff like that. The advances we got were never that big
D’you mean Malcolm McLaren didn’t get those kind of large deals for the Sex Pistols?
Well he might have done but we didn’t, when we signed with Stiff they didn’t have any money. We got a much higher royalty rate than you would have done through any other label. I think we were on 15% as opposed to 8%. We rather would have backed Stiff, but of course when Jake Riviera left, Robinson stole all the money so no-one got anything except him.
When we signed with Ace they didn’t have much money, but we liked them, they were cool, they understood the band a bit and they put us into Rockfield Studios and would buy us a lot of studio time for a month and we would just go in every day and come up with a track or two tracks, so artistically they were really good to work for but financially we were still on £30 a week.
I guess you were no different to anybody else who just wanted to make music but as soon as you told someone that you were in big trouble.
Yeah, but you know how this industry works, the more money other people make from you the more successful you become. So you can take a cut in popularity but a pay increase. When we finally got rid of the managers we realised we could do things using a tour manager and it’s a 20% pay increase. Suddenly everyone can afford things, better crew, a bus. A lot of time you’re paying peanuts and getting people who didn’t know what they’re doing, you have to pay good people good money and then the stuff works every night.
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