When I first met my wife she was living with her friend in a huge bohemian house in Forest Hill; also resident was the owner, a one legged actor who performed at the Old Vic and once had a small role in Eastenders. On the first floor was his teenage son and on the top floor was his daughter who shared her room with rats: a cage full of sewer rats and a human rat: the Damned drummer Rat Scabies.
Captain Sensible was a frequent visitor, as was Mick Ronson, Billy Idol, Topper Headon and Midge Ure with whom my not yet wife had a brief fling, which is something I remind her of at every possible opportunity. Apparently Chrissie Hynde popped round occasionally but despite my best efforts I never had the pleasure. Prone to fits of rage Rat one night hurled his record collection out of the second floor window then had a fight with the next-door neighbour on whose car roof the vinyl landed. Fortunately for us all he usually got rid of most of his fury behind the drums.
My wife’s friend Anne was a delightfully dopey Devon maid determined to be unimpressed by the punk vermin sprawling about while large brown rats scuttled around their feet. One day she had Mick Ronson playing his guitar at the end of her bed and singing Happy Birthday to you. When he finished she said ‘Very nice Mickey,’ and he said ‘you don’t have a clue who I am do you Anne?’ and she said; ‘Yes I do, you’re the bongo player from T Rex.’ But despite the formidable mental challenges she encountered almost every minute of every day she remained totally fearless and would always have a go. After hearing on the radio the biggest selling single of all time she said: ‘Don’t tell me, I know what it is, don’t tell me; it’s Bohebedan Dhapsody by 10CC,’ thus exceeding the worst excesses of Mrs. Malaprop by a west country mile. It reminded me of an earlier time when I was running a wedding band in Essex. An old pikey woman came up to the stage and said: ‘Can you play Bohemian Rhapsody?’ ‘Err, no.’ ‘Well anything by the Stylistics will do.’
At the time I was running a glam punk band and they used to hang out with the Damned, in fact we used to pretend we were the Damned whenever we wanted to blag our way into a gig. Sensible, Dave Vanian and Scabies used to be regulars at the Embassy Club in Old Bond Street and often had their names on the door. We would pitch up quite early, say we were the Damned and be let in free; one punk looked very much like another to the creaky old door staff. When the Damned arrived they’d be told, ‘Sorry lads, you can’t come in, you’re already here.’
It was in the Embassy that we spotted Roger Taylor leaning at the bar with some floozies and his bodyguard; our guitarist reached behind him and snaffled his drink. Suddenly the minder is shouting, ‘Ere, who’s nicked Roger’s gin?’ Sidestepping the fight I watched Kenny Everett skittering from room to room being pursued by a little trail of duckling-like acolytes all in a line, then I saw Paul Gambaccini stripped to the waist doing a sweaty dance with Limahl.
The Captain lived in Croydon with his mum and dad, and a rabbit. Whenever his mum washed his ‘If it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a fuck’ T-shirt she would hang it on the line inside out so as not to offend the neighbours. One night he asked me if I would like to manage the Damned and for an absurdly long moment I considered it before coming to my senses; ‘that way madness lies’ I thought. The future would be a phlegm-drenched world of pain. Lots of bands were unruly back then but being around the Damned was like playing ‘Don’t drop it’ with a hand grenade, which when the pin fell out might get carelessly chucked into the crowd.
I found out later that they already had a manager, or five of them to be exact, each unaware of the existence of any other. The band was a magnet for chancers and they often found them selves in bars having amphetamine charged conversations about their shitty gigs, piss poor management and record company rip offs. Cue an offer to take them over. To an outsider the Damned could conceivably appear a reasonable prospect if you were either dumb enough to be unaware of the on-stage and off-stage chaos or deluded enough to think you could deal with it. The band member in question would then say, “yeah man, great idea, come to the gig on Thursday and we’ll discuss it, then entirely forget the conversation. Excited oddballs with big plans would pitch up at gigs saying ‘my name should be on the list. Brian James says I’m the band’s new manager,’ to be met with ‘Fuck off mate, never heard of you.’
The band that I did manage was offered a five album deal with Magnet Records which, if they’d picked up all the options, would have come in at half a million quid in advances, quite a lot even today. The label boss said ‘It’s between you and the Damned,’ then stopped calling us when discussions with the Damned’s manager showed signs of progress. When they found out that the band didn’t have a clue who this particular ‘manager’ was or that he was negotiating them a new record deal it was all off with them but all on with us again.
We did a showcase for them in a sleazy old strip club; we were to share the bill with the UK Subs whose singer Charlie Harper agreed to play support and contribute to the cost of the PA and lights. We got very excited when the entire record company staff turned up to see their protégées then waited and waited while the UK Subs dirged on past midnight, despite my efforts to unplug them. When the drains backed up flooding the dance floor with sewage, the record execs called cabs and so did the UK Subs. The two old trannies that stayed on to watch my band were very complimentary: ‘You should release a record,’ they squealed. Magnet meantime decided they’d had enough of punk bands and that they should concentrate on their existing stable of artists the more disciplined Guys ‘n’ Dolls and Chris Rea.
Bloodied and bowed I fell into a negotiation with Brian Epstein’s old label NEMS, where an old gent told me it was between us and this Paul Weller chappie that I might have heard of. Then NEMS went down the Swanee before they could sign either of us. In every A&R department in town I’d see Weller’s demos; he was definitely out in the cold for a while there and was pimping himself out at bargain basement rates. I could talk.
Exhausted, my band imploded in a shit storm of backstabbing and finger wagging, and some of those involved haven’t spoken since while a generation later, the 70 year-old ex hairdresser Charlie Harper is still thrashing his dead horse of a band around the country and I’m still waiting for my PA money. The Damned is celebrating its thirty ninth year on tour and Sensible now aged 60 still strips off on stage. I don’t know how many managers they currently have and I’ll bet they don’t either.