Paul Gray, perhaps improbably, has a couple of things in common with myself. A love of punk rock… and dodgy hearing.
It was at a memorably loud and raucous show by his former band, Eddie and the Hot Rods, where I was first deafened by his bass guitar - "I remember bits of plaster falling from the ceiling as I hit low notes,” he laughs.
Since those days of punk, when The Rods reached the top 10 with ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’, the Essex-born guitarist’s career has hit a few more high points, including his first Damned stint, just as Captain Sensible – “Mr Pop” – had a solo number one with ‘Happy Talk’.
"He somehow managed to fit it all in,” Paul recalls, “I do remember him arriving at gigs with 10 minutes to spare after flying back from doing TV in Spain or somewhere, and necking three pints of ale in 10 minutes”.
There have, however, been bum notes in his 40 year career. When I joke that his bass is probably responsible for my (mild) tinnitus, he relates his own auditory problems. “My ears are ruined,” he confides, “so I basically gave up music for three years – I got into a very dark place, but I learned to live with it.
“I’ve got a battery of hearing protection for the tour,” he adds.
Perhaps just as well, given that singer Dave Vanian remarked: “I don’t understand it, we’re so quiet these days we’re semi-acoustic.”
“Maybe for you, mate!”
It was last summer that Captain Sensible called. “They had a studio booked in South Wales – which would have fitted round work perfectly (his day job is with the Musician’s Union). Then suddenly, ‘it’s going to be in New York’ – difficult for commuting purposes! Typical Damned,” he laughs, “the last minute untogetherness.”
But once recording started, it was like he’d never been away. “As soon as we fired up it just clicked.”
An unexpected bonus was the news that producing the album would be one Tony Visconti, perhaps best-known for his work as David Bowie’s producer, among a host of classic records. “He produced T Rex’s ’Get It On’,” recalls Paul, “which was one of those early 70s records that made me want to play bass. Plus Blackstar was my most played album of 2017, so working with him was pretty cool. And of course he’s no slouch on the bass himself having played on Man Who Sold The World...he got me a great growly sound, so we got on just fine!”
Evil Spirits, the Damned’s first album in a decade, is done and dusted and out in March. "It’s a pretty broad mix of songs, right across the board,” Paul reveals, “from Dave’s dark filmic soundscapes to psychedelic 60s jamming and into pop stuff.
“There’s no out-and-out punk,” he confesses, “but that was 40-something years ago!”
However, with the new album preceded by a re-released box set of the classic singles there will need to be more than a nod to the band’s roots.
“Good point!” laughs the bassist. “There’ll be some from the new album, some of the period I was with the band, and a bit of the early stuff.
“Though we’ll not know for sure until half an hour before the first gig - it’s the Damned, so anything can happen!”
'Evil Spirits' tour dates:
26 January Newcastle O2 Academy27 January Dundee Caird Hall28 January Glasgow O2 Academy30 January Leeds O2 Academy31 January Manchester Academy 11 February Birmingham O2 Academy3 February Leicester O2 Academy4 February Nottingham Rock City6 February Folkestone Leas Cliff Hall7 February Southend Cliffs Pavilion9 February Cardiff Great Hall10 February Bristol O2 Academy11 February Bournemouth O2 Academy13 February Southampton O2 Guildhall14 February Bexhill De La Warr Pavilion16 February London Koko (EXTRA DATE)17 February London O2 Forum