The Damned’s Dave Vanian on Farewells and Martinis

As the front man of London punk rock band The Damned, Dave Vanian swapped digging graves for rock’n’roll, leaning into his love of film noir, gothic fiction and vampire obsession for his stage persona.

What began as a garage psyched sound on a self-titled debut in 1977, morphed into a goth and psych melodrama thereafter – making Vanian the definitive goth-rock poster boy of his time.

The Damned were indeed ahead of the pack – the first British punk band to release a full-length album and a debut single New Rose in 1976 released before The Sex Pistols caused a riot.

At 67, Vanian has spent the last three days in a London rehearsal studio with his band mates getting ready for their Australian tour.  He’s happy they’re back together for nostalgia’s sake, but isn’t one to dwell on the past too much.

“I am always moving forward with music; I am all about new challenges and new things in life. I don’t sit thinking about the past,” says Dave Vanian. “But it’s certainly been nostalgic lately because the band has been in the same room again and a lot of memories come to the fore yet again,” he says.

Vanian likes to measure time by memories that stand out as the strongest. Like taking his first flight to the USA in 1977, walking on a Hollywood boulevard, and stepping off stage and into a London alleyway after a gig to see 50 cats wandering on dustbins and fence tops – an image that stuck with him ever since.

The final Damned tour sees the original line-up on stage – Captain SensibleRat Scabies and Paul Gray. They’ll be playing songs from their seminal albums including Machine Gun Etiquette, The Black Album and Strawberries, as well as fan favourites like Neat Neat Neat and New Rose.

“I don’t think we realised how much ground we broke at the time we emerged as a band,” says Vanian.

“To be honest, it happened so fast. It was a case of one minute we’re packed in the back of a van and doing gigs, then a week in the studio doing songs in Islington, and suddenly we’re going to America. I never thought for one minute I’d be doing this for the long haul,” he says.

“The first two years of our career was a succession of new things happening every week – we didn’t take a moment to really just enjoy it,” adds Vanian.

“And then the bombshell came when Brian James [guitarist] turned around and said I am breaking up the band.  We didn’t know that was coming. For all intents and purposes our career was done as Brian was the main songwriter, but what transpired was us getting back together – and when we did – we were stronger and went from strength to strength,” says Vanian.

When Vanian was last in Melbourne, he took a bus to Elsternwick to see the Ripponlea Estate where Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries TV series is made – yes, he’s a big fan. He’s also a huge fan of the gothic architecture of Melbourne; the Victorian terraces that spook all the feels.

“I also love checking out bars, museums and lots of architecture when I am in Melbourne. I also went to the Melbourne Flower and Garden Show on my last visit,” he says. “I am a punk with a shovel and like to garden back at home.”

When it comes to cocktail hour, he prefers speakeasy moods over loud venues.

“I tend to go to old hotels because if they make good martinis, that’s where you’ll find me,” says Vanian.

“I also love to drink rye whiskies and brandy. I am not much of a beer drinker. I like old men’s colonial style clubs – somewhere I can settle in for a few drinks,” he adds.

When in the States [he married LA musician Patricia Morrison – formerly The Gun Club, Sisters of Mercy and The Damned] he likes to visit tiki bars. “I do love a cocktail bar and all the themed tiki ones you find in America; they do that well over there,” he says.

The last hotel bar Vanian drank at was The Dilly in London, where he ordered three espresso martinis. “I do love it when they know how to make a good martini. That’s what I like to order.”

TOUR DATES The Damned supported by The Hard-Ons
Wed, March 20: The Tivoli, Brisbane
Thurs, March 21: Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Fri, March 22: Northcote Theatre, Melbourne
Sun, March 24: Hindley St Music Hall, Adelaide
Tues, March 26: Astor Theatre, Perth

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