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An English Punk In San Diego: An Interview with Pinch of The Damned

Photo by Steve Gullick. The Damned L-F: Paul Gray, Pinch, Captain Sensible, Monty Oxymoron, David Vanian.

An English Punk In San Diego: An Interview with Pinch of The Damned

The Damned‘s Evil Spirits, their first album in ten years was produced by Tony Visconti and debuted at #7 on the UK Top Ten Chart this April 2018, the first time in the Top Ten in the band’s career. The Damned began as a punk band in 1976 and released New Rose, the first UK punk single the same year. Damned Damned Damned, their Nick Lowe-produced debut album followed in February 1977 featuring the classics New Rose and Neat Neat Neat, live staples to this day.  The fact that singer Dave Vanian and guitarist/singer Captain Sensible are still putting their all into such vital music after over four decades is very punk. In 1999 former English Dogs drummer Andrew “Pinch” Pinching joined The Damned and has been their back-beat ever since. Pinch wrote two songs for Evil Spirits: the gritty Devil In Disguise and the dramatic and affecting Look Left. I spoke with Pinch about working with the iconic band and San Diego life and this is what he had to say.

I read that your grandfather was in bands. What did you learn from him and the bands he brought to your attention? Is any of that still with you that you bring to The Damned?

He was a multi talented musician who played in big bands during the war and I did get to hear him play various instruments, all of which he was great at, but they were mainly wind and stringed instruments. He never really had an influence on me picking up the drums, although all these years later I love listening to Jazz and big band swing stuff, so maybe it did rub off in the end.

What drew you to being a drummer?

I asked the oldest punk in town to be the singer when I formed English Dogs, we knew a metal guitarist who was getting into the punk thing, and my friend Wattie got a bass for Christmas, so I was the drummer by default I guess. I think it was a natural progression from being a boxer. The years of boxing training helped with the cardio too I guess.

Who are your influences?

Initially, Tommy Aldridge, Wilf from GBH and Clive Burr and Nicko McBrain from Iron Maiden. Always full of energy and stellar time. Nicko’s intro to Where Eagles Dare introduced himself to the world with a bang and I was blown away by his style. In later life, I loved the instructional DVD by JoJo Mayer, Secret Weapons for the Modern Drummer. A must for any half decent drummer to expand their arsenal.

The Damned has a definite sound, but each song is varied. How do you think your abilities support what is expected and how do you think you make the songs that much better?

The guys in the band taught me a lot about restraint and dynamics. Coming to grips with trying to play tastefully was a bit of a challenge for me, as I had always played at pretty much 100mph every record I had done with English Dogs. I listen to their advice and respect that I don’t need to play all over their chops and melodies. I think we have a fine balance of musicianship in the band. We can all play, and sometimes you walk off the stage feeling like you just made some really special entertainment for the night. All the better for us never playing songs the same way twice. It keeps the set nice and fresh. Some would call it chaotic, but that’s what we like.

Is there a song the band has never performed that you’re dying to get dusted off?

Honestly, I enjoy them all. There’s never a song that gets a groan from me. Can’t speak for the others!! Sometimes, when you’re sick but the show has to go on, I wish I was in a reggae band to get a night off the adrenaline filled numbers.

I keep plugging for Alone from MFP to be played but nobody seems to get the same vibe as me for that one.

Hopefully Look Left will get a look in the set. Pun intended.

Talking of Look Left, did you write/collaborate on any of the other songs or arrangements on Evil Spirits? How collaborative was the writing process for the album?

I wrote Devil In Disguise the same way I wrote Look Left. Transferred from my head to a demo version by way of a talented guitar player. This time it was Pat Beers from legendary San Diego band The Schizophonics.

That band are an absolute must see for any music fan and Pat’s live performance has to be seen to be believed. DID was written as a really dirty garage tune, somewhat influenced by This Perfect Day by The Saints and that was the vibe of the demo that Pat and I recorded. By the time it made it onto Evil Spirits, the vibe was totally different, and although Cap and Dave added some lovely parts to the song that were desperately needed, it was so far different to my idea that I actually didn’t want to record it. The record label, however, loved it for some reason and decided to go with it. I really liked a song called The Blackened Room, again co-written with Jon Priestley, which I felt was much stronger, but they can’t all make it can they? We at least have a reserve tank full of goodies.

I would say we all collaborated to a degree on each other’s tunes for ES. Cap likes to bring completely finished demos to the table, but DV, Monty and myself like to have ours run through the Damned machine. It’s always interesting to hear where the tunes are taken from their original states.

Tell us what your fellow band members bring to the music and something about their personalities that you appreciate.

I think it’s obvious Dave Vanian’s voice is getting better with age, which is amazing. You never have to worry about him losing his voice, even on massive back to back tours, although he does get sick a lot. He needs to get on my ginger/lemon/honey regime. That would fire up his immune system a bit more.

Captain’s playing and singing are generally top notch, although sometimes I’m convinced he puts in an overly chaotic performance just to entertain himself. He could never have anyone compare him to Eric Clapton now could he? His guitar playing and note choice are ridiculously unheralded outside of just about every guitar player I have ever met. They love him and I can see why.

Monty is the definition of Idiot Savant. A musical masterclass followed by total inability to open hotel room doors. Sometimes we get him his room key first and wait in reception for the inevitable meltdown at the receptionist. More than once we have had to persuade staff not to call the cops!!!

What is The Damned’s impact on music, musicians and fans?

The fans; loyalty is incredible wherever we are in the world. I can’t believe we still fill rooms all over the place with the limited output and zero press over the years. I think it’s a testament to our stubbornness that we just made a new album 42 years into the band’s career. Glad to see some press are actually picking up on it too. The old farts that the band set on fire in the 70s and 80s must be long gone by now, we hope!!!

Everywhere we go, we meet bands who cite The Damned as an influence. It is very humbling to be part of something that has perhaps spawned so much creativity over the decades.

Photo by Kurt Steinmetz

What does your kit consist of these days? Did you use a new one for Evil Spirits?

I use a pretty standard 2 racks, 2 floors, kick, snare setup lovingly crafted by Brian Spaun at Spaun drums.

I play Scymtek cymbals Xtreme series,  also by Spaun. They really are sweet sounding, although the hi hats are so loud, we can’t have them in the mix at all.

I used a Spaun kit in the studio that I had for some East Coast dates and really liked the sound of, so we brought that one into the studio in Brooklyn rather than shipping mine from San Diego. Although the kit sounded great, the room didn’t do it any favors and I know Tony Visconti struggled to get it sounding how I envisioned. I’m sure he will be the first person to tell you that! We did have several “conversations” when it came to mixing.

You performed at Coachella in 2016. I usually prefer to see a band in a venue, but how was your reception there and what shows have you turned attendees into fans, who might not have been there to see The Damned?

Honestly, Coachella should stop booking rock bands and just admit they are a dance festival for 18-21 year old rich kids, spending their allowance on Daddy’s credit card. The experience was not a good one for us. 10 minutes before we played, there were maybe 200 people in this giant tent and although it swelled, it was still a letdown. Nobody knows you are playing when they buy the tickets so you are faced with a sea of blank faces. We always rise to challenges though, and by the end, we had a decent appreciation before they all bounced off to the main stage to see some superstar DJ.

We often come off stage and relate the performance to a football match. We have a lot of away wins and score draws, not too many losses, fortunately. I like to think of us as a Liverpool, always challenging and not quite champions….yet. Some would say we are leaky at the back, too!! Ooo Err!!!

What are the fans like that go to the shows? Where are some of the most passionate audiences found?

Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester, London, Holmfirth, New York, Anaheim, Chicago, Detroit, Tokyo, Berlin. All fantastic for different reasons. I would love to have a global Damned festival where all these people could meet and swap war(t) stories over the years. A kind of Damned-Con. Maybe it will happen before we call it quits??

Finally, you live in San Diego, while the rest of the band lives in England. When and why did you move to San Diego? I love the area and go there every summer. What are some things you like to do, places to go, things to eat, local beers to drink, etc.? I always go to Pacific Beach to walk the boardwalk and Seaport Village for my hot sauces!

I love San Diego. I moved here around 16 years ago having met my beautiful Mrs. Mostly, folks who visit L.A. don’t bother travelling the extra couple of hours down to San Diego, and it’s their loss.

No traffic, great beaches, mountains, forest, desert etc., all within half an hour of my house.

The music scene is small, but full of great characters and venues. The Casbah in particular holds fond memories and I made sure The Damned played there at least once while I’m in the band.

Sometimes I have friends in touring bands come through for a day and I have a route planned out to take in some essential sights that can be done in a couple of hours if you push it.

If it’s a clear day, I take them up Mount Soledad to the veterans war memorial. Sobering, thought provoking and beautiful in equal measure. You can see a 360 degree view of San Diego, down to Tijuana and up to San Clemente. Incredible. I then do a run across the Coronado bridge to the Hotel Del Coronado for an expensive tipple. Back through Balboa Park and to the airport to stand on top of the parking structure as the incoming planes scream over your head right before touchdown. If there’s time, I pop into the Stone brewery at Liberty Station where the outgoing planes from the airport sc