The Damned have traveled far beyond their UK punk roots over the decades, fueled by humor and refreshingly free of affectations. Bassist Paul Gray (ex of pub rock greats Eddie & the Hot Rods) was with them for their transitional work, like The Black Album and Strawberries. Gray left the band in 1983 and has been engaged with numerous musical projects since, including Professor & the Madman (featuring Rat Scabies of the Damned) and Sensible Gray Cells. Eric Davidson spoke with Gray for PKM.
It’s often noted that the studio adventurism of the Damned has engendered a timelessness to their early albums that has eluded some of their late-‘70s contemporaries. That’s especially true of the band’s entrance into the 1980s, as British punk hit its cartoonish phase, while the Damned took a left turn down deeper production and proto-goth alleys. Those turns often garnered fan and critical confusion back then. But it was obvious from the band’s more humorous attitude right out of the 1976 gate that their raison d’être extended beyond the standard British plaid-pant rants against the shit government that still hadn’t cleaned up the WWII debris cluttering working class neighborhoods.
Thematically and musically, the Damned diverged quickly, but especially when bassist Paul Gray left then-sputtering pub rock legends, Eddie & the Hot Rods, to join his favorite local band in 1979. He and his Damned mates were a wee bit older than the latest spikes-covered crews. Hence, the righteous grouse of the corrupt world around them did not extend to their 1960s musical favorites. Trading Brian Wilson or Beatles studio stories was not verboten in the Damned camp, and they took up those ambitions on The Black Album (1980) and Strawberries (1982).
And while The Damned’s notorious inter-band kerfuffles led to Gray moving on in 1983, he maintained his musical open mind and has bounced around numerous projects since, including some reunion run-ins with his old punk pals. Most recently, he’s thoroughly enjoyed mixing his bass talents into the very Beach Boys-indebted swirl-pop sounds of California-based band, Professor and the Madman. Featuring Alfie Agnew (Adolescents, D.I.), Sean Elliott (D.I.), and Damned drummer Rat Scabies, the band is about the release their fourth album, Séance (Fullertone Records). It’s an often peppy, day-glo affair, with darker than expected lyrics if you dig down through the hooks to notice them.
In that way, there’s a line of connection to the Damned. But as you’ll read in our chat with Gray below, he doesn’t much worry about walking any line for too long. Another solo project, Sensible Gray Cells, working for the British Musicians Union, beating cancer, and even, um, going to Japan with Wham’s Andrew Ridgeley (?!) are all a party to Paul Gray’s peculiar and amazing punk rock life.
“Time Machine”-Professor and the Madman:
PKM: What are some early memories of seeing the Damned, even when you were still in Eddie & the Hot Rods?
Paul Gray: I think it was a place called the Nashville Rooms, which was where all the pub rock stuff started, and they started putting us on there, and Joe Strummer’s 101ers, before he found god with the Clash. I saw the Damned there, and at the Hope & Anchor. Out of all the bands that were coming out of the woodwork in 1976-77, I instantly fell in love with the Damned because they were incredibly unpredictable, and all completely different characters. And they were exactly the same offstage as on. Real people, there was no affectation about them – which there was a lot of in punk, let’s face it. We got on famously with them. They used to come see us play and insult us, and we used to go see them and insult them, good-naturedly of course. And we’d end up back at Rat’s flat after god knows how much to drink, 7 in the morning, chewing the fat as you do. We played a lot of the same punk festivals in Europe with them too.
We didn’t keep in touch as such, but their manager – Jake Riviera, who ran Stiff Records – we got on great with him too. And Jake was friendly with the Hot Rods’ manager, Ed Hollis, and they cooked up schemes together. They were the first two guys who really got into the ephemera that goes on around bands – the badges, t-shirts, different record sleeves, all the collectibles; the misprints – like having the Hot Rods picture on the back of the first Damned album. No one had really done that before. And people are still buying that stuff, except now it’s about $100.
I instantly fell in love with the Damned because they were incredibly unpredictable, and all completely different characters. And they were exactly the same offstage as on. Real people, there was no affectation about them – which there was a lot of in punk, let’s face it.
PKM: And what about the general move from the Hot Rods to the Damned. Were there hard feelings?
Paul Gray: Well, all bands go up and down. And the Hot Rods, we’d lost our mate and songwriter Graeme Douglas, lost our manager, lost our record company, we were then with EMI who didn’t know what the fuck to do with us, and we had a dwindling amount of people at shows. Our time had passed. We had a couple fantastic years in America and Europe, and what more could you ask for? Meanwhile the Damned had been sending messages saying, “Come on join our group. You know you love us!” I kept putting them off. I wasn’t sure about them because I knew how volatile they could be, on and off stage. And I quite like, uh, living. (laughs).
They were so unpredictable, there was always an air of uncertainty as to what might happen next. Drums often went for flying lessons in the middle of a show, and Rat especially was a pretty fiery character. Quite literally, given his penchant for using his Zippo should you happen to be reading a paper; or on the hair of any unfortunate journalist who might happen to be sat in from of him in the van. They were an explosive bunch, and there was a feeling that the whole shebang could implode, or indeed explode, at any given moment. But you only live once, right? So fuck it!
PKM: Yup! Tell me about that Eddie & the Hot Rods’ American tour.
Paul Gray: Yeah, we did a really big tour with the Ramones and Talking Heads, like 1977. Every night was an adventure. We did five shows with them, in Passaic, Boston, some with Talking Heads, some with Wishbone Ash on the West Coast… So, for an 18-year old, going to America for six weeks, I mean what’s not to like?! From a little provincial town in England, going out there and suddenly seeing this whole new world and all its delights open up to you. We took full advantage of absolutely everything in front of us. I think we got a couple nights of sleep in the six weeks.
PKM: Any particular Ramones memory?
Paul Gray: We didn’t really mix with them too much. We talked with Talking Heads a little more. The Ramones kind of kept to themselves. I do remember one night, Joey had a really bad cold. And Barrie [Masters, Hot Rods singer] went in there and said, “I’ll tell ya what, mate. To help you out with the vocal cords for this gig, get yourself a kettle, get some water, put it in the pot, put a little towel over your head, and breathe in the steam. That’ll help clear your nose, get the gunk out your throat.” So Joey says, “Okay yeah, cheers, I’ll try that.” So Barrie comes back all proud, says, “Oh, I just helped Joey out, get his vocals ready for tonight.” In about 10 minutes, we hear these sort of screams coming from next door. Apparently, he’s got this kettle and a towel, but instead of pouring the boiling hot water into a bowl or something, he’s got his head stuck over the fucking kettle with a towel over his head, and his face is scalding. No no, don’t put your head over the fucking kettle! Move it, you’re meant to breathe in the steam!! Joey’s face was covered in these fucking big welts for the gig.
PKM: Ha! So I’ve got to ask, because I think it’s one of the greatest songs of all time. Any memories about recording “Do Anything You Wanna Do”?
“Do Anything You Wanna Do” – Eddie & the Hot Rods, live, 1977:
Paul Gray: I’ll tell ya about that song, Eric. When our guitarist, Graeme, first played it for me, it was like a country and western song, with this more strolling sort of bass line. Graeme is a great writer, but it was a little laid back for me. So I thought, well fuck that. How can I really mess it up so it doesn’t get on the record, make it really high energy? So I sped it up, and did the staccato Lemmy-type chord strums… I loved the way Lemmy played bass in Hawkwind, he played it almost like a lead player… Anyway, so I sped it up that way thinking they’d say, “Oh no, that’s never gonna work.” But instead, they all said, “Fuckin hell, that sounds great, let’s do it like that.” And that’s how that song ended up sounding like that.
PKM: Well hell, thanks for doing that!
Paul Gray: Ha, yeah. So I sabotaged this fairly laid back song. There were no lyrics to it yet. The lyrics were written by our manager on the back of a cigarette packet at a pub after the music was recorded.
PKM: Crazy! So I believe around then, 1978, you played on Johnny Thunders’ first solo album, So Alone. Was there ever talk about having a working band with him around then?
Paul Gray: Johnny was a lost soul back then. He didn’t really know if he was coming or going. The guy who was kind of overlooking it all was Dave Hill, who was the Pretenders’ manager, and he ran Real Records that So Alone was on. We did a gig at the Lyceum called The Johnny Thunders All Stars, or something. And I used to do a few things with him down at a club called the Speakeasy, where all the reprobates and old rock stars and their road crews used to hang out. But there was never talk of doing a band. I don’t think he was capable of doing a band right then. The Heartbreakers had imploded. He was a sweet guy, a really lovely guy, and we got on really well. But there was always something very lost about him. And to be honest, I don’t think anyone involved with those sessions would’ve jumped at a chance to do a band with him. You just knew it would be a disaster.
PKM: So coming out of the pub rock scene, and then being in the Damned, did you find the British punk scene a little too overtly political for your tastes?
Paul Gray: I avoided it all, it went over my head. I like tunes, Eric. I’m a fan of pop music. And this is where I connected with Captain Sensible, because we share a great fondness for those Nuggets type bands. The squeaky organs, fuzz guitar, two-and-a-half-minute pop songs. That’s where we came from. I liked the idea of punk – it was the right thing at the right time. But I didn’t like what it became, a fashion thing, when it became Oi, and aggressive, and overly political. The Hot Rods had nothing to do with that, and the Damned didn’t either. They didn’t have a manager like some of the other bands, who shall remain nameless, who were doing machinations behind the scenes. The Damned did, and still do, exactly what they wanted, and that’s what endeared me about them.
This is where I connected with Captain Sensible, because we share a great fondness for those Nuggets type bands. The squeaky organs, fuzz guitar, two-and-a-half-minute pop songs.
PKM: Yeah. Plus, I think there’s that slight difference between being 17 or 18 and 24 back then in that scene. I think the Damned, the Stranglers, and a couple of the other bands were just a wee bit older, and had maybe more of the musical context, rather than just the immediate, socio-cultural angry vibe…
Paul Gray: Yeah. I mean, pub rock became almost a dirty word – I guess maybe it’s becoming cool again. But it was disparaged back then, which I don’t understand because if it wasn’t for pub rock, punk wouldn’t have happened. It was Dr. Feelgood that really opened all that – the 100 miles per hour playing, opening the pubs to bands, and all that. The Stranglers never really called themselves a punk band, they were around before that came around. The Damned, Brian [James], Rat, Chrissie Hynde, they were all around a bit before. To me, punk is still Nuggets, that’s when I first heard that word, describing the ‘60s garage bands… I never saw myself as a “punk musician,” I just saw myself as a bass player. It’s all rock’n’roll to me. It’s all the same three chords, innit?
PKM: Yup. So the first Damned album you were on, The Black Album – what are some memories from making that? Did it sound even to you like, wow, this is very different stuff?
Paul Gray: Oh yeah. The Captain and I have this YouTube thing going called The Damned Show and we cover a lot of that. We’re trying to keep some contact going while we’ve been held up in this virus and off the touring front. So we’ve put up some stories from that period – the more repeatable ones anyway, ha ha. But musically, the great thing about doing that album was that none of us knew what to expect. I really didn’t because I’d only been in a studio with them for one night before, to do the “White Rabbit” single.
“White Rabbit”-The Damned:
Then Rockville was booked. But we’d all been working on these port studios – I’ve still got mine sitting here – and we started tossing cassettes back and forth to each other with so many ideas floating about. Then, I’d never been in a residential studio before, none of us had. It was a revelation because no one’s got their eye on the clock, and you’re not thinking about how the pub’s shut in an hour and you have to get this stuff done quickly, ha ha. So it allowed us the ability to record around the clock. No distractions, no record company, no A&R people around saying you’ve got to make an XYZ record, none of that bollocks. So, none of us knew what was going to happen.
We used that time to experiment madly with every instrument and non-instrument we could. We recorded a toilet flushing and put that on the record. A pencil under the recording heads to get that Small Faces phasing sound. We hit pianos with hammers instead of our fingers. Harpsichords, all these things. I guess it was the most punk thing you could do, without being what was then typically thought of as “punk,” which was loud guitars, lots of aggressive shouting vocals. It was almost the opposite of that, but it was still being called punk – it was an interesting contradiction. Apart from all the craziness, it was the creativity that I remember most about that album. Probably why it still kind of stands the test of time.
To me, punk is still Nuggets, that’s when I first heard that word, describing the ‘60s garage bands… I never saw myself as a “punk musician,” I just saw myself as a bass player. It’s all rock’n’roll to me. It’s all the same three chords, innit?
PKM: It’s also kind of the beginning of that sound – darker, some chorus pedals, Dave Vanian’s deep voice, stuff that became pretty standard by the early ‘80s…
Paul Gray: Yeah, it might’ve been the catalyst to the goth movement, who knows. Happily a lot of people liked it, so it might’ve sparked some ideas in new bands starting off at the time.
PKM: So the next one, Strawberries, I’ve read that it was originally called Strawberries for Pigs. Why was the title shortened?
Paul Gray: Ha ha, it was! We were doing, I forget which song it was, probably one with the string quartet on it. We tried whatever we thought would work or even not work, but let’s try it! It was kind of Brian Wilson without the luxury of having your own studio. But anyway, someone suddenly said, “They’re not gonna go for this. Where’s ‘New Rose,’ where’s ‘Neat Neat Neat?!’ It’s gonna be like giving strawberries to bloody pigs.” Ha ha. That’s where that came from, then it was shortened to Strawberries. Dunno why.
PKM: How much touring did you do for Strawberries?
Paul Gray: That was the famous “Dancing Nuns” tour – three young ladies with dubious dancing talents, but who we somehow adopted, dolled up in nuns’ garb, and took on tour with us. I suspect Vanian was behind it, and it worked very well, too. It gave a bit of high Victorian drama to an otherwise chaotic show, with a Gothic church backdrop and everything. Nuns in suspenders – that was a first! Sister Jezebel, Sister Rockerbox, and Sister Angel. Sweet girls. Couldn’t sing for toffee, though, although that was hardly the point.
PKM: Why did you leave the band after Strawberries?
Paul Gray: All bands have ups and downs. Let’s just say it was on a down, and I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse. I’d somehow survived three years with them, and it felt time to move on.
PKM: You finally got back with the Damned to record Evil Spirits in 2017, in Brooklyn, down in Red Hook, right? So was that like the getting back on a bike situation?
Paul Gray: It was. Over the years, I’d jump up on stage and play the odd song with them if they played my hometown or whatever. But Captain phoned me up about two months before, he was beating around the bush as he normally does. It was all, “Blah, blah, our bass player’s left, and I know you probably think we’re a bunch of bastards, but do you fancy playing on a new record?” Of course, who wouldn’t want to?! I got sent the songs three or four days before the flight to NYC, sent on Dropbox, over 20 songs. I didn’t know what was going to be recorded.
So, we get to the airport, and of course the plane was delayed, so we started rabbiting away, and it was like time travel, back 35 years. Talking to Dave about gardening, talking to the Captain about the Siege, and the only person I hadn’t worked with was Pinch (Andrew Pinching, drummer). When I jumped up and did some songs with him in Cardiff, he was the drummer, but I hadn’t really met and hung out with him, so that could’ve gone horribly wrong. Bass players and drummers usually have to get on somehow, ha. I had ducked out of playing for a while, because my ears are fucked, tinnitus and all that. So this was the first time I got back in it. I was still working for the British Musicians Union, and I was given 10 days leave to do the album… Actually, I eventually quit that Union job in March 2019, to come back to the Damned full time. We managed to get that world tour in, but now, of course, I’ve got no work!
I had to get my stuff for Evil Spirits done in 10 days – and we actually got it done in three days! On the first night, we finished at 10. Everybody fucked off back to the hotel except Pinch, and he asked, “You fancy coming for a beer?” We went out, and hit it off great. We went out every night doing the bars in Red Hook. Great old place down there, three or four really nice bars near that studio… I fell in love with American IPAs there. Me and Pinch tried them all. So it was like, well, if I wore flippers, it was like putting on a pair of old flippers. The characters were the same. No one had rehearsed the songs really, no pre-production, straight into the deep end, pretty much like it was back in the day.
He could barely get up. But the songs he sang on, he sang his bleeding heart out. And that was the last real show he did. Never less than a totally lovely guy.
PKM: What was it like working with producer Tony Visconti on that album? Was he one to tell a lot of stories, or did he just want to get down to work?
Paul Gray: No, he told stories. Stuff about T. Rex and Bowie came out. He said it was him who did all the high vocals on those T. Rex records, when I thought it was Mickey Finn. We’d take a half hour lunch break, and it would turn into two hours. It was a very laid back recording, almost to the point where we thought, ‘are we going to get this thing recorded?’ Ha. He probably spent more time telling stories than producing.
PKM: Well that’s a form of producing, inspiring you with old stories.
Paul Gray: Yeah, sure. What is a producer? You can’t really define it, apart from someone who’s supposed to get the best out of a band. Some are very hands-on and do all the engineering, the whole lot. Others are like Visconti and barely touch the board, and kind of oversee the situation. We’re working with a guy named Tom Dalgety on this stuff we’re putting out now, and we’re supposed to do more with him later this year, if things work out. And he’s very hands-on.
PKM: Yeah, the Damned have a new EP coming out soon, right?
Paul Gray: Yeah. That’s Pinch’s last stand. We put a bunch of tracks down last year, in two different visits to Rockville, and the label chose the songs for this EP. Why it’s taken a year to come out, I have no idea. I’m only the bass player Eric. Ha ha.
PKM: Considering the ear problems and such, you really jump around with a lot of projects. Is this the third Professor and the Madman record you’re on?
Paul Gray: Second studio one, and a live one.
PKM: I guess you knew them before, but did you expect them to ask you to join?
Paul Gray: No, I’d never heard of them, actually, totally out of the blue! They basically emailed me through Facebook, said they loved how I played bass on Damned records, and we’ve got this band, can we send you a song, see how you like it. They sent me a song called “Nightmare,” and I liked it so much, I went straight up into my music room, jumped on my laptop, did the bass, and sent it back to them. And I said, ‘fucking great, I love this’, and they said ‘great, let’s send you some more. Oh, and by the way, Rat Scabies is drumming on it’. Ha ha, I didn’t even know! And that was the first time I’d worked with Rat since the Damned reunion shows in America in ’93, ’94. So that was cool.
“Nightmare” – Professor and the Madman:
PKM: It’s more of a recording project, right?
Paul Gray: Well they play around Orange County. They did come over a couple years ago and set up some shows at the 100 Club, and that’s where the live album came from. That was great! I’d never met them, so I didn’t know what to expect. They booked this shitty rehearsal room up in King’s Cross – first time I’d seen Rat in over 20 years. And there’s Alfie the guitarist looking like a geeky math professor in skate gear – how the fuck is this gonna work? We rehearsed for about three hours, we said ‘yeah, sounds great, let’s go to the pub!’ And that’s what we did, and the gig was the next day.
“Quit This Town”-Professor and the Madman, with Graeme Douglas:
PKM: Their music is pretty sunny and California-y, and I was wondering how someone from cloudy ol’ England relates to this beachy vibe.
Paul Gray: They’ve got all the right references in their songs. Their music usually hides some kind of weird, dark twist, whether it’s actually in the music or some jolly song with very dark lyrics. What I like about their stuff is it’s never quite how it seems. It’s not that easy to play to because there’s nothing straightforward to it, with weird chord inversions. Also, I always play along with vocals a lot, first thing I listen to is the vocal melody, I bounce off that. And they’ve got some great vocal melodies. It’s quite a breath of fresh air for me.
PKM: Did you do that with Dave Vanian, as he has those low registers and melodies?
Paul Gray: He’s got an unusual singing style, yeah. When we were doing Strawberries, he didn’t turn up until the last week, or even the last couple days. I totally re-did most of the bass to it then, once he put his vocals on top. I had to totally imagine how he might sing it. So, once he actually did it, it was different, and I had to totally redo the bass.
PKM: Did playing with Madman get you back in touch with Rat a little more?
Paul Gray: Nobody in the Damned keeps in touch with each other. Ha. Well the Captain and I do because I’m doing Sensible Gray Cells with him. I’d forgotten what a great drummer Rat is. The way we both play is very very busy, but busy in the right places, and we tend to collide unintentionally. When we went into the rehearsal room before the Madman gig, again it was like a time machine – I remember how he plays! And you don’t always get that. So we knew that would work, and happily it did.
PKM: So back a bit again, and I hate to bring up a sad subject, but wondering about your feelings on the recent passing of Barrie Masters. Maybe a memory of that last Hot Rods’ gig in April 2019?
Paul Gray: I’m so glad we did that, Eric. Another three or six months later and it would’ve been impossible. He was the loveliest guy on this planet, and I’m not just saying that. The one overriding memory I have of him – apart from him always being totally up for a gig no matter how ill or hungover he might’ve been feeling (laughs) – whenever I saw him over the years, the first thing he’d say is, “Oh Paul, how’s your mum and dad?” How many people would ask that? And he meant it. He was that sort of a bloke. He always asked after people. That gig was very well put together. I hadn’t seen Barrie since a year or two before that, and he wasn’t a well man. He had lung disease, COPD, his face was swollen up, he had trouble walking, swollen legs, and he was terribly out of breath. I walk in the dressing room, and he’s sitting there. My mum and dad were long gone, so he couldn’t ask how they were. He could barely get up. But the songs he sang on, he sang his bleeding heart out. And that was the last real show he did. Never less than a totally lovely guy.
PKM: How about an early Hot Rods memory that sticks out…
Paul Gray: Probably the Marquee. We did five nights – one was recorded for the Live at the Marquee. And every band says this, but we broke the house record at the Marquee. That was what, mid-‘76, where you thought, yeah, this is happening. There was no air conditioning, and the sweat was running down the walls halfway through the gig. I was behind the amp puking up it was so hot – still playing, of course.
Eddie & The Hot Rods – Live at the Marquee:
PKM: So you’ve played with all these great bands, toured with the Ramones, etc. But what about your work with Andrew Ridgeley from Wham around 1990?
Paul Gray: Ohhhh god. Next please! Ha ha. Never have I earned so much money for playing so few notes. So, a mate of mine was working at an advertising agency in London, and a mate of his there was also a guitarist, playing on Andrew’s solo album, after Wham. And he was just mentioning they were looking for a bass player. And my mate said, “I know a bass player!” Next thing I know, I’ve got one of Andrew’s – get this – one of his three managers phone me up. “Oi, I’m one of Andrew’s managers here, and he’d like you to play on a couple tracks on his album.” I said, What?! Who is this?! Fuck off! I thought it was a mate of mine. Three times he phoned me before I took it seriously.
I went up to the studio the next day, there was no one there, a girl showed me in, and the desk is strewn with all these Enuff Z’nuff, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin CDs. Am I at the right studio? Yeah, this is it. Anyway, (laughs) turns out Andrew wants to make a hard rock album! You gotta laugh! I did a couple tracks that were pretty easy to do. Next thing I know, I get a call – they’re putting together a band to do 10 days in Japan to do some television shows, are you available? The fee they offered was just astronomical. Lording it up at CBS’ expense, drinking the finest champagne at the finest restaurants. Fuck knows how much it cost them! And we spent one day in this club having this endless stream of television companies come in, and us doing these same two songs over and over. The last time I saw him was about a year later. His brother, who was the drummer, invited me to his wedding. I never heard from him since. That was unexpected.
And every band says this, but we broke the house record at the Marquee. That was what, mid-‘76, where you thought, yeah, this is happening. There was no air conditioning, and the sweat was running down the walls halfway through the gig. I was behind the amp puking up it was so hot – still playing, of course.
PKM: Crazy! I mean, did you ever talk anything about music with him? Did he know who the Damned were?
Paul Gray: It never got that far. His hairline was starting to go, even back then. And my overriding memory – in between his shagging endless young Japanese ladies – was seeing him sitting in a hotel foyer drawing and designing hats. Well, he might just have been gracefully accepting the numerous beautifully wrapped fluffy toys the girls were bombarding him with for all I know. His room was full of them – toys, not girls – and electronic swag given him by the record company. He could’ve opened up a bloody shop he had so much. He never talked about music once. Just hats and girls.
I couldn’t imagine Lemmy mowing his lawn. Then after I saw them live I thought,’ that’s my way out of it, that’s what I wanna do!’
PKM: Here’s a transition for you. Your personal solo project, Sensible Gray Cells, recently released that funny single, “What’s the Point of Andrew,” about a different Andrew – Prince Andrew. What is the point of that guy these days?
Paul Gray: Absolutely no point in Andrew, absolutely no point in any of the royalty whatsoever. They should all fuck off and go on the dole!
“What’s The Point of Andrew” – Sensible Gray Cells:
PKM: Agreed, ‘nuff said. But is it true that is the very first released song with your lead vocal on it?
Paul Gray: Yes. I did it in my room here.
PKM: So now would you want to try to be a singer on a stage for an hour?
Paul Gray: No! Perish the thought. I’ve never been a good singer. I did some backing vocals for the Damned. Eight years ago, I had throat cancer, and it really fucked my throat up, and as you’ve heard, I’m a bit croaky.
PKM: You sound good on that song.
Paul Gray: Well, it’s a very croaky song. It wrote itself in 10 minutes. I sent it to Captain, more as a laugh than anything, as we’re both very anti-royalty. And he said, “Oh, we should put it out on a record!” And I said, ‘okay, do you want to sing it?’ And he said, “No, I’m fine with you singing on it,” and it was left as it was.
PKM: I hope the cancer is still clear and you’re doing okay with that.
Paul Gray: Yeah, it’s all gone, mate. Thanks.
PKM: So another recent Sensible Gray Cells song, “Get Back Into the World.” It seems like that’s how you live your life.
Paul Gray: It is about that! It was written before Covid, but the album cover, which kind of looks like one of those pesky viruses, we chose that last year – it’s just empty tables. We chose that because so many people now are conversing as we are, online, ordering stuff off Amazon, getting all our music from Spotify. And it was about let’s actually get back out there and interacting one to one again – and that became especially prescient once this fucking virus thing came along.
PKM: You mentioned Lemmy earlier – Hawkwind was a big band for you when you were a kid, right?
Paul Gray: Oh yeah. They showed me another world. They showed me that there was a world outside of living in suburbia, cleaning your car on a Sunday morning, then mowing the lawn. I couldn’t imagine Lemmy mowing his lawn. Then after I saw them live I thought,’ that’s my way out of it, that’s what I wanna do!’
MORE FROM PKM:
PROFESSOR RAT SCABIES MEETS THE HOLY GRAIL
SHOT IN THE DARK: THE PUNK PHOTOGRAPHY OF DAVID ARNOFF
BEFORE AND BEYOND GOTH: THE DARK SIDE OF ROCK & ROLL