Check out this interview with The Damneds Bass maestro Paul Gray. Starting his career back in the 70s Paul first crossed paths with his current bandmates in The Damned when his band’s picture was printed on the flip side of the debut Damned album (good luck finding a copy) since then Paul has thumped his Rickenbacker in Eddie And The Hot Rods, Played with Motorheads Larry Wallis, Johnny Thunders around the time of his classic ‘So Alone’ sessions. He then followed Algy Ward into the Damned lineup and recorded two hugely impressive studio albums ‘The Black Album and ‘Strawberries’ as well as the iconic ‘Live At Shepperton’ record that captured the often chaotic but always exciting sound of The Damned live.
After quitting The Damned he had a stint with hard rockers UFO followed by stints with Andrew Ridgely as well as stints with the musicians union and tutoring Gray then returned to public prominence with Damned bandmate Captain Sensible as one-third of the wonderful Sensible Gray Cells.
Gray was also diagnosed with Throat Cancer before returning to the live stage he played with another Damned bandmate this time Rat Scabies in Professor and the Madman in 2017 before stepping back into the Damned following the departure of Stu West where he’s been an ever-present as the band have raised their profile and delivered several studio albums bringing you up to date with the impressive ‘Darkadelic’. He’s also found the time to record and tour with Wingmen alongside a Moped, Strangler and a Ruts DC. Without further fanfare let me introduce Martin Chamarette our intrepid interviewer and the one and only Paul Gray who it was once said if he was paid by the notes he hit he’d be a millionaire.
As 2022 came to an end, I wondered if there’d be many new albums to really interest me in this new year. A lot of my favourite bands had just released albums, and I’m always looking for exciting, new bands. Then, two things happened almost simultaneously. The Damned showed a tantalising clip of snippets of songs from their upcoming album, and Wingmen released tracks from their debut.
Now, whilst new, young bands can be exciting, this isn’t exactly a project by whippersnappers. However, the combined experience from their individual bands does whet the appetite. With Baz Warne of The Stranglers, Paul Gray of The Damned, Ruts D.C’s Leigh Heggarty and Marty Love from Johnny Moped, it’s surely worth a spin. Well, yes, it is. And don’t call me Shirley.
Initially a studio project, they quickly realised that they had a collection of quality songs that deserved to be heard. What strikes on first listen is that, while the parts were recorded remotely, it doesn’t sound that way. It gels like a band who’ve been together for a while, and enjoy playing together.
I’m not the first to say that it often sounds like elements of The Stranglers and The Damned, particularly ‘Strawberries’, but this is hardly surprising and, also, not a criticism. I suppose it’s inevitable, though the album has a distinct feel to it. As a fan of both bands, it’s a real treat to hear new songs worthy of their respective back catalogues.
And from the instrumental ‘Starting Blocks’, it doesn’t disappoint. ‘The Last Cigarette’ is a breezy piece of psychedelic pop, not unlike The Sensible Gray Cells, ‘Louis Smoked The Bible’ is a classy, jazzy tune. Mature pop with a dark edge, as you might expect. ‘Brits’ tackles the downside of some of the clichés of being from the septic isles; “you complain when you’re grounded, you complain when you fly”.
‘I Would If I Could’ handles the subject of health care privatisation in a style that would please World Party, while ‘Down In The Hole’ is the sort of tune you could imagine Mr Vanian relishing singing, complete with lysergic keyboards and theatrical drama. ‘Oh, What A Carry On’ describes the Little England mentality of those brave Brexiteers, and ‘Backstage At The Opera’ is driven by a bass line that is classic Paul Gray.
Overall, very impressive, and they are joined by Rob Coombes of Supergrass on keyboards for their upcoming tour, so mark those dates in your diary. I wonder if they could support The Damned? That would be a great night out.
We live in an era of lockdown crafted, post-pandemic albums. With live performance taken out of the equation, in that dark period between 2020 and late 2021, musicians had to get creative. And get creative they did. Stripped of the ability to perform with their respective bands, Baz Warne (The Stranglers), Paul Gray (The Damned), Leigh Heggarty (Ruts DC) and Marty Love (Johnny Moped) joined together digitally and formed Wingmen; a musical union that somehow manages to sound like the sum of all of those legendary bands, yet also nothing like them. Say hello to Wingmen, a band formed in extraordinary circumstances.
Due to be released January 27th via Cadiz Music, it’s important to stress that at no point during the recording of this debut Wingmen album were the musicians ever in the same room playing together. And they still haven’t. This music has formed, as so much did in those explosive first waves of punk that these musicians were born from, out of boredom. To stop from going stir crazy during lockdown. And the results were instantly rewarding.
“I called Paul and suggested to him that we should have a go at a new project after enjoying working together on The Sensible Gray Cells record and if so, did he have anyone in mind,” explains drummer Marty on how Wingmen came to be. “And we both wanted to work with Leigh, and he was interested in the idea. I asked Leigh if he knew any vocalists that may fancy it and he said Baz Warne could be worth a call, and to my surprise Baz said yes! So, then there were four. We all started sending song ideas to each other. The first was ‘Brits’ from Baz and then ‘Starting Blocks’ from Leigh. After that the songs just kept coming…”
The proof of this is clear to hear in the ten songs that complete the project. The album is chock full of dynamic songwriting and performances, over-flowing with ideas and inspiration. You can clearly hear the styles and identities of each individual performer in the music, and the influences of their individual bands, but somehow, despite having never played in the same room together, Wingmen sounds like a band.
Bassist Paul Gray continues…
“Although we’d recorded various parts at our homes for our respective bands before, none of us had employed this process to make a complete album! Only Marty and I had worked together before, so it was a complete leap into the unknown. We all had loads of ideas to throw into the pot – some songs arrived completely fully formed that we simply added our own parts to, and others were more akin to musical sketches that ended up as co-writes. The album is a true collaboration inasmuch as none of us knew what parts or melodies or lyrics might be added by anyone else – it was an immensely exciting process! No rehearsals, no pre-production, just us winging ideas to and fro, with the drums going on last of all in the studio – which is completely the opposite of how things are usually done, of course.”
Today, we get to sample the first taste of Wingmen’s work in ‘Down In The Hole’, a song that channels the intense moods and feelings that lockdown created.
“This album may well have never come about were it not for the fact that our lives were suddenly put on hold,” explains Paul. “Some of us felt the effects of the enforced isolation from friends and loved ones that followed – and wondering when the hell it was all gonna end – more keenly than others. ‘Down in the Hole’ is a nod to them, and those that live with the effects of depression to a greater or lesser degree on a daily basis. Not a particularly jolly subject I know, but the music suggested a fairly dark lyric and the song just kinda ended up writing itself”.
Although unconventional in its creation, the good news is that Wingmen is not a just a studio project and will be a band that plays live. Dates are currently being booked and who knows what else the future holds for Wingmen. For now, we’ll leave the final words to guitarist extraordinaire Leigh Heggarty…
“If someone had told my teenage self that I’d know members of The Stranglers, The Damned, Eddie & the Hot Rods, Johnny Moped and for that matter The Ruts – let alone that one day I would be in a band with them – I’d have probably told them that they were mad. It’s worth having a dream sometimes.”
‘Wingmen’ will be released January 27th, 2023, via Cadiz Music. Live dates are to be announced.
A launch event is confirmed to take place December 11th at the Triangle Café & Bar, SE8 to feature an exclusive album playback, acoustic show, and meet and greet. Full details TBC!