RAT SCABIES (PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN/THE DAMNED): “The Direction Is Menacing And Quite Unnerving At Times”

Rat Scabies

As drummer and founder member of Punk legends, The Damned, Rat Scabies wrote and performed on some of Punks greatest moments. Since leaving the band in 1995, Scabies has gone on to greatly broaden his musical horizons. Mick Burgess called him up to talk about Séance, the forthcoming release with Professor And The Madman which includes his former Damned bandmate and one-time UFO bassist Paul Gray, as well as some of his other musical projects.

How’s Covid 19 been impacting on you over the last few months?

I haven’t been as badly affected as a lot of other musicians as I don’t do that much touring. Most of what I do is in the studio so I’ve been able to enjoy the silence. A lot of people have greatly suffered but thankfully so far, I’ve been able to sail through it. It’ll probably get tougher over the next few months as you tend to get paid 6 months later as a musician so I’ll probably be affected with what’s happening now in 6 months’ time. This lockdown has been the most dangerous thing to happen to the entire entertainment business. It’s quite amazing times that we are living through.

You have a new album called Séance by Professor and the Madman due out soon. When did you start work on the record?

We started work on it a few months ago. It was a long-distance relationship and they sent me files and I’d sit in a dark room with an engineer and we’d work on the songs like that sending files backwards and forwards. They tend to send me the whole album. I’m really lucky working with them as they give me a free reign. I don’t get any notes saying can you play this beat or can you do this at that section so I’m pretty much my own boss. To be honest, back in the old days with tapes in the studio, most of the songs were done one thing at a time anyway and once the drums were down everything would get layered over that. It is however a lot lonelier doing it this way as you haven’t got three other people to talk to in the studio while you’re working so you have to use your own judgement.

Do they send you a demo with a drum machine as a guide?

No, I ban drum machines. If you have a drum machine, everyone works to that so the earlier I can get in and put on real drums and then I can lead the tempo as sometimes you need to speed up before a chorus or something and machines can’t really do that the same way.

How long did the writing process take?

I think the previous album was done a year to 18 months ago so sometime after that they sat around in California and worked on the chords and melodies. My creative input was in adding the drums.

The album is based around a story and is, dare I say it, a concept album. What is it about?

I don’t really know enough about it to give the whole story line away but it is something about death and people who are missed by those left behind. You have to remember that when I was laying down the drums there were no proper vocals, just Sean and Alfie going “La la la” and I’d have to guess what it was about. It’s something that I’ve always done is work with the guitars rather than the vocals. I do take note of the vocals and use the rule that when they are singing then I don’t do lots of drums. You have to give the singer the chance to get through. If they aren’t around, then I can let rip.

How long did that take to lay down your drum parts?

I got the whole album at once and I did the drum parts in pretty much two days. It seems quick but because we have such a similar musical background, it’s not too challenging to do but they do, do some tricky arrangements here and there that keeps me on my toes.

This is your fourth album in as many years. How do you see Séance as a progression from your previous albums?

I think there’s quite a bit of old-fashioned Pop sensibility about it. One of the tracks reminds me of The Monkees. I think they’ve gone more in that direction with some of the songs but on others they’ve got more fucked up and menacing. It’s quite unnerving at times. Sometimes the music is very bright and up-tempo but the lyrics are quite sinister and I think it carries a darker message that way.

Not only have you created a new album but the vinyl and CD versions come with the board for a board game. What does that game involve?

I haven’t seen it yet. I’m going to get onto the label and get them to send me one over. I think the label is quite creative in the way they are marketing the records to make them a bit more fun. They do it for love and don’t really make anything out of it.

Musically Professor and The Madman is pretty wide ranging. Do you think it will surprise those who only really know you from The Damned?

It might do but I do like covering a lot of ground and I enjoy doing things that are out of place. If there is such a thing as a Rat Scabies fan, I think they know that I’ll do things that you don’t quite expect.

There’s a great Power Pop feel to the album with some Punk influences in there, Classic Rock, even Prog and Psychedelic elements too. How would you describe the band to someone who hasn’t heard it before?

I’d say it’s adult Punk. One of the things that works for it is that it’s part of their generation and as they’ve got older their musical tastes have changed. The music they write has gone with them. That’s the same thing with The Damned, you had to be the same as your audience but one step ahead at the same time. You never start to play music so that you have to play the same songs for the next 40 years. You do it because you love it. That’s why I like to do a lot of different things. It becomes boring playing the same thing all the time. I think the songs have a lot of empathy with The Damned material any way. They were influenced by what we did so the things they come up with is familiar to me and suits the way I play. We come from the same background so it’s quite easy to step into it and understand what they are looking for as we are in the same world.

“So Long” has an almost mid period RUSH feel to it. Was that a band you used to listen to back in the 70’s/80’s?

Never. Maybe I should have, maybe I’ll go and listen and try and discover them.

Do you see Professor and The Madman as a blank canvas that you can venture off into any musical direction that you want?

I can do pretty much what I like with them. I don’t want to do anything that’s rubbish. I could quite easily play my way, bish, bash, bosh, through 3 minutes of Punk and go there you are but I suffer terribly from the fear of wondering what other drummers will think when they listen to it. You also have to do the song justice and where the dynamics of the tune dictate when it needs pushing and when it needs pulling back. All of those things are what it’s all about and are what makes music, music. I take pride in my work and hope that it comes out OK and that people like it.

How did you first meet up with Alfie Agnew and Sean Elliott?

I went to a Christmas party in a cheesy nightclub in Costa Mesa and they had this thing where at Christmas they give each other really ugly jumpers. This was one of those parties. There was only about 20 people there but they all had these grotesque items on and Alfie and Sean were there. They were Damned fans and they invited me up to play a tune with them and they then asked if I wanted to go to their studio to put some drums on a track so I did. It just kind of developed on from there really.

What did you think of the material that they had written at that time?

I thought it was really interesting and different. Especially on that first album I thought it sounded like a Halloween show or going to the haunted funfair or something. It had that spooky element that I loved so much, sort of like the Hammer House Of Horror.

When did Paul Gray, your former band mate in The Damned, come into the band?

I’d done the drum tracks and everything and they said that Paul was their favourite bass player and they asked if I minded if they brought him in on bass and I thought it was a good idea because it was time, not to patch things up but it was time to say hello again. It had been years since I last saw him but it was good to play with him again and I’d forgotten what a good bass player he was. He was always exciting to work with and when you get players who can give you a kick up the arse, it’s never a bad thing. I’m pleased that we did it and thanks to Alfie and Sean, it was a couple of band mates reunited.

The name of the band is great and very appropriate as Alfie Agnew is a Professor of Mathematics which is very impressive. So, if Alfie is the Professor, who is laying claim to be the Madman?

Alfie is mathematics professor at Cal-State Fullerton. The Madman is Sean who was truly out of control. He was the guy getting drunk, getting thrown out or fighting in the parking lot. He came round and got himself together and put his energy into music. Sean and Alfie have a great thing but they are total opposites.

Obviously with Covid here with us for a while, touring plans are on hold. Do you hope to get out and play some shows when it is safe to do so?

Alfie and Sean did come over and played one show with Paul on bass at the 100 Club a while back. I said as we were doing one show we may as well do a dozen but they just wanted to do one great show or not at all. I wasn’t going to argue. They do play more in America but they have a Rat Scabies impersonator for those. It’s funny because he rings me up and says “Rat, Rat, what are you doing there, what are you playing at that middle bit there?”

Who were the drummers that influenced you and inspired you to take up the drums in the first place? 

There were a few really but it’s hard to give credit to them all but it went from Dave Clark, Sandy Nelson, Gene Krupa and a couple of English guys Kenny Clare and Ronnie Stephenson who were an influence before I discovered electric guitar bands. I used to really like Ginger Baker and went to see him often. Anything really that was drum heavy and of course I was a Who fan. Anything that had a lot of drums was OK by me. I’m talking when I was 11 or 12. I didn’t have access to the underground sort of thing and didn’t hear Led Zeppelin until I was about 14 or so, as it wasn’t on the radio and you only heard about Heavy Rock from people who bought the albums and knew about it already.

What about music in general? Who were the bands you listened to growing up?

I listened to a lot of the Pub Rock thing just before the Punk explosion and I remember going to see the Heavy Metal Kids and Dr. Feelgood. The thing about Pub Rock, wasn’t about the band that was playing, you’d go to the pub and they’d often have a band on. It wasn’t the band you were going for but the pub and the band just happened to be on. Sometimes the bands were great sometimes they were rubbish. Before that it was Jeff Beck, Queen and the Mahavishnu Orchestra where you had to be an amazing musician.

Phantasmagoria by The Damned was very different for you at the time and a big step away from Punk. What were you aiming to create when you first sat down to make that album?

It really sprung from several things. We did The Young Ones and it was the first time we did the Ghouly look, with the long coats and sunken eyes and I thought it looked great and it was the sort of thing we should be doing. Captain had departed at that time so it was Roman who had a big vision of what to do. He’d been round the band for quite some time before he joined. He was very aware of what we were doing and we were talking about what would work for us. We both realised that Dave was the frontman and it was ridiculous that we didn’t play a supporting role to him, his ideas and the way he looked. We were very independent over the years and weren’t conventional and didn’t have an overall image for the band. Until Phantasmagoria it was always just four individuals. Nothing against The Clash, Pistols or The Jam but they all had the same kind of uniform but The Damned were never that together and when we did, it really worked out for us.

“Sanctum Sanctorum” was such an epic song. How did you go about creating that?

We watched a lot of Spaghetti Westerns and listened to Ennio Morricone and Dave was a brilliant source of old Horror films and we really wanted to capture something that carried that sort of atmosphere. Roman was really good at picking out a tune.

Do you still see Roman around these days?

I went out with him for a beer a year ago. He’s very happy not being in show business. I tried to coerce him into playing but he’s not really interested in doing that now. I haven’t really seen any of the other guys in the band since I left The Damned.

Looking forward you’ve also got an album out with The Sinclairs called Sparkle, the band you set up with Billy Shinbone, which is a wonderful twist on Surf music. How did you put this together?

Me and Billy have been mates for a long time and I’ve worked as a producer for his other band Flipron and I’ve always got on really well with him. One day we were just sitting around and Billy said he had an idea to do a Surf record with all that flamboyant drumming. We had a few quid, time to spare so we went into the studio to see what would happen.

Is this a one-off project or do you hope to build on this in the future?

I don’t know really but we both did really enjoy doing it so we may well do another one.

Is the plan to keep it an instrumental band or will you add some vocals at some point?

Funny you should mention that as we are currently working on a Halloween single and a Christmas single both featuring guest artists on vocals who I can’t mention at this stage as I don’t want to jinx it. I think we’ll probably keep the albums as they are and just do occasional singles with guest vocalist.

You have Professor and the Madman and The Sinclairs on the go at the moment. Do you have any time left to do anything else? What are your plans for the rest of the year?

I’ve just done another album with my friend Chris Constantinou who was the bass player with Adam Ant. We’ve got a project called One Thousand Motels. That’s more grown up music. It’s quite Stoner and you can certainly drink to it. A lot of it is about Chris and the situations he’s got himself in, so it’s personal to him. I really like it. We’ll be shooting the video in a couple of weeks and then it’ll be released on Cleopatra Records as a download initially because there’s no record shops open at the moment. That’ll be out in a few weeks. I keep myself quite busy. I have been doing some remixes too and have just done a Bob Calvert song called Lord Of The Hornets which is pretty cool and I’ve just done one with Lemmy singing over a Metallica song, “Nothing Else Matters”. I’m just keeping my hand in where I can.

For more on Professor and The Madman and Rat Scabies visit: professorandthemadman.com

Interview By Mick Burgess


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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