As Professor and the Madman prepare to release Séance, the band’s fourth album, Punktuation and Rat Scabies hold hands in an attempt to contact the living!
“Sorry mate! Don’t know what the issue was,” Rat says as we finally connect over Skype having just ditched Zoom for our chat. “It just wasn’t connecting with the audio. Bloody technology,” he adds with a laugh.
I wonder if he had the same technical issues when recording the drums for Professor and The Madman’s album, which was recorded across two continents – the main tracks recorded in Fullerton, California, Scabies’ drums in a studio in Glastonbury, England and Gray’s bass lines in Cardiff, Wales.
“No, no technical issues,” Rat chuckles, “but it’s always strange not recording in the same country as everyone else.”
This is the fourth album the band has done via file sharing so Rat’s becoming a bit of an old hand at this relatively new way of working.
“Yeah it’s very different. Usually as a drummer you vibe off the bass player and the band. Obviously with Alfie and Sean in the U.S. and Paul in Wales we couldn’t do that – but you get used to it.”
Professor and The Madman consists of SoCal punks Alfie Agnew, who was in the legendary Adolescents and Sean Elliott who played guitar in D.I. and then the old Damned rhythm section of Paul Gray and Rat.
Rat originally met Alfie and Sean, the band’s songwriters and producers, when visiting a bar with some friends in California a few years ago.
“I was at this little local pub with some friends. We got introduced and they said why don’t you play a number with us… so I did. Anyway, being opportunistic, they said, ‘since you’re in town, why don’t you come to our studio and play drums on a couple of our tracks?’ That couple of tracks has now turned in to four great albums.”
Even though Rat and Paul Gray are in Professor and The Madman together, because all the albums have been recorded via file sharing it was a while before Rat and Paul actually got the opportunity to be in the same room together – the first time being when the band were rehearsing to play a gig at the 100 Club in London in 2018.
“It was great seeing Paul again,” Rat admits. “The rehearsal studio was the first time I had been in a room with him for probably 20 years.” Rat pauses for a minute as if recalling that moment. “You know that thing about locking in with someone musically? Well, we did that straight away – mainly ‘cos Paul’s such a great bass player, but there’s something about our two styles that seem to work together and over the years I’d forgotten that. Playing live with Paul after so long reminded me just how good we used to be together – so it’s thanks to Professor and the Madman that we reconnected.”
I guess you had a lot to catch up on after 20 years? I ask.
“I got to say, when you’re in rehearsal you don’t get that much time to talk. You may get an hour before rehearsal in the pub and an hour in the pub afterwards, but yeah it was all good. In a ‘hippy-dippy’ way, the way you make music together is where the real communication happens – sometimes playing notes is a lot stronger than talking.”
It’s interesting, I note, how Paul is working with Professor and the Madman and he’s also in The Sensible Gray Cells with the Captain – it’s almost as if, in a ‘hippy-dippy’ way, these two worlds are likely to come together at some point.
Rat shifts uncomfortably in his chair as if he knows where this conversation is headed. He starts rolling a cigarette.
“What always made The Damned unique was the personalities in it,” he begins. “They were all ‘out of the box’ thinkers when it came to music. There aren’t that many people who share that same outlook, so it’s only logical that everyone should be gravitating towards each other and working together occasionally.”
“Brian and I have been doing bits and pieces together over the years and obviously I have been working with Paul too, so it’s not like we’ve been completely removed from each other over that time.”
We have to ask you Rat – now The Damned drum kit is sitting there, cold and empty since the departure of Pinch, is there a chance your arse could be warming that drum stool in the not too distant future?
Rat smiles and looks coy again as he lights his cigarette. Taking a deep draw and exhaling a plume of smoke Rat says with a wry smile:
“Oooh, be careful what you wish for.” He chuckles and takes another long drag.
You’re being cagey, Rat. Come on, it must have crossed your mind? Rat smiles but remains silent… so, would you like to play with the guys again?
“I think I would actually,” Rat says earnestly. “I don’t want to be standing around one of our graves talking to Dave or Captain saying, ‘we should have done that reunion’. We are lucky that we are all still alive and breathing and we can still play. So, yeah, I would hate for it to be too late to play with them and to be part of that again.”
“It’s later than you think,” he adds, “and sometimes you have to say ‘yes’. Life’s too short to let arguments and disputes and petty bickering get in the way of something that is worth a lot more than a bruised ego. So yeah,” he says, “I would love to do that! Who knows? We’ll have to wait and see.”
Rat gives a knowing smile. Is he rejoining the Damned? If he is, he’s playing his cards close to his chest at the moment.
“The thing I loved about the Damned was playing with them live,” Rat continues. “We used to see a lot of bands live back in the day, and they were all really good – they would go on stage and sound like their records and we could never figure out how they did that. We knew that we couldn’t do that. So, we’d just go on stage and be totally over the top – you know, setting fire to drums and all of those kinds of things.”
“Because of that, we knew that The Damned show was the best thing to pass through town that week. We also realised that every Saturday night there would be a different band on. One week it’d be us, the next week The Stranglers, the week after that it’d be The Jam – so we knew the competition was always there. We also knew that we couldn’t compete, so we said ‘let’s give the audience something to remember’ – ultimately that was The Captain pissing on the front row of the audience.” Rat smiles warmly with that memory.
Punk is making a huge resurgence at the moment – there are a lot of good new punk bands out there now, any advice for them?
“Take money out of your motive for picking up a guitar. Bands that do that come up with something much better. If you’ve got nothing to lose you can be creative and you can say things because it won’t make any difference. Your life’s not going to be made any worse by saying something – but,” Rat adds, “it could be made worse by not saying something.
“Do it yourself too. When you’re really young – we were 19, 20 – you’re at that age where you still think that people in suits are honest – they are like teachers and doctors. But, as many punk bands found out, not all people with suits are as honest as you think they’d be. Deals and contracts have never been in your favour to make money.”
Rat pauses and then says: “I guess it’s the same today. It’s hard to make money as an artist. The Sinclairs for example – me and Billy (Shinbone) put up two videos and we had a few thousand hits and we were really pleased with that but when I looked at the breakdown of what we would earn from it, it worked out at £1.20p each! Billy looked at me and said, ‘Well, I’ve had my eye on a nice packet of biscuits for some time now… I think I’ll splash out and buy ‘em.’” Rat chuckles.
Coming back to Professor and the Madman, Séance has got to be the least punk-influenced of the offerings from the band thus far. It has a more ’60s and ’70s ‘concept album’ feel to it. The storyline behind Séance is that basically, there are unknown forces, either Spirits or Aliens, behind the scenes watching mankind’s progress.
“Yeah, this album takes you on a journey in a way. When each song finished it sort of takes you somewhere else. Alfie and Sean constructed it that way too. This album really shows that they can write just really great tunes and the songs are diverse – which I really enjoy.”
The mystical journey this album takes you on must resonate with your own love of the esoteric! You father was even the President of The Saunière Society – a group dedicated to the pursuit of truth in all things and to the truth behind the mystery of Rennes-le-Château. That’s real Da Vinci Code stuff, isn’t it?
“Yeah, I love all that,” Rat says enthusiastically. “I think I am the Secretary of the Saunière Society or I might be the Chairman… but yeah, that alternative thinking, I love it. I was talking to my dad one day about flying saucers – and look, I’m very sceptical about everything I need to be able to scratch the window before I believe it’s real – but he said with all the hundreds of UFO reports you get, it only takes one of them to be true and then everything we know about life changes. It just turns everything on its head and it becomes a different world. That is an interesting concept to me. I would love to do my own TV show on all this stuff.”
Rat begins to roll another cigarette and says enthusiastically, “Life’s full of mystery, twists, and turns and stuff. I’m looking forward to seeing where it’s gonna take me next.”
Back to the Damned perhaps? All our fingers are crossed!
More Professor and the Madman
Séance is released on yellow vinyl, CD & download by Fullertone Records on November 13, 2020