10-12: Many people might not know that you started out in the band Eddie and the Hot Rods. What was that like? You were achieving success with songs like “Do Anything You Wanna Do”. Do you still enjoy the memories of that time, and did you cope well with the national exposure being so young?
A: One month I was a 16-year-old schoolboy, the next month I was in Eddie & the Hotrods. They’d only played a few local gigs at the time I joined, and five months later we would set London alight and score a record deal with Island. So it was pretty mad. I was like a kid in a candy shop — well, we all were! The band only signed with Island because their A&R guy bought us the most beers. We had no grand plans and never thought we’d get a deal — right band, right place, right time, I suppose. Shortly thereafter, the new wave / punk thing started so it was a brilliant time to be around. We coped with it all by taking advantage of everything we could … let’s just leave it at that!
10-12: You joined the Damned at a time when they were moving away from the more hard-edged Punk sound; were you a bit apprehensive regarding their reputation as a band? Was Punk music something you got into with the early bands when it first emerged in 76/77?
A: I didn’t like most of the stuff that ended up labelled punk. It started as a DIY movement but was quickly jumped on by the press, svengali-type managers, and, * gulp *, the “music business.” I’m a melody person, always have been, always will be, and there was precious little melody in most punk stuff. I quite liked the Stranglers, a bit of Magazine and Buzzcocks, but the Damned had it all — great songs, great energy, and a hell-for-leather, no-holds-barred attitude that was immensely attractive. I much preferred most of the US stuff actually — the Dolls, MC5, Stooges. I quite liked living, and the Damned have always been pretty dangerous, so I did bide my time before jumping ship to join them. But hey, you only live once!
Play: The Damned – Hit or Miss
10-12: You seem to have kept a good relationship up with The Captain over the years, then with your Sensible Gray Cells collaborations. Do you both share a taste in music or was it a case of see what happens when you got together?
A: We have one of those rare musical relationships that just works. We have immense respect for each other, and Captain’s songs are a joy for me to play, chock full of melodies and there’s always so much scope for me as a bassist. We have similar musical tastes — from Grand Funk to Abba, via the ’60s U.S. garage bands — so when we get together it always seems to work without really trying. The SGC collaboration came about as The Damned at the time weren’t gonna release an album any time soon, so he came down to mine for a weekend to knock some ideas about. We got the subject matter sorted out down the pub on the first night and he ended up staying a week. We had no idea how it might turn out, it was very DIY, but it was great fun to work with him again.
10-12: UFO seems to be a totally different direction musically from The Damned or Eddie & the Hot Rods. How did you come to join them and was it a different experience playing to a more metal audience?
A: I knew their guitarist at the time, Paul Chapman. We both lived in Cardiff and got merry in the same pubs. He was quite a character, I tell ya! He knew I was up for pretty much anything, so when Billy Sheehan didn’t work out I got the call. Again, it was right time, right place. For various reasons I’d reached the end of my enjoyment with the Damned at that particular time, so I jumped at the chance to do something different. He called me up very drunk one night from Spain and said they’d just started a world tour and was I up for it? I immediately flew out and did my first stadium gig with them, with no rehearsals, the following week. Unfortunately, the singer had a nervous breakdown halfway through and the next day we found ourselves back on a plane to the UK with a five-month tour in tatters. It wasn’t the best start to joining a band! Happily, Phil got better, got a new line-up together, and I enjoyed four great years with them. Yeah, it was pretty different. I had to be more on the ball as everything was much more precise, but that discipline certainly did me good as a bassist. Offstage, discipline went right outta the window, but that’s another story … or book, haha.
10-12: You have recently teamed up with another Damned member, with both you and Rat Scabies joining Alfie Agnew (The Adolescents, D.I.) and Sean Elliott (D.I.) in Professor and the Madman. How difficult is this collaboration seeing as there is a large piece of water separating you both from Alfie and Sean (UK & USA)?
A: Surprisingly easy! Sean had sent an exploratory message on FB about a year back saying here’s a track of ours, would you be interested in playing bass? It only took about four bars and I knew I wanted to do it. Sean and Alf are such great songwriters, very much in the same vein as the Captain, so I instantly felt an affinity with what they were doing and knew pretty much straightaway what I could add to it. I liked the track so much I immediately knocked out a bass line on my Macbook and sent it back. It took me longer to figure out how to convert the bloody thing into the right sound file than it did to record it! They liked it so much that’s what ended up on the track. So we carried on from there. They’re incredibly together and it’s a joy to collaborate with them. I’m very proud of my playing on the album — those guys bring out the best in me!
10-12: With both Bass and Drums usually being the engine room of a band, did you and Rat revert back to your days in the Damned instantly or was this a different experience for you both?
A: Remote recording is just that. Rat does the drums in London, I do mine at home in Wales, and the guys put it all together in California. It’s very different from working together in the studio. In many ways I actually prefer it — it’s easier on the old ears for a start! Personally, I didn’t revert to anything. I did what I’ve always done, reacted instinctively from the heart to what’s been presented to me. And I was presented with absolute gems!
10-12: The new Professor and the Madman album “Disintegrate Me” is out on 23.02.18. Was there a good mix of UK and USA that influenced the sound?
A: Well, you tell me … I guess as the band is 50/50 UK/US the answer is probably yes!
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10-12: There are some tracks on “Disintegrate Me” that sound almost theatrical and slightly experimental in their sound. Was this the intended direction from the start of the album?
A: A lot of the finished album is from the original demo takes, and that concurs with my way of working in that the initial idea is often the best and can get lost with endless fucking about in the studio. That initial spark that suggests a song is usually the best — that’s been kept. What has been added on top has simply enhanced that initial spark. But I know the guys had in their heads where they wanted the songs to go right from the start, and I think they’ve handsomely achieved those goals.
10-12: You once took up a role within the British Musicians Union of Regional Officer for Wales & Southwest England. How did this come about?
A: I still work full time for the BMU. I’m the Organiser for Wales and southwest England — a huge area. The MU helped me out on many occasions back in the day with priceless contract advice, so when a job offer came up a dozen or so years ago, I jumped at it. I’ve got severe tinnitus and at that time I was unable to do anything musical. It was a bleak period. I’ve been through pretty much all the crap a musician can go through, so I was a natural for the job! It’s very challenging — one minute I’m dealing with an orchestral issue, the next a teachers’ disciplinary, the next a copyright query, and the next a band fall-out. It keeps life interesting! Its hard work but I really enjoy it. I think unions are very important to working people, not least musicians who are often at the receiving end of exploitation and can feel very isolated.
10-12: Your new adventure is back in the Damned. This has had a positive reaction from Damned fans, how has it been being back in the band?
A: In some ways very odd and in others it feels like I’ve never been away. Ask me again after the tour!
10-12: Are you happy with preparations for the upcoming tour, and how is the new album sounding now that it’s in its final stages?
A: What preparations, haha … some things never change in the Damned. The tour starts in a week and we’ve still not decided on a set list! The album sounds great. Lots of variety which, I think, is really the band at their best. We had no rehearsals before recording commenced in New York, but as soon as we started playing it just worked. No matter how varied the songs may be, they always sound like the Damned. It’s certainly not a punk album. What would be the point in that? But It definitely sounds like a band firing away on all six cylinders live in the studio — which is pretty much what we wanted— with some great psychedelic stuff over the top. I’m immensely lucky to have played on two such great albums in the same year … who’d have thought!
10-12: What would you say are your own personal favourites, Band, Album and gig you have attended?
A: Gig – Hawkwind, Space Ritual, 1972. That gig changed my life. Lemmy on bass, of course. I suddenly realised there was another world outside the dreary suburbia I was growing up in, and I wanted some of it! Album and band — way too many I’m afraid. Deep Purple’s Machine Head, MC5’s Back in the USA, the Who’s Live at Leeds, and Mountain Live are all at pole position and had a big influence on me.
10-12: With you coming up to your 60th year what has been your proudest moment or moments in music?
A: Every day I’m doing it is a proud moment. That’s an easy answer, I know, but playing every day with the people I’ve played with sure beats the alternative life I was heading for back in 1972. I can tell ya!
10-12: How is 2018 looking for Paul Gray?
A: Fucking ace mate!
Photos courtesy of Alistair Heep & Punk77