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Interview with Dave Vanian

Interview with Dave Vanian

Dave Vanian needs no introduction, he is a legend as much for his individuality as for his music. As lead singer of The Damned, his was the first British punk band to release a single, put out an album and tour the United States. Dave also fronts his own Rockabilly band, David Vanian and His Phantom Chords. An icon for alternative cultures, Dave brought the Gothic image and lifestyle out of the shadows with his distinctive style, being one of the first men in music to wear make-up on stage and off.

In this long lost interview Alex Barker finds out about make-up, vampires and his interest in the moving picture.

Some consider you one of the first Punk Icons-if not the first and many musicians and fans alike consider you to be the first “Goth”, beating out Siouxsie, Robert Smith, and even Peter Murphy for the right to lay that claim. What is your take on this?

It is with some irony that I am considered an icon since before joining The Damned. My tastes in music, literature, art and any sort of sartorial style I have since been noted for pioneering, would have been the same in whatever profession I had chosen to pursue. So it was perhaps in some ways accidental that I find myself in this position.

What made originally enamoured you with looking like a Vampire?

Elegance, suavity, intelligence, what’s not to like?

When I saw Sweeney Todd, I thought, “Tim Burton’s made Johnny Depp look like Dave Vanian”. ..did you see the movie, and what did you think?

I have not seen the movie as of yet. Tim Burton seems to be working his way through iconic 80’s front men. Robert Smith; Edward Scissorhands, Dave Vanian; Sweeny Todd. Who’s next, Flock of Seagulls?

When you first debuted with the Damned, you became one of the first rock stars to “really” wear black lipstick. In fact, you looked like Udo Kier in Andy Warhol’s Blood For Dracula (with the addition of the black lipstick.) What had inspired you in the past as far as make-up was concerned?

Reared on predominantly Gothic Fiction, black and white expressionist films from the twenties and thirties and my love for art and all things esoteric, these things worked their way insidiously into my subconscious until to me the graveyard pallor, the black lips, black hair and smoky coal eyes, seemed perfectly natural. Even though the reality was I was as far from the Gothic Towers of Romantic Fiction as I was to the moon, I saw no reason why you couldn’t aspire to a life less ordinary.
There was to me nothing feminine about what I did. I never thought of myself as wearing’ girls make-up’, it was ‘male grooming’ and you make the best of your features either way.

What inspires you now?

Inspiration is nebulous and emotional and can strike at any time and can be any thing at all on any given day.

I hear the before you were singing for the Damned, you were a Grave Digger-what was that like?

It was a spiritual journey through the daisies.

What are your favourite Vampire Movies?

Lemora, a child’s tale, for its lyrical strangeness Andy Warhols Dracula, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and Frank Langella’s Dracula from the Balderstein play. I liked it for its sincerity in depicting the Yorkshire people. and the strength of Mina Harkers character as played by Kate Nelligan Gary Oldmans’ portrayal was superb in Coppola’s Dracula but unfortunately for me the rest of the cast weren’t up to much, and many many others.

And Speaking of Horror Films. . .What is Dave Vanian’s Dark Screen-and where can one see it?

It was a cable TV show which I hosted in the grand tradition of mystery theatre. It was very low budget. Budding film directors would send me a short clip they had made. I would show three or four clips per show, the idea being that at the end of the series we would select a winner. The quality of the clips was I found surprisingly good but unfortunately the show was cancelled, not fulfilling the run, as the Redemption TV channel became solely a music channel with no other programming. Pity.

What is your take on the on the rabid enthusiasm for punk and psychobilly?

Discerning music lovers.

Speaking of Psychobilly, It would not be a stretch to say that you influence most of the bands in that scene, maybe even more so than The Cramps and the Meteors. Have you encountered any of these younger bands on tours or during your travels, and if so, what is your opinion of them, their style, and their scene?

I have little or no influence on those bands, I was too late to be influential. My favourite is a two piece called Messer Chups from Russia.

I hear you are friends with Anja Huwe of Xmal Deutschland, and are were part of the original Illamasqua art team. What can you tell me about Anja and your involvement with Illamasqua?

Illamasqua’s roots are essentially from the joyous and decadent times where theatre and free expression were at its zenith. In today’s social climate of doom and gloom, Illamsqua is a much need antidote to this bitter pill. .A make up primarily designed for the twilight hours and the creatures that inhabit it. Which will give a flawlessly exquisite undead complexion if you so desire, or, where the only limitations are your imagination. This is a superior professional make up that you can buy over the counter to obtain to perfection your type of look.

Anja Huwe, I met for the first time on the Illamsqua Art Team. She is a driven and talented artist who, I believe, had an exhibition of her work in New York. She is well worth further investigation for anyone interested in modern art.


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