The Collapse Board Interview: Rat Scabies (The Damned)

The Collapse Board Interview: Rat Scabies (The Damned)
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Rat Scabies, born Christopher John Millar, is a musician best known as the drummer for punk legends, the Damned. His distinct style and energetic performances with his band, contributed significantly to the band’s success and their lasting impact on the punk genre. Creative differences led to his departure from the band in the mid-1990s but following reunion shows with the original line-up of the band, he re-joined as a permanent member in late 2023.

Ahead of their upcoming Australian tour, we caught up with the drummer to talk about his re-joining the band and the Damned’s musical evolution from their original 1976 punk roots to the songs from The Black Album (1980) and Strawberries (1982), albums that are being highlighted on this tour. 


You spent 26 years not being in the Damned. What did you miss about not being in the Damned?

It wasn’t 26 years.

 I thought it was sometime back in the 1990s.

Oh, it might have been. Let me see. Actually, do you know what? My God, you’re right. ’96 I think it was. Fucking Hell!

I know, time just gets away from you.

Yeah, well, it’s a funny sort of feeling. I suppose, I didn’t really expect to be here doing this. You get used to organising your own stuff, you know. It’s funny because you’re just very well known for being in the Damned and so it’s quite a step to move yourself away from that and get recognition for work in your own right. It’s that sort of thing.

Did you keep up with what the band were doing or in the meantime did you just leave them to it?

I left them to it, really. You know, I wasn’t there. It wasn’t really anything to do with me. They were carrying on as they were and I always felt good about the part that I’d already played. All those records, I loved making them and I still really enjoy listening to a lot of it now.

What was it about those 2022 shows with Brian James that made you want to step back into the fold?

Well, everyone kissed and made up. It was one of those things that the first step was the biggest.  Nobody had ever wanted to sort of back down or say, “Oh, well, I made a mistake there,”  but once we’d taken that first step, it fell into place a lot more about actually what the band meant, in a musical sense, and about how much fun we could have playing the songs. And it was an enjoyable experience. We all came away with that feeling, everyone in the band, without fail. We all had individual conversations at one point where everyone said, “This has been great fun, we should really do something else.”

Your upcoming Australian tour is the line-up of the band with Paul Gray playing bass and you’re doing songs from The Black Album and Strawberries. Do you think this is a period of the band that gets overlooked?

I think, yeah, in some quarters. I think in the history books, they see the Damned’s most important album as the first one, because that was the groundbreaking, you know, “Here we are and this is all new and fresh.” I think that as we developed and evolved as players and as musicians, I think the audiences grew but the place in the history books didn’t because we were never a platinum selling band or anything like that. So we kind of got overlooked and also we had a very chaotic business side with management problems and things like that.

We never signed to a major label like the Pistols and the Clash did, which meant that the record company and the deals we had just really weren’t putting the records out and they kind of went bust and into liquidation. So a lot of the things that we had just kind of fell by the wayside and got buried. It didn’t get buried deliberately by the industry, but it was buried because we weren’t a big enough part of it. I think signing to a major label, that was one of the things, that it always gave you was longevity.

I’m not old enough to remember punk, but sometimes it almost feels like it was convenient to put you and a bunch of other bands into a scene so the music press could write about you and later on people could make documentaries about 1976. But did feel you fitted in with all the other bands that were around at that time?

Yeah. I mean it was a very odd thing to be a part of in a way, because it was a very natural event. It was an attitude about what was going on around you. How boring that kind of prog rock generation and music and having to play. You had to be kind of Jeff Beck or somebody to even get on stage in a pub. You had to be kind of overqualified.

I think it was very interesting because it was an Australian band that really brought it home to me that this wasn’t just a London thing and it wasn’t just us. That was the Saints, obviously. I remember we put out ‘Neat, Neat, Neat’ as a single and we were like Number One in a paper for about eight weeks or something, in Sounds or one of those things. Then the Saints turn up and that is it, we were gone. What was really impressive was that there was this great record, ‘Stranded’, this wonderful band, but they were in Australia. How the fuck did they know what was going on or about energy and attitude and that distorted thing and the lyrics. That really drove home to me that this was a wave of emotion of the next generation.

When I asked about fitting in with the other bands, you did weird and unexpected things, Led Zeppelin liked, you got Nick Mason from Pink Floyd to produce your second album. I can’t imagine the Sex Pistols entertaining things like that.

No, well we knew the Pistols and the Clash and all that. We all sort of played together, we all hung out, we all drank beer, we all did the thing, we were kicking footballs around with the Clash at rehearsals. There was a real thing about “The Clash are like that, so we’re not going to have the paint on our clothes,” and “The Pistols, this thing going with Malcolm and their sound and their imagery.” For us, the thing was not to be the same. If you look at the initiating punk bands, none of them had anything in common musically.  It was only done later on when people listened to it and went, “Oh, right, that’s the formula. This is what we do and this is punk rock.” Really, it was just about being different.

As I mentioned before, Paul Gray came in for The Black Album and then Strawberries. What do you think he brought to the band?

Well, his bass playing is something else anyway. He’s that guy who finds the notes that matter.  I’ve thought about this. I don’t want to compare him to anyone, but if I had to, I’d say he’s a cross between Lemmy and John Entwistle. He just knows where to put the right thing and I find him very easy to work with and to play with. I don’t have to think about what he’s going to do next because I know he’s going to do the right thing. I think also his musicality, not only in his bass playing, but he also turns in tunes and is a writer. 

One of the great things about The Damned was that all the doors were open, there wasn’t a songwriter, there wasn’t the guy in charge. It was everybody had ideas and everybody put things in, and if you wanted to try something out and experiment, then that was good. That’s kind of what helped make us sound different to a lot of other people.

For The Black Album, what was driving that of change in sound, those gothic sounds and psychedelia influences, that really came into being on that album? 

We’d grown up a bit. We were very good at doing three chord punk songs and that stuff. But actually we started getting bored with that and realised that what we had to do was to please ourselves.

All that ‘Pebbles‘ and ‘Nuggets‘ and American psychedelia was great fun to listen to but also a great influence in terms of guitar sounds and attitudes to what you could and couldn’t do on a record. And we realised that our audience was growing with us. We were also probably also just as bored. I mean, it was quite a big step to do ‘Curtain Call’.

Where did ‘Curtain Call’ come from and was it an easy decision to include it on the album?

Oh, it was a very easy decision. I mean, it came from Dave and Captain, really. It was Dave’s baby. For me, it was one big experiment. I didn’t know, I only found out yesterday that they’d actually demoed and they put some of the ideas together and it was still work in progress. We had Hans Zimmer working with us then, producing the album, we got him in to play synth really, more than anything else, but he was quite good at it.

It was great for us because there we were, we had the whole thing with the studio, we had Hans Zimmer, we had a record company that didn’t mind us being experimental and working outside of the punk rock market, if you like. So when you combine those things, and the fact that we were still very naïve about what we should be doing. A lot of the mistakes we made were beautiful accidents, happy accidents.

Did you ever worry that people would say “17 minutes? The Damned have gone prog rock”?

Oh, absolutely. I was quite convinced it would either kill or cure us. But like I say, I think our audience had grown at the same time and the same sort of speed that we had and I think they were ready for something that wasn’t the same as the rest of their record collection.

Strawberries is completely different again. It’s still the Damned, it still sounds like a Damned record, but there’s a lot more 60s psychedelia on it. Did you decide the direction you wanted to go in at the time or was it quite organic how it turned out?

No, I mean, we did obviously discuss what we were doing and what we wanted to do but, quite often you listen to something like ‘I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)‘ and it would be “What a great guitar sound. Can we do that? Can we get something like that?” and “Oh, that’s a sitar guitar over there, let’s try one of those.” There was never a deliberate, “Let’s have some of that,” it was where we were. It was, you know, smoking dope and listening to records.

Although it wasn’t released at the time, Robert Fripp also played on the sessions for that album, on the song ‘Fun Factory’. Did people ask to come and play with you or did you ask them?

No, usually we’d ask them. But it was it was quite interesting because we found that there were two attitudes to punk rock in 76, 77. The smart money were friendly and understood what was going on and what we were doing and why we were doing it and what we were about. Very kindred spirit to somebody like Lol Coxhill. We literally saw him at a petrol station in London and it was like, “Wow, that’s Lol Coxhill!” We knew about all the alternatives, Soft Machine and that leftfield, kind of, Ollie Halsall and that prog rock thing that had been going on. But the cool ones like Lol Coxhill and Robert Fripp, the ones that were bright, you know, were very, very keen to join in.

This has been billed as the last Australian tour for the band. Do musicians ever properly retire?

I don’t know. You’ve got to do something, though, haven’t you? I can’t just sit on the couch watching TV and while the arthritis lets me, I’m going to keep going. It’s what I’ve spent my whole life doing. I didn’t mean to. I was lucky enough to be able to play and to go all the places and do all the things. So whether it’s the last one or whether that’s just good marketing from the promoters, I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see. We got we got these tours to go through and I think by the time we get to the end of it, we’ll have a much better idea about what direction we decide to take next.

My introduction, and probably my generation’s introduction to the Damned was slightly after the period this tour’s focusing on, and it was seeing the band on The Young Ones. How did that come about and did you see that as important for sort of bringing in that new audience that was too young for the Damned in 1976?

Oh, yeah. The thing with the Young Ones was that you couldn’t buy your way onto it. Everybody wanted to be on that show, but only, you know, Rik Mayall and co, would decide who the band would actually be. So it wasn’t that you could just go on it. So they got in touch with us and they had that episode ‘Nasty’ and said, “Oh, well, let’s get the Damned in.”  So it really was as simple and as boring as that. They asked us, we said yes.

At the time it was the funniest thing on TV and it really rubber stamped your credibility, “You must be cool because they only have the really cool bands on.”  It was good to do and it was important to make a difference. And it still lives on now. We still get questions about it. You know, it was a TV show, I don’t know how many years ago, so to even still exist as a thing, it’s a lot more than you ever expect to get.


20 March – The Tivoli, Brisbane – TICKETS

21 March – Enmore Theatre, Sydney – TICKETS

22 March – Northcote Theatre, Melbourne SOLD OUT

24 March – Hindley St Music Hall, Adelaide – TICKETS

26 March – Astor Theatre, Perth (Last Ever Show in Australia)TICKETS

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