10 minutes with... David Vanian

The lead singer of The Damned, former grave digger and lifelong bike fan stops off at the Ace Cafe on his 45 Flathead for a coffee and a chat

Posted: 25 October 2007
by Adam Harvey




The lead singer of The Damned, former grave digger and lifelong bike fan stops off at the Ace Cafe on his 45 Flathead for a coffee and a chat.

How did you get into bikes?
Both my parents used to ride bikes. They say the vibrations must have got into me. I've always been into bikes; as a kid I remember black chrome all around me and drooling over a midnight blue Triumph Daytona in a shop window. Unfortunately I didn't have enough money to buy it then. My first bike was a hybrid AJS with no brakes that I used to race round a field.

Where did you get your Flathead from?
I bought my Harley 10 years ago from a guy up north. He fixed it up to its current condition. It cost me �5000 - I had just made some money with the band for a change, so I thought, "If I don't get one now I never will". I'm glad I did, it's agricultural but I like it.

Does it have a name?
I like to call her Big Red.

What is it that appeals?
I like the shape. The 45 has a swan neck frame like no other Harley. It's pretty reliable but, like most things, it has its ups and downs. I admire the heavy engineering, no rear suspension, the basic-ness of it and I'm amazed at how it all works. I'm proud of it.

Have you ever taken her on tour?
I wish I could but it would take me all day to get anywhere. It's 60 years old and Flatheads aren't renowned for their speed, but back in its day they used to race them at Daytona and reach speeds of more than 100mph.

Has anyone ever offered to buy Big Red?
I don't think anyone knows I own it so no one has offered, which is the way I like it. I just cruise around and do what I do. I would never sell her, it means too much to me.

When do you find time to ride?
Opportunities are few and far between at the moment. I'm off to Japan for a couple of weeks, writing a new album and doing gigs at Donington. My idea of touring is going out on Big Red and making it back the same day.

Does anyone in the band ride with you?
When Rat [Scabies] was in the band he used to ride with me, go to speedway together and other stuff. The band today are all anti-cars, anti-bikes, anti-everything. One guy in the band has never driven anything and never will. He believes everyone should walk everywhere.

Do you like the attention you get from riding the Harley?
I'm too busy concentrating on riding to notice anyone noticing me, but there's the occasional old fella who says, "My friend used to have one of those".

Are you a member of any clubs?
I used to be a member of the old 45s club but it doesn't happen anymore. That was cool - guys on old 45s, Indians, 70s and 80s bikes, for a while that was fantastic. When you've got a bike like mine you can't relate to many people about it so I tend to stick around people who have older machinery. The 45 club went to Holland on a run called the 'Old Timers'. Bit of an adventure, the primary chain broke and I got lost, then the speedo broke and I had no idea how fast I was going; I just pushed the bike as fast as it would go. I arrived at the ferry with a cloud of black smoke surrounding me, just in time for the last boat. It was great, a three-day event, around 300 riders all on old bikes.

What do you love more, your Harley or your wife?
I love my wife more, she's got a Harley too although she's not riding at the moment because she's just had our baby girl. I don't like the idea of my little girl jumping on a bike and shooting off at 16, though. Scary.

What bikes catch your eye today?
Nothing modern. If I had the option I'd buy a Vincent Black Shadow, Brough Superior, vintage Triumph or maybe another Daytona. I must try and track my old one down.

Has your passion for motorbikes made any impact on your records?
Not with the Damned, although there was a song called Psycho Mania that related to my passion for bikes. With The Damned it's just me and them, sort of thing. With my other band Phantom Cords it crops up quite a lot.

Anything you'd like to say to your fans?
Don't give up on us just yet; we've got another album coming out. Without the fans we wouldn't be here.


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Discuss this story

love this man (Vanian) he should do more interviews

Posted: 18/08/2011 at 11:28

The Damned need to do more interviews, when their documentary comes out hope it's a hit they are the only original punk band still going strong, Keep on rolling The Damned.

Posted: 04/07/2012 at 02:40

Talkback: 10 minutes with... David Vanian