FEATURE RAY DAVIES
The Kinks, the Stones and the Beatles were the big three back in the 605. Thirty years later Brit pop is having a resurgence and the inﬂuence of singer song- writer Ray Davies is coming through loud and clear in the sound of bands like Blur. Alastair Mabbot spoke to the Kinks frontman who plays this year’s festival.
ot for The Kinks the ruthless nostalgia cash-in that is a new Rolling Stones tour or a Who reunion. Even if those in the know. such as Pete Townshend. rank him as the finest songwriter of the 60s. Ray Davies’ contrariness and legendary distaste for big business. as well as the erratic. troubled career of his band. has rendered their potential for milking the big dollar decidedly second division.
But what does that matter? Better the Village Green Preservation Society than the faceless conglomerate. and Davies‘ talents are too broad to be confined by rock anyway; his interest in thematic unity. showmanship and narrative led him into one of the earliest concept albums. The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. and towards stage and television. the medium for which the album Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire) was originally intended.
in Britain. Davies’ contribution has been largely overlooked in recent years. Here. The Kinks are remembered for their 60s and early- 7()s hits — ‘You Really Got Me’. ‘Dedicated Follower Of Fashion’. ‘Days’ and ‘Lola’. to name but four — but it’s a different story in America. where the band enjoyed an ‘incredible decade’ in the 80s.
Even so. fortune is favouring Ray Davies once more. his minutely-observed. idiosyncratic English pop songs providing a touchstone for a slew of current bands. Blur’s Damon Albam is most obviously indebted to Davies’ example — they even duetted on ‘Waterloo Sunset’ for one TV appearance — but that Kinks inﬂuence is becoming more and more pervasive. We shouldn’t be surprised if the new crop of Britpop bands turn to urban-pastoral song cycles or rock operas for their difficult third albums. Not unexpectedly. Davies prefers to play down any role as father-figure for a generation of new English bands.
‘lt‘s nice to be included as one of the people who inspired all that.’ he says. ‘but i think that people tend to forget that a writer doesn’t stop writing. and there‘s ongoing work. It’s a continuing process. If] didn’t create new work. I don’t think l’d do what I do any more. The important thing for me is the new work.’
The Kinks are still active. though you‘d be
14 The List 18-24 Aug 1995
forgiven for not having realised — ‘Everybody assumes we’ve broken up’ — but their career could have come to a permanent halt in 1987. when Davies contracted a bug which ended up as an arterial blood clot. He could have died. instead. he wrote his ‘unofticial autobiography’ X-Ray. a bizarre memoir written from the point of view of a cub reporter who has been sent by a sinister combine known as The Corporation to coax the septugenarian Ray Davies. R.D.. to tell his story. Throughout. R.D. is depicted as a creepy. paranoid. manipulative monster. ‘According to what I had read, this was one of his standard ploys: he deluded his companions into believing him to be so feeble that they would
Fortune is favouring Ray Davies once more, his minutely-observed, idiosyncratic English pop songs providing a touchstone for a slew of current bands.
indulge his slightest whim. Then he would snap
back, full of energy, and with a barrage of vitriolic cwnments. It was at moments like these that he was at his most dangerous. He was more than just temperamental. He was a total energy vampire,’ runs one passage.
‘1 imagined myself at over 70 years old,’ says Davies. ‘and if l’d gone down the road that R.D. has been down . . . a lot of people might end up like that. it is a projection, and that’s one thing that I’ve tried to project accurately. but I don’t know if I’m going to be around when l’m 70. The point is. that’s my calculated guess of RB. if things continue the way I expected them to continue. and also from other musicians or artists I’ve met that have been down a similar path in life. how they’ve become eccentric and always testing the people who are there to actually write good things about them and become their spokesperson. They’re always putting them through tests and making them jump hoops. Continually making them prove their loyalty.’
Disappointingly, for those who might want to gen up on the four years he spent with Chrissie Hynde, X-Ray only covers Davies’s life up to 1973. for ‘several reasons’.
‘The ﬁrst one is that because it’s about a young journalist going in and writing about this craggy old rock ’n’ roller, 1 wanted to assume the young guy’s personality and do a good journalistic job.
The people who commissioned him to write the book would say. “Just cover the hits." Over here. they focus — and I’m ﬂattered that they do — on songs like "Days" and “You Really Got Me”. That’s fine. I don’t want to ignore that. That was the reason for writing about that period.
‘And also.’ he reﬂects. ‘perhaps. RD. did finish in I973 and another person took over.’
When the book came out in hardback last year. Davies gave the obligatory readings and played a solo showcase in Ronnie Scott’s. He found that new material was emerging and structured it into an evening of readings and songs. trying out different things each night. The possibility is there that the material he’s coming up with might develop into his first solo album — after 31 years as a recording artist.
‘I think it was possibly the end of a cycle of songs that was really about family. growing up and achieving something and all the attendant things that go with that. That’s what that cycle was about.’ And after that? ‘My departure into my alter ego. Mr Flash. on Preservation. Norman in Soap Opera. Rock musicals. really. ending up with Arista and all those albums in the 1980s that ' were really successful. But not the same cycle.’
And is this a third stage he’s going through now?
‘I think three is a fairly good figure. Yeah. third cycle. I think it was someone like Stockhausen who said that his work is just constant work-in- progress. It didn’t end with his first symphony. one just joins on to another. it’s true. there is a theme in all these. I guess it’s a body of work. Yeah.’
Ray Davies plays the Assembly Rooms (Venue
3) 226 2428 front
18—27 Aug, llpm, £12 (£9).