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Evergreen - - Contents Summer 2015 - Bill Bax­ter

IBill “The Beat” Bax­ter

t’s won­der­ful how, when seen through the prism of a beau­ti­ful song and sprin­kled with the magic dust of mu­sic and lyrics, os­ten­si­bly or­di­nary places can sud­denly be­come much more colour­ful, vivid and alive. Dur­ing the last 50 years a num­ber of pop­u­lar songs have im­mor­talised English lo­ca­tions. You’ll be able to think of nu­mer­ous oth­ers, but my favourites in­clude “Penny Lane” ( The Bea­tles), “Grantch­ester Mead­ows” ( Pink Floyd) and “Sols­bury Hill” ( Peter Gabriel).

Thou­sands of songs in ev­ery pos­si­ble style have been writ­ten about Lon­don, from “Lon­don Pride” ( Noel Cow­ard) and “Maybe It’s Be­cause I’m A Lon­doner” ( Bud Flana­gan), to “Lon­don Call­ing” ( The Clash) and “Home­town Glory” ( Adele). The very best of these songs seem to cap­ture, not only the places they celebrate and what they meant to the song­writ­ers, but the times when they were writ­ten. So, con­tin­u­ing the Lon­don theme, if “A Nightin­gale Sang in Berke­ley Square” sung by Vera Lynn is the per­fect, ro­man­tic evo­ca­tion of the cap­i­tal dur­ing the war, “Waterloo Sunset” by The Kinks is an equally at­mo­spheric, sto­ry­telling snap­shot of the city in the buzzing 1960s.

It is this hit record from 1967 I am putting on the turntable in this is­sue. Speak­ing of which, I was de­lighted to read a re­port in a news­pa­per re­cently that sales of vinyl sin­gles and LPs have reached a 20- year high.

For me, you’ll never beat the old­fash­ioned 33 and 45rpm records. Has there ever been a bet­ter sound, or one loaded with more an­tic­i­pa­tion, than the gen­tle crackle and hiss as a sty­lus makes con­tact with a black, spin­ning disc?

Although the line- up of The Kinks changed through­out their roller­coaster record­ing and per­form­ing ca­reer, the two con­stants were Ray Davies ( the main song­writer) and younger brother Dave. The two boys ( with six older sis­ters) grew up in a work­ing- class home in Muswell Hill, North Lon­don, where Satur­day- night par­ties in the front room saw peo­ple from the lo­cal pub and an ar­ray of aunts, un­cles and cousins join­ing in sin­ga­longs around the pi­ano. These noisy, chaotic gath­er­ings in­tro­duced Ray and Dave to an in­cred­i­ble va­ri­ety of mu­si­cal styles from the old stan­dards their par­ents en­joyed to pop­u­lar mu­sic- hall favourites, jazz and early rock and roll.

I haven’t the space here to go into the stop- go- stop- go mu­si­cal jour­ney of The Kinks and the bands that pre­ceded them, or in­deed the com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two broth­ers, but you can see how ex­po­sure to so many dif­fer­ent gen­res fed into their mu­sic. I don’t think any pop group has cre­ated such a var­ied cat­a­logue of songs: from the heavy rock of “You Re­ally Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night”, through the more gen­tle “Tired of Wait­ing for You” and “See My Friends” to the satir­i­cal “Sunny Af­ter­noon”, “A Well Re­spected Man” and “Ded­i­cated Fol­lower of Fash­ion”. There was much more, of course, in­clud­ing, from 1968, the lovely “Au­tumn Al­manac” and a clas­sic, much- un­der­rated “con­cept” al­bum: The Kinks Are The Vil­lage Green Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety.

In­ter­viewed in The In­de­pen­dent in 2011, Ray Davies gave some fas­ci­nat­ing in­sights into the ge­n­e­sis

of the song: “I didn’t think to make it about Waterloo ini­tially, but I re­alised the place was so very sig­nif­i­cant in my life. I was in St. Thomas’ Hos­pi­tal when I was re­ally ill ( when he was 13), and the nurses would wheel me out on the bal­cony to look at the river. It was also about be­ing taken down to the Fes­ti­val of Bri­tain with my mum and dad. It’s about the two char­ac­ters in the song, and the as­pi­ra­tions of my sis­ters’ gen­er­a­tion be­fore me, who grew up dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. It’s about the world I wanted them to have. That, and then walk­ing by the Thames with my first wife, and all the dreams that we had.”

Else­where, he re­vealed that, hav­ing been caught up in the Mersey­beat sound and inspired by the won­der­ful re­cep­tion The Kinks al­ways got in the city, he was orig­i­nally go­ing to call the song “Liver­pool Sunset”. As

for “the two char­ac­ters” in the song, when the record was re­leased it was widely as­sumed that they were the “in” cou­ple of the day, Ter­ence Stamp and Julie Christie who starred op­po­site one another in Far from the Madding Crowd. Ray has al­ways de­nied this, say­ing in an in­ter­view: “It was a fan­tasy about my sis­ter go­ing off with her boyfriend to a new world and they were go­ing to em­i­grate and go to another coun­try.”

“Waterloo Sunset”, which also fea­tured band mem­bers Pete Quaife ( bass guitar) and Mick Avory ( drums), reached num­ber two in the UK charts on 27th May 1967, kept off the top spot by “Si­lence is Golden” by The Tremeloes. The rest of the top five that week were “Ded­i­cated to the One I Love” ( The Ma­mas and Pa­pas), “Then I Kissed Her” ( The Beach Boys) and “Pup­pet on a String” ( Sandie Shaw). The song was in­cluded on Some­thing Else, an al­bum which also fea­tured “Death of a Clown”, a solo hit for Dave Davies later in the year when it reached num­ber three in the charts.

On writ­ing “Waterloo Sunset”, Ray Davies com­mented: “I had achieved ev­ery­thing I set out to do cre­atively and I was 22 years old.” How­ever, the mu­si­cal ge­nius has con­tin­ued to write and per­form, in­clud­ing an ap­pear­ance at the clos­ing cer­e­mony of the Lon­don 2012 Olympics when he sang — What else could it be? — “Waterloo Sunset”. There are re­ports of the sur­viv­ing mem­bers of The Kinks ( Peter Quaife died in 2010) work­ing to­gether again, while Ray was buoyed by the re­cent suc­cess of Sunny Af­ter­noon, the Kinks- inspired mu­si­cal, which picked up four pres­ti­gious Olivier Awards. Ray him­self re­ceived an award for Out­stand­ing Achieve­ment in Mu­sic.

Is “Waterloo Sunset”, as one jour­nal­ist de­scribed it, “the most beau­ti­ful song of the rock and roll era”? I think it prob­a­bly is.


Sunset over the River Thames and the fa­mous sta­tion where Terry met Julie.

The Kinks in 1965. Left to right: Peter Quaife, Dave Davies, Ray Davies, Mick Avory.

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