Ray Davies

UNCUT - - Contents - Photo by alex lake

We find the for­mer Kink in re­flec­tive mood at Konk Stu­dios, as he talks UK pol­i­tics, re­la­tions with brother Dave, and the lat­est al­bum in his Amer­i­cana tril­ogy

To Konk Stu­dios for an au­di­ence with its pro­pri­etor, SIR RAY DAVIES. There Andy Gill dis­cov­ers the for­mer Kink in a philo­soph­i­cal mood, re­flect­ing on re­cent up­heavals in British so­ci­ety, his own well-re­spected legacy and the cur­rent state of re­la­tions be­tween brother Dave and him­self. Although there is a new al­bum due - Our Coun­try, the next chap­ter in his Amer­i­cana tril­ogy - Davies’ eyes are firmly fixed on the hori­zon. “I’ve got a great story,” he con­fides. “It’s about sib­lings…” IHornsey. t is an un­fea­si­bly sunny April af­ter­noon at Ray Davies’ Konk Stu­dios in north Lon­don. the com­plex sprawls dis­creetly, tardis-like, through sev­eral semis in gen­teel sub­ur­ban

Upon learn­ing I ar­rived via the A406, Lon­don’s no­to­ri­ous North Cir­cu­lar, Davies mur­murs, “I wrote a song about the 406 once. It’s called ‘Ag­gra­va­tion’…” Davies knows about ag­gra­va­tion. In­deed, it seems to have pro­lif­er­ated ex­po­nen­tially through much of his ca­reer. the fa­mously vi­o­lent ag­gro that con­sti­tutes such a sto­ried part of the Kinks’ leg­end led to the ag­gra­va­tion of their be­ing banned from tour­ing Amer­ica for much of the ’60s, which in turn helped pre­cip­i­tate the busi­ness and sub­se­quent le­gal ag­gra­va­tions that pre­vented Ray from ac­cess­ing his due song­writer’s roy­al­ties for sev­eral years. It’s a cruel trail of top­pling domi­noes that brought this mild-man­nered fel­low to the brink of break­down. You want ag­gra­va­tion? He’s plenty to spare.

In re­cent years, though, Ray’s ship has docked with a sat­is­fy­ingly re­demp­tive cargo of dis­tinc­tions. Sunny

Af­ter­noon, the juke­box mu­si­cal built around his Kinks cat­a­logue, won a hat­ful of Olivier Awards, in­clud­ing his Out­stand­ing Achieve­ment In Mu­sic. And, of course, he is our most re­cently en­no­bled mu­si­cal Knight – though you’d never guess it from his ap­pear­ance, which is res­o­lutely ca­sual, from plaid shirt to train­ers. He’s sur­pris­ingly soft-spo­ken, too; a tad with­ered by age, but the in­fi­nite va­ri­ety of his cre­ativ­ity re­mains undimmed.

We set up in one of the stu­dios, where the floor groans mo­men­tar­ily un­der my tread. “that part of the floor’s creaked for years,” chuck­les Ray. “It’s where the vo­cal mic was set up, so it got a lot of pun­ish­ment.” He gazes round the room with the air of ge­nial wist­ful­ness that char­ac­terised so many of the Kinks’ clas­sics. “the Kinks were a good band,” he says, need­lessly. “this room holds many mem­o­ries for me. We recorded loads of records here: Mick Avory’s drums would be set up over there, be­neath the con­trol room. that line from his “un­of­fi­cial au­to­bi­og­ra­phy” X-Ray is about here, ‘The air con­di­tion­ing had all his songs on its breath’.” Well, not quite all of them. Davies has hun­dreds of un­recorded, un­fin­ished songs hoarded away, just

“I miss the Cold War. You knew where you stood”

await­ing a home in one of his many the­matic projects. A forth­com­ing An­niver­sary Edi­tion of The Kinks’ mas­ter­piece The Vil­lage Green Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety will in­clude an­other 20 or so un­re­leased songs, he re­veals, while the im­mi­nent sec­ond in­stal­ment of his al­bum tril­ogy, Our Coun­try: Amer­i­cana Act II, is due to be fol­lowed by a third next year. Like a dog with a bone, once Davies gets his teeth into a project, it gets well and truly chewed. In a sense he re­ally is his work, as if he’s try­ing to sub­sti­tute his ac­tions for his self. Tellingly, when he wrote X-Ray, he de­vised an in­ge­nious semi-fic­tional for­mat that al­lowed him to re­main ef­fec­tively at one re­move from his own life.

So it’s no sur­prise that, although calm and col­lected, there’s an un­der­ly­ing air of melan­cholic rest­less­ness about Davies, con­firmed by the rev­e­la­tions that he has no pic­tures on his walls and never un­packs his suit­case – as if al­ways ready to es­cape. Pos­si­bly from him­self. “I’m still es­sen­tially that kid walk­ing around north Lon­don,” he ad­mits, “look­ing for some­where to go.” You’re now Sir Ray Davies. As a work­ing-class out­sider, did you have any qualms about ac­cept­ing a knight­hood? I thought about it a bit. I was of­fered one be­fore, but this time I thought about my par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion, peo­ple born on the cusp of the First World War who lived through the Sec­ond World War, strug­gled all their lives, and un­leashed brats like us in the 1960s who wanted to undo all the things they’d tried so hard to put to­gether. I did it for my par­ents, my fam­ily, who were thrilled. Iron­i­cally, all the pub­lic-school guys who fed off your suc­cess in the ’60s would be ab­so­lutely green with envy at your en­nobling. The sort of pub­lic-school guys I knew… Kim Philby was a pub­lic-school boy. I went to col­lege with his son John. On sum­mer break, he said, “I’m go­ing to see my fa­ther.” I said, “Where’s that?” He said, “Moscow!” When he came back af­ter the hol­i­days, he was fol­lowed around by MI5 for days. They tailed us to the pub. It was the height of the Cold War then. You know, I miss the Cold War. You knew where you stood back then. The ti­tle track of Our Coun­try con­tains an ex­plicit cel­e­bra­tion of im­mi­gra­tion into Bri­tain, of the var­i­ous cul­tures feed­ing into it. The song was writ­ten for many dif­fer­ent rea­sons. Part of it was our coun­try, us be­ing the in­vaders go­ing into Amer­ica. Then I started writ­ing freeform lyrics, and it

turned out to be a right-wing man­i­festo, so I knocked that one on the head! The first verse is about the ’60s changes in my coun­try, how any­body leav­ing our coun­try got dis­il­lu­sioned. Then it turns into a mass of speeches. So you can take it in many dif­fer­ent ways. And now we have the Win­drush dis­grace. The Caribbean brought great mu­sic – ska, reg­gae, all great rhyth­mic things – to Bri­tain. So to be told you don’t be­long is aw­ful. I heard you have to have four dif­fer­ent pieces of proof for each year you’ve been here – who has that? But it makes Our Coun­try, dare I say, top­i­cal. It could have been writ­ten this year. Do you see your­self as es­tab­lish­ing a vein of English song­writ­ing, or are you more part of a longer tra­di­tion, such as Noël Cow­ard? I think I could be brack­eted within that tra­di­tion. From very early on, there was big play made of the fact that we sang in our Lon­don ac­cents. My in­spi­ra­tion was the blues – Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Wa­ters – but my de­liv­ery was al­ways very English. I re­mem­ber once, do­ing an al­bum in the ’70s, I said I want it more like Mad Dogs & English­men. Mick

[Avory] said, “What do you mean – like Leon Rus­sell?” I said, “No. Like Noël Cow­ard!” Some would say you were a pre­cur­sor of Brexit decades ago, with al­bums like Vil­lage Green

Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety and Arthur lament­ing the ero­sion of parochial English cul­ture. It’s such a hor­ri­ble word, the B-word. But there’s an an­niver­sary edi­tion of Vil­lage Green Preser­va­tion

So­ci­ety com­ing out later this year, and it brings a new dy­namic to it. Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety res­onates dif­fer­ently be­cause of present-day cul­ture and pol­i­tics. But I try not to write ex­plic­itly po­lit­i­cal songs. A fa­mous song­writer told me once, “Avoid writ­ing po­lit­i­cal songs.” Who was that? I’m not telling you! Some­one from an­other gen­er­a­tion. I’m pre­sum­ing you voted Re­main? I don’t vote. It’s such an emo­tive is­sue, and it was so rushed, by a prime min­is­ter who wanted out of it any­way. I don’t think the coun­try got the whole story. It was too big for him to deal with, a mas­sive un­der­tak­ing. And it’s un­do­ing ev­ery­thing that was set up in the 1950s, all that post­war progress through things like the NHS. Peo­ple are re­ally wor­ried, be­cause when it comes in there’ll be huge cuts in arts fund­ing. You were a clas­sic ’60s art-stu­dent pop star… I wasn’t a pop star while I was an art stu­dent! In the ’60s, as a kid leav­ing sec­ondary school, there was no pos­si­bil­ity that I could go to uni­ver­sity. I was lucky to pass the exam and get to go to art col­lege, which is where I did most of my learn­ing. I did a com­bi­na­tion of fine art and more doc­u­men­tary-style, po­lit­i­cal art. And I did the­atre and film on an­other course, at the Cen­tral School. But then I joined the band in­stead. Learn­ing art now is dif­fer­ent: they teach you how to get jobs! Back then, you got your de­gree and the next stop was Paris, a gar­ret some­where. Would you have be­come a painter if the mu­sic hadn’t worked out? A big de­ci­sion I made was af­ter “You Re­ally Got Me”: I wanted to make one hit record, so I could go off and paint, make film, do the­atre. Then I got on a tread­mill – you’ve got to pay for law­suits, you’ve got to play gigs, make more records. It was lit­i­ga­tion that kept us to­gether! It’s a great mo­ti­va­tor. To quote a line from one of my old songs, “Top Of The Pops”, “This might turn into a steady job.” That’s from Lola Ver­sus Pow­er­man And The Money­gor­ound, yes? Which I’m go­ing to do a ma­jor re­write of in the next few years. That was way ahead of its time re­gard­ing the mu­sic biz. The track “The Money­gor­ound” should be re­quired lis­ten­ing for ev­ery as­pir­ing pop mu­si­cian with dreams of the in­dus­try. It’s true as well: the fi­nan­cial break­down in that song is ab­so­lutely cor­rect. It’s a hor­ri­ble in­dus­try – but I’m sure that peo­ple in other in­dus­tries, Face­book and dig­i­tal me­dia, get bet­ter deals. But the mod­ern sys­tem is all based around stream­ing, and my stuff is prob­a­bly un­stream­able, be­cause there’s a lot of story con­tent. It’s re­ally dif­fi­cult for peo­ple like to me to make money, be­cause we’ve gone back to a three­minute cul­ture, and I go for the big-pic­ture, con­cep­tu­alised al­bum, the big­ger story. The

Amer­i­cana project, which Our Coun­try is the sec­ond part of, has a third al­bum to come next year. The near­est equiv­a­lent is some­thing like the TV box set. The dream is even­tu­ally to present it as a per­for­mance piece, with rear pro­jec­tions, ac­tors, mu­si­cians. I’m al­ways look­ing for a new way to en­gage cre­ativ­ity. You’ve al­ways been like that, from way back: you wrote con­cept al­bum af­ter con­cept al­bum af­ter rock opera… Much to the frus­tra­tion of my band, who just wanted to do gigs! But then, they didn’t have to write the songs. All song­writ­ers in bands face the mo­ment when they come back from tour­ing and, while their band­mates are go­ing off on hol­i­day, they get the phone call from the record com­pany about the next al­bum. Phone call? They turned up on my doorstep! “The record’s just dropped out of the Top 10, we need an­other.” No won­der all the writ­ers are screwed up! You seemed to be on a tread­mill even when

you weren’t re­quired to be. I un­der­stand there are re­put­edly hun­dreds of songs that never made it to the stu­dio? There are. The an­niver­sary reis­sue of Preser­va­tion

So­ci­ety is not just go­ing to in­clude songs that haven’t been re­leased, it’ll have songs that are in the process of be­ing writ­ten! I’ve got about 20 of those – I found all these notes when I was go­ing through stuff. I’m a bit of a hoarder. Much to the frus­tra­tion of peo­ple who work with me. Still look­ing for Rose­bud! There’s al­ways been a melan­choly ret­ro­spec­tive air to many of your songs, as if look­ing back from the fu­ture. I try to put things in per­spec­tive when I write. I can’t write just a fan­tasy song; they’re al­ways tinged with re­al­ity. The real world’s al­ways wait­ing just across the hill. It’s the pi­o­neer spirit of peo­ple cross­ing Amer­ica. On Our Coun­try, “The Real World” is about some­one try­ing to es­cape from it. His wife tells him, “Go off and find a new life, but you’ll come back to re­al­ity even­tu­ally.” In Amer­ica, it’s pos­si­ble to dis­ap­pear. I found that out in New Orleans, which is full of peo­ple who came from other parts of Amer­ica to cre­ate a new life, start from scratch again. But even­tu­ally, the past catches up with you. We did a show at the Hol­ly­wood Bowl back in the ’60s. This was when my brother was fight­ing with Mick Avory, our man­age­ment had pulled out, and our tour man­ager was just this man who ran a hard­ware shop, and there we were at the Hol­ly­wood Bowl with The Righ­teous Broth­ers, Beach Boys, Sonny & Cher, The Byrds, Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs. It was aw­ful, there was all this ag­gro back­stage. It was a night­mare. We got banned for four years. Not just be­cause of that gig, it was a cu­mu­la­tive thing. Which is a piv­otal plot­line to Amer­i­cana, go­ing back there to re­store what was taken away from us. The Kinks em­ployed el­e­ments of what we now call camp. Per­haps that both­ered Amer­i­cans more than Brits, who were used to camp through mu­sic hall? When I say the Kinks ban was a cu­mu­la­tive thing, I think the cap­per was on the Hul­la­baloo show, where they had Fred­die & The Dream­ers do­ing their thing, and An­nette Fu­ni­cello or who­ever, and they’d cut to the artists look­ing cool, and when they cut to us it was me and Mick Avory danc­ing to­gether, ball­room danc­ing. Went down like a plate of cold vomit! In ret­ro­spect, the un­der­tow of sex­ual am­biva­lence in The Kinks prob­a­bly helped lay the ground­work for the glam era. I sang for the girl. “Girl, I want to be with you all of the

night.” I was strug­gling with that con­text, and maybe the way I de­liv­ered it live, I’m sug­gest­ing, for­get the lyrics, for­get the mu­sic, in the per­for­mance I’ve got is­sues with this song – that’s what he’s say­ing. I make the mis­take of look­ing for sub­text in a lot of my songs. Some­times peo­ple just want to hear the mu­sic. I need more – if I wrote a song say­ing, “I’m feel­ing great to­day,” you just know some­thing bad’s about to hap­pen! But then I can rec­on­cile it by writ­ing the third verse. That’s the joy of song­writ­ing. In some of your solo work you seem to pair songs, as if of­fer­ing dif­fer­ent views of the same sit­u­a­tion. In my later songs, I cut a lot of im­ages to­gether, like a statue of a war hero jux­ta­posed with some­one beg­ging on a street cor­ner; I try to set up loads of ideas. It’s like a de­fault in my sys­tem, to put all of the cards on the ta­ble – if the cards aren’t all on the ta­ble, show the one up your sleeve. I like be­ing an out­side ob­server, try to write it like a play. And I put my­self into dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters: the guy who sings “Cel­lu­loid Hero” isn’t the same g uy that sings “All Day & All Of The Night”. They’re char­ac­ters acted within the song. On Vil­lage Green, songs like “Pic­ture Book” and “Peo­ple Take Pic­tures Of Them­selves” pre­sented photography as a form of proof that things had hap­pened. Nowa­days peo­ple even share pic­tures of their din­ner – it’s be­come a mod­ern ma­nia. Do you do so­cial me­dia? I car­ried a cam­era ev­ery­where when I was liv­ing the events in Amer­i­cana, mak­ing a home video. So I’m guilty of that, but I don’t share them on In­sta­gram. I do the in­ter­net, be­cause I have to. I think even­tu­ally tex­ting will change the way peo­ple com­mu­ni­cate – a new lan­guage will evolve, like the old-fash­ioned tele­gram, when you had to pay for ev­ery let­ter. Vil­lage Green was planned as a dou­ble al­bum, but cut back. Do you think it would have made more im­pact at the time as a dou­ble? It was planned as a Walt Dis­ney fan­tasy ex­trav­a­ganza! It was go­ing to be a mu­si­cal. There’s a quote from the

NME from back then where I said I wanted to be the mu­si­cal Walt Dis­ney, as a plat­form to do songs about English so­ci­ety as I saw it at the time. It gave me an ini­tia­tive to write, be­cause if I’d just been writ­ing sin­gles, I would have stopped. If we’d got paid, and lit­i­ga­tion had ended, I would have quit af­ter “Tired Of Wait­ing For You”. Three No 1 records and out. From what one reads, you seem like some­one who never re­ally feels at home, or ful­filled. Is rest­less­ness a spur to your cre­ativ­ity? In the sense of home­less­ness, I’m not try­ing to find a home. My fam­ily were very close-knit, so we all lived close to­gether, through the years when I was out on the road. I only left my par­ents’ home when I got mar­ried. Then I got di­vorced, that ex­plo­sion… I never un­pack my clothes. I al­ways keep a case packed, ready to move out. It af­fects a lot of peo­ple that way, di­vorce. But I’m a rest­less per­son. Do you think life nowa­days has be­come more ex­trem­ist, in gen­eral? Peo­ple tend to think in terms of black or white, right or wrong… In old cow­boy movies, the bad guys al­ways wore black hats. Nowa­days it’s harder to dis­tin­guish

any­body. Par­tic­u­larly with ac­tion he­roes: you knew Su­per­man was a good guy, but I’m not so sure about some of these mon­sters in ac­tion movies now.

They re­flect Amer­i­can mur­der cul­ture...

When I was in hospi­tal af­ter be­ing shot in New Orleans, there was a TV on the wall, show­ing end­less gang­ster movies, peo­ple get­ting shot all the time. I thought, ‘Do the peo­ple who make these movies re­alise that you get hurt when you re­ally get shot?’ It is a very strange cul­ture. Ap­par­ently the guy that shot me bought his gun in Wal­greens phar­macy.

Has be­ing so quintessen­tially English been a help or a hin­drance when deal­ing with Amer­ica?

It’s a dif­fer­ent cul­ture – we speak the same lan­guage, but we have dif­fer­ent mean­ings for the same words. When I was work­ing with The Jay­hawks on Amer­i­cana, I said, “Oh, we’ll dou­ble-track the vo­cal.” They said, “What do you mean? Oh, stack them!” Dif­fer­ent terms. It’s par­tic­u­larly pro­nounced when tour­ing Amer­ica. Each dis­trict has a dif­fer­ent cul­ture. There’s so many re­gional dis­tinc­tions in Amer­ica; these days it’s prob­a­bly eas­ier with the in­ter­net, but back then you had to tour, you had to be in town, or else the lo­cal ra­dio wouldn’t play you. So when The Kinks were banned from tour­ing, we couldn’t get on tele­vi­sion or ra­dio. And yet “Well­Re­spected Man” came out, a demo, with me singing in a very English ac­cent, and it got into the Top 10, one of our big­gest early hits. How sat­is­fy­ing was it to win the Olivier The­atre Awards for the

Sunny Af­ter­noon mu­si­cal? I don’t usu­ally like awards cer­e­monies, but I went to that one. It’s a very com­pet­i­tive world – these shows run for years, sub­sidised by big cor­po­ra­tions. It’s all about pay­ing rent on the the­atre. Hope­fully, it’s go­ing to Amer­ica next year. I’ve got a cou­ple of other mu­si­cal projects I’m work­ing on – it’s a world that in­ter­ests me, as does film. I still haven’t left art col­lege, clearly! I’m still look­ing for the right com­bi­na­tion. That’s why Our

Coun­try is so im­por­tant to me, see­ing that through. And when we get the next phase done, it’s like build­ing an es­tate, it’ll re­ally pay off. It’ll be rounded.

Ah, but then you’ll want to do Phase 4, won’t you?

No, I’ll move on to some­thing else. I’ve got a great story. It’s about sib­lings.

So, will there ever be a Kinks re­union tour?

I don’t know. Dave’s still not very well. But it’s a nice fan­tasy. Don’t fancy play­ing the O2, though. If we got to­gether again, we’d play a pub. No busi­ness sense at all! That’s part of the charm of The Kinks – we were never se­duced by lux­ury. I don’t have that sort of thing. I don’t have pic­tures on the wall; you have to take them down even­tu­ally. I once had a girl­friend, be­tween mar­riages, she kept vis­it­ing me in the flat I had at the time. We didn’t last long – af­ter­wards, she sent me a lit­tle pho­to­graph with a note that read, “Put this on your wall so you have some com­pany!” I didn’t see the need to dec­o­rate the walls, be­cause I wasn’t go­ing to be there that long. I don’t carry mem­o­ries. Our Coun­try: Amer­i­cana Act II is out on June 22 via Sony Legacy

“I like be­ing an out­side ob­server…”

The Kinks at a re­quest stop in Muswell Hill, Septem­ber 7, 1964; (right) Ray re­ceives his knight­hood at Buck­ing­ham Palace, March 16, 2017

“This might turn into a steady job ”: Davies, at the BBC, 1968

The Kinks on NBC va­ri­ety show Hul­la­baloo, Feb 1965, NYC

Ray guests with Dave at Is­ling­ton As­sem­bly Hall, De­cem­ber 18, 2015

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