A Kink In Time
When I was a postman in the mid-'60s - one of the Christmas army of arty layabouts and impecunious students, who signed the Official Secrets Act once a year and spent a few weeks dispensing Yuletide Joy _ I had to deliver a parcel in Muswell Hill to a Mr P Quaife. He came to the door in person - just like you or I would do. I shall always remember our conversation. I said: 'Mr Quaife? Parcel for you.' He replied and I couldn't help thinking of Oscar Wilde - 'Thanks, mate.' I knew that he was the bass-player with the Kinks. He knew I was a postman. But neither of us let on.
I've often wondered what happened to Mr Quaife, because it's a long time since he was a Kink. So I asked Ray Davies, a pleasantly lugubrious chap who wears a long scarf indoors. 'Pete grows underground vegetables in Canada. They grow them underground because it's always snowing -there, you see. Seems to make sense, but I don't really know what an underground vegetable is. He'll probably invent -a new underground vegetable one day, and he'll be really happy. When we played Toronto, he came up on stage and did a number with us. He told us that he'd gone into growing underground vegetables.'
Since the Kinks are trekking round the country on their latest tour, which arrives at the Lyceum on December 22, there should perhaps be a new album in the racks. Is that not the way things are done?
'It's about half-finished. It's proving incredibly slow. I'm not too worried, though. To be honest, I know the world isn't holding its breath waiting for new Kinks album, and Arista must know that - when it does come out - it becomes part of what is now a substantial Kinks catalogue on the label. It'll go on selling. One reason it's a bit late is that I'm really taking care over it - I don't think 'I should cut off what I'm doing halfway through just to get it out. The guy who goes into the record shop has still got to shell out full price for it.'
The company can also relax knowing that the Kinks are stars in America, something they never were - perhaps surprisingly - durin the second half of the '60s, when English groups were big business over there and the Kinks were the most 'English' of the lot, give or take a Herman. They nudged the US' charts several times, but never established themsetves on a huge scale.
'We're Playing to a nre audience in America now. Kids who have a sense of humour, and who are also aware of their weaknesses they must be, because they can see that I'm weak, in the lyrics I write. They identify with that. I'm a bit worried, though, when the front row is filled with Rush T-shirts. I wouldn't like to think that we're heavy metal.'
It's their sequence of Arista albums - 'Sleepwalker', 'Misfits', the American-made 'Low Budget', the live double 'One For The Road', and last year's 'Give the People What They Went' - that have finally broken them through in the States.
In the years from '64-to '70, the Kinks were a chart fixture, delivering a total of 18 hits to their presumably grateful masters at Pye. Then they moved to RCA. Since Davies has not been the most garrulous of pop stars over the years, our meeting seemed a good opportunity to got him to fill in a few details of the last decade. With three-quarters of the original band still together after 20 years, and the Who at very least in limbo, the Kinks must now have established a new UK all-comers record.
'RCA thought they were buying a trade name, like Pierre Cardin, that would guarantee a nice string of hits for them. But I told them that I wanted to make albums-albums you could "see". All those things "Arthur", "Muswell HillbiDies", "Everybody's In Showbiz" and so on, they were written as scenarios. "Showbiz" I did actually turn into a film - I've got about nine hours on 16mm lying in tins in America.
'At the end of the RCA deal they wanted the usual "Greatest Hits" album. I pointed out there was something called the Trades Descriptions Act, and the Kinks hadn't actual had any greatest hits on RCA "Supersonic Rocketship" was the only one that even made the charts. But we put together an album with what we thought was our best stuff on it, and they called it "The Kini Greatest". A subtle difference.
'At RCA there seemed to be a different managing director every time I went into the office. But it was always the same box of cigars - they only had time to smoke one before they left. They gave me a box when we signed. Very nice they were too.
'So, in 1976 we were looking around for another deal. Clive Davis had wanted to sign us ever since '66. He told me we had "FM credibility with potential AM cross-over". I said that "he who standeth in the middle of road sometimes gets runs over".
'At around this time we also had our own label, Konk, which was almost over before it started. We had a leasing deal with ABC, but they weren't really interested in my plans for the label - they just wanted the Kinks. On the other hand, I wanted Konk to have the facilities of a big label. But I soon found I was just a middle-man, handing out money to groups. This was all at the expense of what I wanted to do with the Kinks. We had to pay all the costs, and then deliver albums to them, and they budgeted a top price per album of $50,000. You couldn't even launch a band for that - it sounds like a lot of money, but you had to pay the band a living wage, put them on the road, pay studio costs - and the deal was for five albums a year. It got out of hand, so we stopped it. I went to see ABC In America with "my attorney". They wouldn't even let us in the building - they set the guards on us, and anyone I asked for was out". But in the end they signed the release.
'If I'd had the balls to hang on with Konk for two or three years - that was when Stiff and the others started, and it was hip to be independent - I'd have had allies. But the main problem was, ABC only wanted albums. If I signed someone, it had to be to make an album. It would have been much better to be free to do one-off singles as well - if it works, OK, but some people have a good single in them and not necessarily any more.
'So, in '77, when Clive Davis had set up Arista, we went to him. It was a transfer deal with David Bowie, though of course Arista also had to pay a million on top for the Kinks. I'm lying. It was an extremely modest deal. Clive would like hits as well, of course. I hope he gets them sometime.'
The latest contender, temporarily in lieu of the album, is the most infectious Kinks single for years: a curious collision of Caribbean rhythms and London lyrics called 'Come Dancing'. I'd say it has FM credibility with potential AM cross-over. There seems no logical reason the Kinks shouldn't continue ad infinitum: their current American status must have given them a new lease of life, in spite of the fact that 'touring is a pain in the arse'. Davies has always been ready to get sidetracked, however: he wen to art college to become a film-maker, and says: 'I'm still a frustrated film-maker, really - it's just that I got diverted by joining this band of my brother's called the Kinks.'
He was pleased with last year's collaboration with playwright Barry Keeffe - a musical for Stratford's Theatre Royal called 'Chorus Girls' and has already written the album after next, which will be turned into a TV show for lwould you believe it? Channel4.
'This show was originally a play I wrote, based on one song. But the more I wrote, the more it changed. The guy at the film company read my first treatment, and seemed so-so about it. But when I said I wanted to make it arty and pretentious his face lit up. I like being arty. And pretentious.'
John Colis, Time Out, December 17, 1982