Iron Man of the Kinks
Pop pickers, just suppose you could offer a star at the top of his tree the chance to get away from it all. Give up the crowds, the adulation, the fame and the mobs to live on a remote island with nothing but a guitar for company.
Who'd do it? Who'd give up stardom and all its glitter to be an unknown again? Do you know a star who would? I didn't until my doorbell rang loud and clear the other afternoon.
The firm, insistent ring echoed around my flat and startled the cockney sparrows on the roof garden. At the door was Ray Davies, leader of the Kinks.
"Hi, Alan!", he said, and shook hands. Very firmly and with a smile as wide as his interests - which range from singing, playing guitar, acting, football and songwriting to way-out girls.
We'd both worked on the same shows before, but we'd never had time to sit down for a real natter. I'd always regarded Ray as a strong, forceful type. A born leader. And I soon found out I wasn't wrong.
As we settled down for our chat, I thought I'd try him out on that bit about getting away from it all. I figured, pop-pickers, that Ray might be the ideal guy to ask.
"Ray," I said, "Suppose I was a rich and influential person and I offered you the chance to go to a faraway island to study classical guitar. And the condition was that you practiced for six hours a day, seven days a week for three years. What would you say to that?
It didn't need a moments thought for Ray to come up with his reply. "Alan, I'd love it," he said, his strong, supple fingers working to emphasize his enthusiasm. "I'd jump at the opportunity even if the Kinks were at the top of the charts that very week."
"But do you know what? I'd promise myself that at the end of three years I'd be the very best guitarist in the world. I love all the stardom that surrounds the Kinks, but I'd give it up to better myself."
He'd give up his home, his friends, his fame - to challenge the unknown in a search for perfection!
That's when the determination of Raymond Douglas Davies hit home, pop-pickers. A determination which he told me began nine years ago when he was just 11 years old.
"Someone gave me a Spanish guitar", he said, a slow grin spreading around hi dark, handsome features. "I practiced for 2 years, solid. After that I got an amplifier and fell in love with the sounds I could make and the power that boomed out.
"I didn't know I'd be earning my living playing the guitar", he said seriously as I filled his coffee cup. "I thought I'd probably end up as a draftsman or something like that. I'm quite good with my hands. I love sketching girls eating or dancing."
I thought it was time to turn the conversation back to the Kinks as they are today. "Are you all good pals with each other?", I asked Ray. "What would happen, if you did go to a far away place practice?"
"A few months ago we thought we were a closely-knit unit, Alan," he replied. "We realize now that we weren't. If one of us had left we wouldn't have broken up. It's different now. We've got a sound and we're successful. The group couldn't go on if any changes were made."
Ray dug deeper into his biscuit tin to find some plain chocolate crackers. "I'm very keen on acting and drama. When I'm singing, it's like being an actor. You've got to be very wary your make-up and style suit a certain song. Being a Kink is an art - only I'm dabbling in sounds, not pictures."
By this time I could see that Ray Davies is plainly a purposeful guy with a firm, no-nonsense jaw, a ready smile and a sense of humor that makes him very pleasant company. I reminded Ray he was due at a rehearsal and he stood up to go. Really smart in a blue corduroy jacket, pink tab-collared shirt and gray mohair trousers.
"Ray, what's in pop for you?" I asked as we walked to the door. It was a question I had wanted to ask him all afternoon. He pressed the button to call the lift and turned to me. His green-grey eyes, so often burning with ambition, twinkled and smiled.
"When I walk on stage and see rows and rows of people who have paid to come in and see us, it makes me work very hard for them," he said. "That's the precise moment every night that makes me determined to give a good show."
That goes for all of us, pop-pickers. We may yearn for that Desert Island. But could we do without the friendship that you pour across the floodlights? Or give by a cheery wave from a bus?
Allan Freeman, Rave Magazine, December 1964