Rhythms Rock Features - A Well Respected Man
Ray Davies grows old gracefully!
Ray Davies certainly surprised many with his recent one-man stage show tour of Australia. The writer of dozens of classic songs for The Kinks in the 60s, Davies also turned out to be a wonderfully warm entertainer onstage. Reading from his 'unauthorised autobiography' 'X-Ray', leading the audience through the hits, recounting his childhood youth, recalling his early musical experiences with his brother and laughing at the highs and lows of the business, Davies proved a superlative raconteur. No wonder, when you hear the back catalogue that modern bands like Blur are drawing inspiration from some of Davies' brilliant songs.
Billy Pinnell caught up with Ray Davies to talk about his career.
Is it a little bit lonely up there playing by yourself?
No it's fine. I was strange when I first started doing this but I'm used to it now, it's good.
When did you first start doing solo performances?
Well it really started when my book 'X-Ray' came out I did some readings in the bookshops and signings. I did a showcase at Ronnie Scott's, which is a jazz club in London, and I decided that I'd like to combine acoustic songs with readings and it went from there. My agent told me that I should try and play Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Festival, which is like an arts festival and I played there for about a week and it went really well so they put me out on tour.
It's really the most inventive method of writing an autobiography. What gave you the idea of inventing a character to conduct the interviews?
I didn't want to write an ordinary autobiography because it just didn't interest me, recounting things that I remember that happened. I thought if I had this device of using a young journalist, who basically is me anyway, meeting myself when I'm seventy years old, that would be a nice way to get the young and the old approach. So the older guy is looking back and the young kid really is experiencing everything for the first time and rock music does that. Every time you go out and play stuff every show has got to feel as though it's the first time you're doing it. So that made it entertaining for me to write and also let me stand back and let me observe myself and look at myself more objectively, I think.
Did you do it all from memory or had you got documented information like Bill Wyman had his diaries when he wrote 'Stone Alone'. Was yours all from memory?
Some of it's from memory but you know I did some research before I started writing it and I think in the end I gave up doing the research and looked at some of the diaries. I had kept diaries but not sort of detailed ones. I listened to the records, those old records, and they kind of brought these things back to me and listening to the way the things were recorded, listening to the songs, it's almost like a narrative as well, as well as being an album. Those Kinks albums did say a lot about what I was doing as a writer and what the band was doing.
After having read the book one of the most prevailing themes, right throughout is your great affection for family, you dedicate the book to them. You mentioned when you came to Australia, looking up Rosie, your sister and Terry, your nephew. What I really found interesting was that you actually wrote 'You Really Got Me' on your mum's piano.
I did, the upright piano. Actually the interesting thing about that piano, I think they're going to take it to the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, which is like the big museum they've got there in Cleveland, Ohio in America. So I've tracked down the original piano and it's in a warehouse in the south of England somewhere.
I think the inspiration for a lot of those early songs, I didn't realise it so much until I finished the book and read the proofs back, was a big family influence on me. Obviously when you are starting out you don't really see that, it's only when you look back and you appraise things, I guess you see where the real inspiration came form.
What else is revealing too is that for many years there were rumours that it was actually Jimmy Page who played guitar on 'All Day And All Of The Night' and 'You Really Got Me' and, of course, that wasn't the case, was it?
No, it certainly wasn't. These rumours always spring up, these myths and things. But I think Dave [brother Dave Davies], as a guitarist, he doesn't get the credit he deserves. He's an erratic player but he gets inspired and he plays some great things. Dave invented that sound and it was really great, that's why the part of the book I like and the part I do on stage is recounting when we did that song, when we recorded that because it was a pivotal moment to our band.
Absolutely and as we're speaking just about every second Australian is at the moment at a record shop and buying the Beatles Anthology CD. You tell a great story in the book about opening for the Beatles in London and what John Lennon said to you. Was that a pretty vivid memory?
[Lennon told Davies that if The Kinks (who were opening for the Fab Four) ran out of songs to play on stage they could borrow some of The Beatles' songs].
You don't forget things like that. It's one of those things that happens very quickly but in the book it sort of goes on forever, memorable things are like that. It's my Dealey Plaza, my Dallas, it's something I remember. They were such a great band and obviously could still be a great band but that was a very vivid memory.
He was sightly intimidating towards you, wasn't he, on that occasion?
We were just starting out and they were obviously the Beatles and a lot of people think it's unkind what he said to me but I think that's part of being an older statesman. He'd been around, they'd been around much longer than us and they thought why not! We were acting like upstarts anyway so they put us in our place really.
You also put across in the book the great camaraderie between the bands that you work with back in those days. Like you say about Eric Haydock, the bass player from the Hollies, sort of taking you under his wing and helping you, so there must have been a great feeling amongst everybody.
Oh it was. I think because it was the first time that music had been done on such a scale with lots of bands coming from, basically working class origins and making music and not being particularly pretty. You know the pretty boy image really wasn't the thing. The Hollies were great to us, they helped me a lot and very supportive and in a way I suppose the Beatles were as well.
Have you got any really vivid memories today of what your first Australian tour was like with the Manfred Man and the Honeycombs?
Yeah well in the book I described some of that. It was an interesting tour but Manfred hasn't changed much, he's still sort of out there. It was a wonderful tour but it was strange coming all that way on an aeroplane, 36 hours I think it took then with a stopover, and coming to a place the other side of the world and everybody speaks English but it is a different culture, or it was. That's what is interesting me as well, to find out how Australia's been since I was there last, in the mid eighties, early eighties.
Now with the tremendous success of X-Ray - every review I've seen of the book so far has been favourable and I believe it is also selling very well - will that really inspire you to do a Ray Davies album, to follow the book up.
Well I've just signed to do an album next year and it will be my first ever solo project so I'm quite excited about that but it's a bit intimidating as well because I don't really know what I sound like. It will be an interesting record to make. I'll still work with the band, if they want to do it, I'm looking forward to do that as well.
Have you considered doing something like the Kinks Anthology album, say like the Beatles have done with theirs?
Um....not really, we're thinking about it. We've done this thing 'To The Burn' which is coming out next year that we recorded last year after a world tour. That's coming out. It's not really what you'd call an anthology but it's a collection of songs that maybe not everybody knows all of the songs. So it will be interesting to see how that does and there's a video with that as well, so it will be good.
What do think about bands like Blur and songs like 'Country House' that just sound so much like the Kinks.
Well it's good. I think the similarity is that I think they're writing songs..... Music goes in phases and in England it goes around fairly quickly. The fashions come in and out and I think what they are doing is writing songs about things they know about, which is where they come from and the local stories. I think that's where the similarities with the Kinks is because I think our early records were like that. For a long time, particularly in the 1980's, I think English bands were trying to sound like, writing about American experiences or drawing on things out of their own experience and knowledge and that tends to make the music sound different. I think lyrically Blur and Oasis, they're are very similar in that respect.
I guess you'd be happy with the fact that Damon Albarn at the British Music Awards was extremely high in his praise of you and your tremendous influence on his music.
Yeah Damon's a good kid, we appeared on a TV show together doing 'Waterloo Sunset' and I threw 'Parklife' in at the end so it was a good life, a good bunch of guys.
Reading: 'X-Ray' - Ray Davies
Recent Kinks CD: 'Phobia'
Our 10 Favourite Kinks Songs:
Waterloo Sunset - All Day & All Of The Night - You Really Got Me - Well Respected Man - Dedicated Follower of Fashion - Apeman - Lola - Sunny Afternoon - Days - Stop Your Sobbing