THE MAN WHO
WOULD BE KINK
Kinks guitarist Dave Davies has forgotten he ever played the
Bridlington Spa Theatre. But he DOES remember the smell
of his first ever vinyl. He doesn’t like CDs, Dire Straits, or
repressive drug legislation, but he DOES approve of the
Breeders, Jarvis Cocker and the coming 1990s revolution!
And does he have any advice for the Oasis brothers…?
Andrew Darlington finds out
Ray and Dave Davies that is. The brothers Kink, the longest running double-act in Rock ‘n’ Roll history. On ‘Phobia’ (1993) they sing ‘hatred, the only thing that keeps us together.’ That’s as maybe, but something has not only kept the Kinks intact, but remarkably creative too over thirty-plus years. ‘While other songwriters were metaphorically tearing up the ‘old’ in favour of the ‘new’’ writes Dave, ‘the Kinks were trying to point a way to a future where the good from the past could be interwoven with the new and radical.’
Perhaps that’s it?
The first hit – “You Really Got Me”, entered the chart at no.34, 13 August 1964. Dave heard it on the radio and ‘I was momentarily stunned with excitement and awe… as if its earthiness could cut through walls.’ Me too. It was the day the last UK executions took place. Peter Anthony Allen and John Robson Welby were hung by the neck until dead – at Walton and Strangeways, for the murder of a van driver. Simultaneously ‘The Mods Monthly’ featured interviews with Cathy McGowan and Vicki Wickham, BBC2 launched ‘Match Of The Day’ – Liverpool beating Arsenal 3-2, and Manfred Mann were no.1 with “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”. And I was sixteen. Watching the Kinks on ‘Top Of The Pops’ as they took a mere four weeks climb to reach no.1.
A different world. But now, three decades, twenty-three hits and three chart-toppers later, I’m sat in the boardroom of Boxtree Books opposite Dave Davies. We’re here to promo his book ‘Kink: An Autobiography’* which opens with a poem summing it all up. ‘Brandy, cocaine, beer and laughter, curly-haired Groupies with big tits, angels and whores, the innocent and lost, the users, the used…’ We talk about all that, and more.
ANDREW DARLINGTON: I first saw the Kinks in 1966, a misty Yorkshire night when you played the Bridlington Spa Theatre. So we go back quite a way together, if at a slight distance.
DAVE DAVIES: No, really? I can hardly remember. Bridlington Spa?
AD: Do you still get a buzz from playing live?
DD: Yeh. I do. But sometimes you just don’t feel so good. Erm, I’m trying to think where else we went on that tour!
AD: Other than forgetting Bridlington Spa you exhibit a total recall of details in ‘Kink’, despite the obvious chaos that must have surrounded the band throughout that period.
DD: Actually, it’s strange that in’ it? ‘Cos… when they first asked me to write it, I sat down and thought ‘I can’t handle this.’ Apart from thinking that I couldn’t remember stuff, I was scared of stirring up all the emotions that it takes to do something like that. But as I started I found I was quite enjoying it. And it was… (long pause), a cleansing experience too. Getting rid of a lot of the emotional garbage that you carry around with you. It’s kinda good to get it off your chest. I was also spurred on by the fact that there hasn’t really been a very good Kinks book out. There’s been biographies (an official one by Jon Savage, an unofficial one by Johnny Rogan, and a cut-and-paste ‘Kinks: Well Respected Men’ by Neville Marten and Jeffrey Hudson, Castle 1996), but they’ve sort-of only just skimmed around it. In and out, you know? Hearsay. Here and there. A few interviews with Ray, and a few with myself. So that was my reason why I wanted to do it in the style that I did. Conversational, and yet factual – trying to get the facts across. Not only that, but I think Ray’s book (‘X-Ray’, Viking, 1994) was… er, interesting, but it didn’t really cover a lot of areas that I thought he could have. It was written in the third person…
AD: Ray’s book is a little more devious and convoluted.
DD: It was sort-of like, in a maze. So it was important for me to get my book out the way I did. And I enjoyed writing it. Y’know, ‘cos once I’d got a third of the way through I was really starting to get into it. It was a very enjoyable experience.
AD: Throughout the years you write about I was buying your records, watching you on ‘Top Of The Pops’, following the progress of each single as it climbed the chart. I wondered how conscious you were of the same process, caught up in it as it happened.
AD: The Kinks recorded albums in a fortnight during the sixties.
DD: The first album we had less than a week to record it.
AD: Whereas the Stone Roses took five years to create their ‘Second Coming’ (1994) album!
DD: Yeah. But we were under so much pressure then. Because we were on a roll. You get on a roll, don’t you? And it was just coming out. New music was pouring out of us. Almost as if it was on automatic. There was no real kind-of structure or method to it. It just happened. It was only later, when it got to round about 1968, 1969, when we WEREN’T achieving the same levels of success, and we were having problems in America (the Kinks were banned from performing in the USA 1965-1969), that we kinda started to realise what we were actually doing. Well, I did. I started to realise that we were actually doing this for a living. That it was an occupation. Or a vocation, or whatever you call it. Other than just being one long party.
AD: The Kinks have been active over a period of remarkable technological advances in studio techniques and hardware.
DD: Yeah, I mean, that was a big problem in the years that followed. In the seventies particularly. That barren period at the beginning of the 1970s. People were really getting into those things then. When you think of the stories you’d head about Mick Fleetwood taking five days to just record a tom-tom beat. People were really getting into all that stuff.
AD: Do you enjoy taking full advantage of that studio technology now?
DD: I think what’s happening is that it’s kind-of evening out a bit. There was digital stuff. And people who liked digital recording weren’t particularly… erm, I’m not a great fan of CD technology at all. I don’t think it gives us all the information. I know everybody tells us that it does, and unfortunately I don’t know enough about it technically to offer a strong argument against that. But from what I can gather, and from what my senses tell me, I don’t think a sixteen-bit technology is advanced enough. There’s all kinds of things that happen in music. But CD is cold. It’s not a warm sound. I don’t know if it’s something to do with the harmonic distortion, or something else that happens.
AD: In a ‘Mondo 2000’ interview Neil Young describes the vinyl/CD difference as ‘analogue is a mist spraying your face, digital is tiny ice-cubes all the same size.’ Whereas in ‘Kink’ you argue that you can SMELL vinyl, but you can’t smell CD!
AD: You’ve frequently been accused of adapting the Rock ‘ n’ Roll riff – on records like “You Really Got Me” (‘G, F, Bb’), in ways that inspired the entire Heavy Metal genre which grew out of it.
DD: Yeh-he-he-he. I suppose so. In a way. There wasn’t a guitar sound like that before us. I remember the Who – when they were still called the High Numbers. They played with us early on. And their sound wasn’t THAT heavy. It was a ‘chingier’ guitar sound. But I noticed that when they started to get in the studio – and Shel (Talmy, Kinks producer) got involved with them as their producer as well, then their guitar sound started to get heavier. So obviously that was Shel borrowing a bit from me and then passing it on to them. They obviously drew a lot of ideas from us. But then it gave them their own identity. (Pete) Townshend found his own way of doing stuff, and they became their own force. We all have to borrow things from other people don’t we? To find our own sort-of way.
AD: There are lots of myths and stories that have built up around the Kinks over the years. For example, there’s a persistent rumour that Jimmy Page was a session musician on those early Kinks records. Is that true?
DD: UUURGH! This thing about Jimmy Page playing on “You Really Got Me”, it drives me INSANE! I can’t imagine why he said that. But you see, at the time, he was – like, the in-house session guy. A lot of people used him on different sessions. And he was always there, in the background. I don’t know whether it was the record company who were nervous that we couldn’t make a record properly. But we wanted to make it ourselves, virtually. And in the end that’s just what we did. There’s NO way that Jimmy Page played on “You Really Got Me”. I mean – that solo!, that crazy kid playing guitar! It doesn’t make sense at all. I think it’s more likely that in the early seventies when Zeppelin were going over big and they were doing a lot of drugs and everything, that he probably thought he’d INVENTED the guitar!
AD: Jimmy did play that eerie ‘bent’ guitar sound on Dave Berry’s single version of “This Strange Effect” – which is a Kinks song (no.37 on 22 July 1965, Decca F 12188).
DD: I think so, yes. It’s a lovely record that. Evidently it was one of the biggest-selling records of all time in Holland. Beautiful song. Dave Berry had an interesting voice, didn’t he? A haunting kind-of dry and clinical voice.
AD: Around the same time there was a single version of Ray’s song “I Go To Sleep” recorded by the Applejacks (1965, Decca F 12216).
DD: Did the Applejacks do it? Do you know, I don’t remember that version. Gawd!
AD: It says in ‘The Encyclopedia Of Rock’ by Phil Hardy and Dave Laing (Panther Books) that the Applejacks bassist, Megan Davies, was your sister.
DD: No. Never ‘eard of ‘er. Peggy Lee did record “I Go To Sleep” though, didn’t she? She did a great version of it. It was released on one of her albums, wasn’t it? (it’s on her 1965 LP ‘Then Was Then – Now Is Now!’, Capitol T2388). A great record that. ‘Cos Ray and I grew up with Peggy Lee as well. There were so many different influences and oh, so much music in our house. Like Anita O’Day, she was a big influence. She sounded so cool then. So in control. Perry Como too, everything. Each sister had their own favourite (Ray and Dave had six older sisters). My sister Dolly liked Fats Domino. She was a big fan of Fats Domino and all that sort-of shuffley kind-of Blues. But there were sentimental things as well, like that “Indian Love Call” by Slim Whitman. I always used to find that a little bit creepy when I was a kid, but she always used to have tears in her eyes listening to it. It’d make her cry. So there’s so many different elements that you absorb, and it comes out in some other form when you regurgitate it.
AD: I can see Fats Domino and Buddy Holly, but I can’t see Slim Whitman and Anita O’Day in the music of the Kinks.
AD: Talking of Kinks myths, I was interviewing Kim Deal of the Breeders. She told me she’d seen the Kinks on tour in the USA, and during the show a fist-fight broke out between you and Ray. She was really excited to witness what she thought was Rock ‘n’ Roll history in the making. But she went to a further show on the same tour, and at exactly the same point in the set, exactly the same fight broke out!
DD: And she thought it was a set-up (laughs). When was this? Mid-eighties? That’s funny that is. It’s quite possible. We used to play around a lot. We used to play around for our audiences a lot. I remember we did… erm, we were doing a lot of tours in the early seventies when we were sorta getting back into America, and we used to get bored playing some nights. So sometimes Ray and I might deliberately wind each other up just to get a bit of energy happening. You know what I mean? I remember one night which was really fun. We started the show with “Victoria”, and we actually played it BACKWARDS!, you know – going Shee-ooo-ooo She-ooo-ooo slurp slurp nya nya. We were all, like, walking round and playing backwards. And the stunned audience were just sitting there going… (blank expression). They must have thought we were… (he dissolves in laughter). It’s all a bit daft. But sometimes you have to do things like that to keep the spirits up. Y’know. It can be quite miserable sitting in a shitty Hotel when everybody really just wants to go home. You’re depressed and you’re looking at cold pizza from last night, with only a bottle of Heineken for company. Then you think that all the things that surround you come together when you get on that stage. But you know, when things are great it’s worth the effort.
AD: The Breeders line-up features two sisters (Kim and Kelly Deal).
DD: I like that record they made. What was that hit they had last year – ‘Last Splash’ (1993)? I loved that record. Yes. I wonder how they get on.
AD: And Oasis are going through the same problems. Do you have any advice for the Gallagher brothers?
DD: I don’t know to what degree… how do THEY get on? What’s the general thing with them?
AD: Similar to you and Ray. A loving contradiction. A loyal rivalry.
DD: That’s really strange (wonderingly). I mean… the thing is, over those first three or four years with the Kinks, Ray and I didn’t really have any problems. Personally, I think things started to go wrong with me and Ray after his first marriage ended. When he sort-of felt the world had caved in on him, and he felt the world had let him down, kind-of. In a way (Ray’s marriage to Rasa effectively ended 21 June 1973), I think he realised then how much he’d actually relied on Rasa for emotional support. Which you do. You do. When you’re in a highly charged creative environment with creative people there’s a lot of interchange that goes on. And you need somebody there, particularly. When you’ve got somebody like that – then all of a sudden that support is taken away it’s kind-of like ‘What the fuckin’ ‘ell? What am I doing here?’ I think that was a much bigger hole in the Kinks career than people realise. I felt it was. This, really is also what my idea of a perfect record producer is, somebody who is a rock of help, nurturing, providing encouragement and emotional support. I also think (cough) Ray changed a lot when he felt we were being ripped off by Music Publishers. Which we were. But Ray probably felt it more because he wrote most of the songs. And it makes you a bit bitter. I understood. But I think that I was always a little bit too optimistic for me own good. I used to think that if it’s done, it’s done. What can you do? But it really made Ray more thoughtful. Less trusting. More paranoid. A bit bitter da-da-da-da-da. But maybe that helped his writing as well? So you just don’t know. You can’t… it’s like, I was talking to someone the other day and they were commenting on this thing that I say in the book about Ray, about how… how he abused me. But it’s a relationship BUILT on abuse! Really. Maybe it’s because of it that the work that we’ve done is so good. Y’know – if it had been all sort-of Lovey-Dovey and darn the pub together, then the music would have been different. Not as good. Maybe.
DD: Yes. Absolutely. I mean, when Keith Moon died, old Pete Townshend didn’t know what to do. I bet you that’s where he used to get his – whatever it is, you have to get that energy from somewhere. Even if it’s ugly. You know what I mean? It’s like, I can understand that totally. I was talking to someone else the other day on the radio, about the Knopfler brothers, about the way they first started. The stories that I heard about David Knopfler, and why he left Dire Straits (he quit in July 1980 after disagreements with brother Mark). I’ve met David Knopfler. We talked. And like, he’d really gone downhill in their relationship. I felt like I was trying to pull him back.
AD: You’re not very complimentary about Dire Straits in your book (‘someone invited me to a Dire Straits concert at Wembley. I put on a brave face, but when we drove into the car park I just couldn’t go through with it. When I saw all those BMW’s and Golf GTi’s it was more than I could bear. I made my excuses…’).
DD: I guess it’s all related to the same thing we were talking about earlier (he’d applauded Jarvis Cocker’s stage invasion during Michael Jackson’s performance at the Brit Awards). It’s so over-glamourised. It’s totally unnecessary. I don’t mind the Kinks being called a Garage Band. Because when we started that’s probably all we were anyway. It’s probably like that even now, if we set up in here, that’s probably what we’d sound like today. The whole thing about Dire Straits is, he’s a good guitar player with a good sound. But it’s the kind of band you’d expect to see in a Pub. Notice the connection? – the mention of ‘Pub’ was deliberate! But all this kind of amazing glamour, and the glamour situations that we put around ‘Stars’, what they do doesn’t warrant it. I don’t know if that sounds a little bitter? Do you know what I’m saying? Am I making any sense?
AD: It makes perfect sense to me. You write openly about drug use too, in ‘Kink’. From necking Mod pills (‘heroin was considered very old-fashioned, the drug of choice for an older generation – Bums and Jazzers who had serious drug problems’) through to your traumatic use of LSD. Psychedelic writer Timothy Leary claimed that acid should be taken as a sacrament, as a tool to achieve the kind of spiritual insight you claim to have later experienced. Whereas in practise, as your book implies, it became just another I-can-do-more-acid-than-you thing.
DD: I think we have to take a big step into the unknown now, before the door is closed on us completely. So experimenting with knowledge, even with drugs, has its place. You were talking about Timothy Leary, OK, so it’s not the be-all and end-all, but it does have its place. What I found really encouraging was a programme on TV the other night, about a group of young people who had gone through the beginnings of the ‘E’-culture, subculture, or whatever. And through the experiences they’d gained from using those things they’d decided to set up their own little group in which they were trying to manifest the feelings of love that they had transmitted between each other, but this time through just working at relationships. Now, in that sense, a positive good had come about by the use of drugs. And I applaud that. Because that’s learning something from experience, then trying to utilise it in everyday situations. There are things around us that offer us tools to get out of this prison, and the confines of theology. I think that’s much more productive than going and saying three ‘Hail Mary’s’ because you beat your Missus up when you came home drunk on Friday night. It’s much more constructive. Yet kids are getting arrested for it. You hear some horrendous stories from America about this whole area of drugs and the way that the Police are involved. There was that poor kid who got arrested for selling a tab of acid. He was on tour with the Grateful Dead – he was a Deadhead. And he sold a tab of acid to another kid so that he could pay to stay in a Hotel room. They arrested him, and the guy got put away for twenty years! I mean, it’s FEAR that does that. I mean, why are Governments in such a terrible confusion about it? Why can’t they just see what that guy was doing? But no, they have this terrible fear of drugs. A fear of losing control of people. All this ‘I’ve got control, and I don’t want to lose it.’ I don’t know if I’m expressing myself very clearly. But it’s a major area of frustration for me. I have some friends who are part of UFO groups, and people say ‘Oh yeah, but they sound like a cult to me.’ I mean – the Roman Catholic Church is a cult. Just because there’s more of them than there are of me. I’m a country of one. I’m a universe of one. How many millions of Catholics are there around the world? Let’s say there’s ten-million… is that about right? OK – so there’s ten-million of them and only one of me, does that make me wrong? Y’know, might isn’t always right. An individual’s point of view is just as important. Particularly nowadays when there’s so much misery, suffering and shit happening. But they can’t see it. It’s because of all this misinformation. Not giving people enough information. It keeps people ignorant. And if you’re ignorant you can’t get out of bad situations. If you don’t have the information or the tools to get out of that situation, you’re trapped by it. Do you know what I’m saying…?
AD: To conclude, I saw the Kinks in 1966 when – according to the Rock history books, you were at your peak. Then I saw you again more recently at the Leeds ‘Town And Country’ (1994), when your set was not only tighter and stronger, but you even seemed to be enjoying it more too.
DD: Oh, that’s good. That’s nice to hear. That’s encouraging in me old age, ha-ha-ha. It WAS quite a good little tour, that tour. I remember, that’s the night we’d played the ‘Empire’ the night before. No, we’d come across from Ireland. That’s right. A good little tour. It was fun. But I hope I’ve learned… no, I hope WE’VE learned a bit since then. Since 1966. So – do you live in Leeds…?
* ‘KINK: AUTOBIOGRAPHY’
by DAVE DAVIES
Boxtree Books Ltd ISBN 0-7522-1695-3
£16.99 Pan Paperback, 1997
My other Kinks features: