Towards the end of Nick Hasted‘s new Kinks biography, Nick goes to see Ray Davies’s musical, ‘Come dancing,’ at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. “When I bump into Ray at the bar afterwards, he’s delighted at the weeping wreck he’s made of me.” I tell you what – there was a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye when I finished Nick’s book, too.
Did the world need another Kinks biography? I’ll rhetorically say, It needed this one. No hagiography, rather a labour of love, and because it’s a labour of love – and that’s an irresistible token nod to the sour Kinks song of that name, though the literal comparisons stops there – it makes for an uncomfortable ride at times. But the chapter on Waterloo sunset is the finest sustained piece of writing about the song I can recall, and there is plenty of stuff that was fresh to me.
There is more detail to be found about the lads’ youth in other books but Nick works a judicious precis that, while giving a fuller emotional picture of the Davies brothers and the band – devastatingly so on occasion – than his predecessors, and he certainly doesn’t stint on the key episodes. (There’s a bibliography elsewhere on Lillabullero of earlier publications). Of course, he’s got the advantage of being the latest and he’s had access to most of the main men – although his time with Dave was only just prior to his stroke, from other interviews he’s given since I don’t see much change – and a lot of other players, musical and wider, including a few not heard from before; Pete Quaife’s brother introduces a different slant on Pete’s experiences.
It’s not definitive – there’s no mention of Ray’s original choral work in Norwich, for instance, but he does show how Ray has doggedly pursued his art school goals in film and theatre. The first half of the 297 pages takes us up to The Kinks’ return to America in 1969 (while, for comparison, Tom Kitts’ more academic and sociological Ray Davies: not like everybody else from 2008 gave 144 pages out of 254 to the same period). Hasted is sympathetic to the rock opera RCA period – “For all the many faults […] it is one of the most remarkable efforts of sustained, individual creative will in rock history“. particularly in live performance – and is luke warm on Sleepwalker‘s songs – “Listened to now, it seems a shame Ray trained himself to win […] in one of the American chart’s blandest eras” (Amen!) – though appreciative of its commercial context. Of course Kinks fans will always contest the best of the band’s oeuvre. I’m with Nick most of the way, so I’ll say on the whole his judgment is to be trusted, though, for what it’s worth, I think he undervalues Arthur and could have given more time to the great songs on Percy; he approves of Phobia (yay!) but then quotes approvingly from the title (and in my opinion weakest) track; he rightfully praises To the bone. (And I think his reading of ‘Return to Waterloo‘ is too simplistic – can we definitively say Ken Colley, the Traveller, is the Surrey Rapist?)
Two main undeniable themes emerge from the book. Ray and Dave’s working class roots allied with an appreciation of the importance of what was valuable in their parents’ generation, and the toll their dedication to their art and the defence of what they value, has taken on them. This from Dave Davies:
… my mother was a big inspiration for a lot of Kinks songs – one of those people who lived through the war, and were confronted with so many topsy-turvy emotions about the world, and still trying to put on a happy face and trying to smile, in all this grim reality. A lot of that survival and positive although very upsetting emotional power that my mum had transmits itself to you. Every line on a face tells a story about something. And you can’t avoid being affected by those sorts of people – people who aren’t really here any more. By that whole working class culture of London, not just cockneys, and how they learnt to survive, and then learnt to have a voice in the sixties. That acceptance that ordinary people had ideas and inspiration and knowledge and wisdom …
Dave’s mysticism is not downplayed in its importance to him but is (mercifully) not addressed in great detail; I love the simple sentence, “Dave gave up hallucinogens, took up vegetarianism, and intensified his spiritual quest.” “People couldn’t understand how I was athletic and really creative,” says Ray of his schooldays, and admits that, “Equating success with happiness led me astray a bit” – there’s no excuse by now, is there, youngbloods? However:
Ray wasn’t in the greatest shape as he made Preservation, or the further concept albums […] which rapidly followed. “I never am!” he laughs, truthfully.
This latter response later resonates with one of Michael Faraday’s – Ray’s PA in Ireland a while back – revealed gems:
Around this time, Ray had a new analyst in Harley Street. He came out laughing and grinning. “Apparently I’m suffering from terminal creativity.”
As the book makes abundantly clear, intensive work is Ray’s response to personal setbacks. This is enough to give us Kinks fans pause, and this pause is one of the real values of Nick Hasted’s splendid book. Well worth anyone vaguely interested in The Kinks’ music and their times time and your (or your local library’s – use it or lose it) money. Thanks Nick.
Appendices: God is in the detail
That god reference is a metaphor, by the way, but three things I can’t let lie:
Who would have thought that Morrissey, the man responsible for possibly the greatest Kinks song ever not done by The Kinks – Everyday feels like Sunday – would turn up twice, firstly from Ray himself, then from Chrissie Hynde:
I think most human beings are failed creatures … I knew my flaws when I was very young. I think that’s probably the edge I had. I wasn’t optimistic about anything but I wasn’t going to be disappointed. I wasn’t optimistic but there was something to fight for. I should have joined The Smiths when I was 15,” he smiles.
He has a real affinity for ordinary people. He’s very working class. He is that traditional English phenomenon where all the culture comes from the working classes. He has a real love of classical music, and of fine art. The only person I’ve ever met who reminded me of him is Morrissey. Just their gestures, the way they walk and talk.
Finding it in a second-hand record rack in Essex in the dog days of 1975, Charles Shaar Murray gave an even more belated and amused rave review of the “classic white punk singing” and “out-of-tune collapse-ending” of “a great documentary album, a great what-goes-on album.”
Shame he didn’t go the whole hog and quote CSM’s punchline warning to “On no account part with more than …” but then I wish I could remember how small the actual amount quoted. Was it £5 or 50p?