That time of the year again and so I indulge in a swift ritual perambulation of the eastern edge of Waterlow Park – a favourite haunt of mine when I first lived in London many moons ago – before the descent to Tufnell Park and the Boston Arms for the annual Konvention of the Official Kinks Fan Club. The Konvention is well over a decade strong now, and the music room of the pub was packed out, jam-packed even, for the Sunday afternoon extravaganza that is the expanded Kast Off Kinks show.
For the last three or four years the core of the Kast Offs – original Kinks drummer Mick Avory, Jim Rodford (with semi-retired John Dalton filling in) on bass, Ian Gibbons on keyboards and the redoubtable Dave Clarke doubling as the Brothers Davies – have been increasingly gigging up and down the land on a regular basis. So while the ramshackle charm of the original outings has diminished somewhat – they used to agree before on the tunes they might play, but not practise in the same room – what makes the Konvention gig special these days is that pretty much everyone ever involved in the basic Kinks line-up, including back-up singers Debi Doss and Shirlie Roden, shows up and plays a part in the proceedings; the notable exception being Dave Davies, while Ray has made some fleeting appearances at Konventions of late.
I offer just a few observations rather than any attempt at a balanced overview. Good gig as always, and a pleasure to see people again. This year the trend towards the sharing of lead vocals was even more pronounced, with Mark Haley in particular displaying a decent set of pipes on whatever his allotted songs were (Kinks and Kast Off fans will know where to find the fine details of the sets). The musicianship of Ian Gibbons, another of the keyboardists in attendance, stood out for me this year, with the basic Kast Offs crew delivering an outstanding version of Better things – organ flourishes to the fore – with some original touches that have obviously been worked up on tour. (Great song, by the way, worthy of far wider acknowledgment, for those not familiar with the Kinks’ later output). It made a nice change when Shirlie and Debi did Death of a clown and Debi did justice to another great song, Stop your sobbing.
Dave Clarke acknowledged “the over 60s disco” going on in front of the stage but in truth the packed crowd (too packed, some mumbled, and I’m not gonna disagree too strongly) was made up of all ages and decades, from teens to those at least in the early throes of seventy-hood. International too, with more than the usual European and American contingents in evidence; Chile, Brazil and Russia were mentioned. No brass section this year – I missed the shadings the Oslo Brass have added the previous couple of years. And I missed the traditional extended classic live ’60s workout on Milk Cow Blues, but then there were only thirty-odd other songs played. A storming Louie Louie near the end – how strange that what was once a dodgy Kinks cover on disc has become such a live Kast Offs favourite – with Ian shining again on keyboards and also offering the fascinating sight of Debi and Jim doing a dance that I believe was called ‘the swim’ – led into a joyous rock and roll finale including Sweet little sixteen and Long tall Sally.
Favourite overheard bit of conversation was Ian Gibbons to John Gosling (the third ex-Kinks keyboards player to tickle the ivories this day (or whatever they’re made of these days)) concerning a lyrical memory lapse: “Compared to the sun that sits in the fucking sky”. Ray Davies turned up about half-way through, said next year was gonna be a big one, 50th anniversary of You really got me and all that, dropping cryptic hints about a Kinks reunion (about which, to tell the truth, I am only slightly less enthralled than I am about the surviving Monty Pythons getting back together again, he said with deep irony). Ray looked in good shape, despite a cold which meant he only gave us the first spirited verse of Acute schizophrenia blues before splitting, but for which much thanks nevertheless.
I’m beginning to think I imagined he said it, given that all the news commentary has been about the prospect of that reunion, but am I the only one in Kinks fandom to be really excited about Ray also saying that he’s been talking to Julian Mitchell about finally bringing the full Arthur project – not that the album isn’t brilliant enough on its own – to fruition. Especially now I see, in Mitchell’s Wikipedia entry it is reported (unfortunately without a source cited) that Mitchell has said recently about the aborted endeavour:
Arthur had a most unhappy history. It was originally meant to be a … sort of rock opera, and we got as far as casting (excellent director and actors) and finding locations and were about to go when the producer went to a production meeting without a proper budget, tried to flannel his way through it, was immediately sussed and the production pulled. I have never been able to forgive the man.
Pleased to report, also, the previous evening – aint it funny how things can happen, the karma of one of one’s kids moving in just down the road from where you want to be payback time – I managed, for the first time, to get to sing along with a whole bunch of other dedicated followers at the Kinks Fan Kollektiv’s pre-Konvention singalong at the Clissold Arms on Fortis Green, the pub where Ray and Dave Davies first performed together in the band that was to become The Kinks over half a century ago, and now boasting a Kinks room – cultural heritage, no less (well done, host George). Great fun. I left early – saving myself for the Sunday, seeing folks – but not before being reminded what a brilliant song Scattered is, even though the band faltered midway through. Which somehow added to the fun, because there was an awful lot they did not.
I don’t know where Geoff Lewis, the silver-haired keyboardist who put the band together – basically by email (it was their second more formal year) – and the others got their stamina, never mind their vocal chords, from. After performing pretty much six hours with a few short breaks of Kinks songs Olga was a baritone. Geoff runs The Kast Off Kinks website, which is full of good stuff. Well worth a visit, not least for the relaxed interviews with band members. The extended session with drummer Bob Henrit (still looking ridiculously young behind the skins at the Boston on Sunday) is particularly fascinating, covering as it does details of his long experience in the music industry – like he’s the cowbells on Unit 4+2’s Concrete and clay, about how as a session player he was offered the final hit You really got me recording session but was already booked elsewhere.