NAPOLEON (Powerman on LVPATM) : Napolean Boneparte 1769-1821. Variously described as the saviour (stopped the murderous chaos) or betrayer (proclaimed himself Emperor in 1804) of the French Revolution. His reforms laid the basis for the modern French legal system. Declared war on the rest of Europe. Disastrous march on Moscow in the middle of winter in 1812. Met his, um, Waterloo at the Battle of Waterloo, 1815. Famous catchphrase – “Not tonight, Josephine”.
NELSON (Morphine song on Working man’s cafe) : working (nurse? orderly?) in the hospital – in the Charity ward – in New Orleans where Ray was taken after being shot in the leg the evening of Sunday January 4, 2007. With 10 grandkids, he’s married to Starr, his third wife who still, as evidenced in the lines of the song, still does it for him. A seemingly sympathetic character, grooving around intensive care, strutting his stuff, sporting a mullet (that’s a haircut). Ray’s account of the events of those days, and his thoughts on the catastrophic flooding in New Orleans in September 2005, can be found here, in a piece he wrote for the Times newspaper. He has said that he started writing ‘Morphine song’ in the hospital as a way of coping with the situation he was in.
NEWTON, Sir Isaac (A well bred Englishman from 80 days) : grand old man of British science. Founder of modern physics in the 17th century. Apple falling on head – Eureka! – gravity. His generation of scientists was the last that could live with the notion of both astronomy and astrology, which he retained an interest in.
NICE BIT OF OLD, A (Don’t forget to dance on SOC) : haven’t a clue who this is about, real or imaginary. Should one feel insulted or quietly pleased?
NORMAN : character in Soap Opera. It’s too complicated to explain here. He’s normal.
OLD MOTHER HUBBARD (Complicated life on MH) : see HUBBARD
OLD SEA DOG, The (Lost and found on TV) : he says “Shiver me timbers”. As they do.
OLD TRAD BAND, The (Morphine song on WMC) : the Americans still call it Dixieland jazz, but the British know the music as Traditional jazz, aka just ‘Trad’, as opposed of course, to Modern jazz, though Dixieland had once been cutting edge. Trad bands had a big crossover chart success in the UK late ’50s and ealy ’60s, the most successful commercially being Kenny Ball and Acker Bilk, who were generally loathed back then by kids discovering the joys of the electric guitar and viewed suspiciously by the more purist of their peers. There was even a fairly instant exploitation rubbish film called ‘It’s Trad, Dad!’. But it’s more complicated than that. While the almost totally white Trad jazz musicians celebrating this black American art form – and we’re talking about the very early Louis Armstrong recordings here – were somewhat older than the emerging beat groups, band leaders like Chris Barber had been in the forefront of introducing a wider general public to the Blues, and the impetus of the skiffle group phenomenon, that also fed the emergence of the beat groups, historically came from within the realms of Trad.
To discover more about the rise and fall of the Trad scene in post-war Britain, and indeed to get an education in the music’s origins, turn immediately to George Melly’s hugely entertaining account of his years on the road as a jazz musician, ‘Owning up’ (1965, and still in print). The band he sang with often played venues like the Cavern in Liverpool until the Beatles changed everything and Melly turned to journalism to earn his living. His ‘Revolt into style’, an early sympathetic attempt to understand what happened in the UK in the ’60s, included an appreciative nod to the songs of the Kinks.
To find out what it felt like at the beginnings of the music at the start of the twentieth century, before even Armstrong, do yourself a favour and read – yes read – Michael Ondaatje’s extraordinary novel ‘Coming through slaughter’ (1979). The story of trumpeter Buddy Bolden’s life and demise – he lost his mind improvising away at the head of a marching band in New Orleans, just marched off into oblivion – is a literary tour de force, the best music book I’ve ever read, simple as that. Bolden, the original improviser, was never recorded but he left a legacy that is still honoured. Preservation Hall, a New Orleans landmark crucial in the development of this music, is specifically mentioned in the New Orleans verse of the semi-autobiographical ‘The imaginary man’ on the same album. It was New Orleans’ musical heritage, one of its main tourist attractions, that in part inspired Ray’s disastrous attempt to set up home there; see the entry for Nelson above for further details of that venture.
In an interview in the December 2007 issue of The Word magazine Ray told Paul du Noyer, “I’ve always liked the music. I was one one of the few among my contemporaries who liked trad jazz; the others thought it was for squares.” And while contemporaries such as the Rolling Stones were using the likes of the Memphis Horns to add soul spice to their records and performances in the ’70s, Ray chose to employ Mike Cotton and chums, straight outta the UK trad tradition. Indeed, the first band he gigged with, before the Ravens, had a foot in Trad. (20 Dec 2007)
OSWALD, Lee Harvey (Give the people what they want on GTPWTW) : assassinated JFK in1963. Some say. He probably did, it now seems, working on his own.
OTIS (Otis riffs – one of the Jane Street songs): see Otis REDDING
PAGE, Larry (The Moneygoround on Lola) : “the Teenage Rage” no less (follow the link at the end of this entry). The Kinks’ first real manager, after Grenville and Robert. An old pro – got himself composer credits for an insignificant little tune on the first album but his relationship with the band ended up in the High Court. Ray subsequently worked with him again a couple of decades on.
PEPYS, Samuel (A well bred Englishman from 80 days) : celebrated diarist of Restoration England. Witnessed the Great Fire of London and the Plague, reformed the Navy. A bit of a lad too. Check out this fascinating website for the events of the day in the London of the 1660s and a lot of good background stuff.
PERCY (Percy) : eponymous movie of the same name. Also euphemism of the penile variety, which is about the level of the film whose theme is the first penis transplant. Ray and the lads did the soundtrack. There are some fine songs – some of Ray’s best, actually – hidden on the often disregarded album, not least ‘God’s children‘ and ‘The way love used to be‘. (Purely coincidentally also the nickname of Robert Plant, to whom great kudos for not milking the Led Zep moneymaker and making interesting music of his own.)
PETE (The road on RL) : Original bassist. Went to school with Ray and Dave. See QUAIFE
All those early gigs we ever played
Sometimes we were lucky if we even got paid
On the road
Pete played on the bass guitar
Liked to get around, mixing with all the stars
PLASTIC MAN (Plastic man, 1969 single) : No, not really. In fact – no chance. The Plastic Man who made it into DC’s pantheon is a good guy whereas the plasticity of the subject of the song is dubious and at best makes him a paid up member of the lonely crowd. This illustration does however give me a chance to go off on one about US stamps and how when I was a stamp collector they used to have great men of real importance to the history of the modern world on ’em, like George Washington, the godless (hurrah!) Thomas Jefferson and James Adams, 1776 and all that. For the record, what follows is more or less lifted shamelessly from Wikipedia: Plastic Man (Patrick “Eel” O’Brian, a career criminal infected by an unidentified acid and saved and turned by a mysterious order of monks) is a fictional Golden Age of comics superhero, created by Jack Cole in 1941. “Plastic Man can stretch his body into any imaginable form. His adventures were known for their quirky, offbeat structure and surreal, slapstick humor … with Plastic Man stretching across panels, going around the corner and up the street, wisecracking all the way.” DC Comics acquired the rights to the character in 1956 & he was integrated into the mainstream DC universe, with guest spots in both Batman and Superman. Though never a great commercial success, Grant Morrison chose to include him in his 1997 revival of the bestselling Justice League of America and he currently (2006) has a series of his own. The stamp was one of a set of 20.
PLEASANT, Mr. (Face to face): a good and kind man (or so it is said), married to Mrs. Pleasant. Has a mother and father. A composite. How are you today? One of the nastiest songs Ray ever wrote, and I wish he hadn’t.
POLLY (Polly b-side of Wonderboy): a cautionary dolly girl tale. She ran away from home, but came back again. “I knew a girl who was like that. She ran our first fan club. She died of junk,” Ray told Jon Savage (my source is Andy Miller). Is that a surname lurking somewhere in the mix? – Pollyanna Garter? Actually Janet E set me on this track, which various interviews with Ray have confirmed. Whether the song has anything to do with the derivation directly may be a moot point, given the song did not appear on the two original vinyl incarnations of The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society, but Ray has said that what he was trying to do with VGPS was the same sort of thing achieved in one of the finest radio plays ever produced. I speak of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, in which one Polly Gatta is the village’s strumpet and erstwhile cleaning lady – scrubber even (ah … the English language). She was very musical, singing as she scrubbed the floor in a beautiful melancholy voice prompting someone to say, “Thank God we are a musical nation.” The nation being, of course, Wales. The village in Thomas’s work is called Llareggub, a fictional placename. Try spelling it backwards. Coincidence? – I don’t think so. He was a good old boy who did not go quietly into the dark night. The original BBC recording with Richard Burton narrating is spellbinding. Under Milk Wood also inspired Stan Tracey’s 1965 jazz suite of the same name, one of the classics of British modern jazz. Early pressings of The Kinks’ single bore the title ‘Pretty Polly’, which was one of the first popular brands of the tights which made the miniskirt wearable – Swinging ’60s and all that.
POLLYANNA (Polly b-side of Wonderboy) : given the above, the presence of the name Pollyanna in the song ‘Polly’ is a bit of an anomoly really. ‘Pollyanna’ is what some now still consider a classic of children’s literature, a best-seller from 1913 by American novelist Eleanor H. Porter. There have been several film versions, the most notable being one from 1920 featuring Mary Pickford and the 1960 Disney version starring a young Hayley Mills. The title character is one Pollyanna Whittier (which obviously doesn’t scan in the context of the song)), a young orphan who goes to live with her wealthy but stern Aunt Polly. As Wikipedia puts it, “Pollyanna’s philosophy of life centers on what she calls “The Glad Game”, an optimistic attitude she learned from her father. The game consists of finding something to be glad about in every situation.With this philosophy, and her own sunny personality and sincere, sympathetic soul, Pollyanna brings so much gladness to her aunt’s dispirited New England town that she transforms it into a pleasant place to live”. Or, always look on the bright side of life. Even if the glass is neither half full nor half empty, but just empty, hey – we got this glass. The character’s forename has slipped into the language to describe, “someone who is cheerfully optimistic and who always maintains a generous attitude toward the motives of other people. It also became, by extension—and contrary to the spirit of the book—a derogatory term for a naïve optimist who always expects people to act decently, despite strong evidence to the contrary” (Wikipedia again). 26/02/09
PORTER, Jimmy (Where are they now? on PA1) : anti-hero of John Osborne’s successful 1956 play ‘Look back in anger’. One of the original ‘angry young men’, Osborne’s (and Porter’s) tirades against English establishment complacency (it says here) were what made it so significant. Interesting year, 1956. Suez, Hungary, Elvis Presley. Osborne himself became something of an establishment figure in later life.
POSEUR, The (The poseur – originally a Sleepwalker outtake) : related to Dandy, no doubt.
PRINCE OF THE PUNKS (Father Christmas b-side/bonus track on Sleepwalker): it’s generally accepted that Tom Robinson was the original inspiration behind this spiteful song – and he certainly does, though he looks back with good grace on it in Nick Hasted’s 2011 Kinks biography. I would like to think some of the song’s subject matter can be seen as broadening out to take in others jumping – some more cynically than others – on the punk bandwagon. Whichever way, it’s a major injustice to a fine performer and writer who made a very real mark in his time, musically, politically and socially. Definitely not one of Ray’s finest moments as a writer or human being. I remember some great nights when The Tom Robinson Band had a short residency at The Brecknock pub in Tufnell Park in the late ’70s. But see the entry for Tom Robinson for more anyway for more about this decent, charming and interesting chap.
PRISCILLA (Two sisters on SE): according to X-Ray this is the domiciled and married Ray, jealous of brother Dave out there raving in swinging London. See also: SYBILLA
PROMINENT QUEEN, A (Top of the pops on LVTA): coincidental evidence, I know, but it mounts up – I’ve long thought it was probably Ned Sherrin being talked about here.
PROUST, Marcel (Art school babe on Storyteller) : writer. ‘A la recherche du temps perdu’ is reckoned to be one of the great European novels. Starts off with him eating a biscuit and goes on for a long time. My mate Nigel – sadly no longer with us – had read it in French. He (Nigel, not Marcel Proust) was also an ex-West Ham fan whose allegiance shifted to Luton Town in protest over some what can now be seen, in the context of what goes on these days, financial shenanigans; he always championed Abba, who also feature in the A’s.