Monday, 19 December 2011

RAY DAVIES -Spring 1966

"Days went by, I walked around dressed in a disguise.
 I wore a moustache and I parted my hair 
 And gave the impression that I didn't care
 But oh the embarrassment, oh, the despair!
 Came the day, helped by a few large glasses of gin,
 I nervously mounted the stage once again, 
 Got through my performance and no one complained
 Thank god I can go back to normal again"
 All of My Friends Were There 

On the 16th April 1966 a moustached Ray Davies appeared on stage with The Kinks at the Locomotive Club, Paris. He'd been absent for 6 weeks, recovering from a pressure-induced breakdown. The day before, TIME magazine had published it's infamous "London The Swinging City" edition. The cover montage of dolly-birds and old-money aristocrat's strewn over Westminster Bridge, encapsulated the rough-hewn cut and paste exuberance of the moment and The Kinks radio hit of the day added a soundtrack that seemed to celebrate this resplendent Spring:

"He thinks he is a flower to be looked at,
 And when he pulls his frilly nylon panties RIGHT UP TIGHT
 He feels a dedicated follower of fashion"
NME March 1966 , Ray (right)

But the only thing right up tight was the song's beleaguered composer.

The previous month, ex-art student Ray had drawn a portrait of The Kinks on the cover of the NME at the request of management to promote the Dedicated Follower of Fashion single. Ray's self-portrait in floral roll-neck sweater was a picture of coiled rage and pent-up frustration. The song had been inspired by a punch-up he'd had with a fashion-designer at a pre-Christmas party and the actual recording sessions had been laboured with the composer emerging less than satisfied with the finished product. One speculates whether the jolly sounding camp of the final version came as a commercial compromise, with a searing personal character assassination hidden somewhere on scraps of paper in the Davies archive.

The period running up to Christmas 1965 had been marked with a rash of darker songs reflecting the rigours of the tread-mill music business, featuring increasingly acerbic lyrics. Sharpening around the grey reality of life, the songs were offering an uncomfortable reality check on the swinging decade. From the summer the contemptuous A Well Respected Man had heralded the first of a long-line of character portraits highlighting lives that offered little real reward. Where Have All The Good Times Gone and I'm On An Island were self-evident statements of Davies own state of mind regarding his own predicament and they were soon followed by I'm Not Like Everybody Else, a song so close to the bone that it was originally seen as being unsuitable for the band to record. The demos recorded at the time give an even more undiluted view of Davies world view. All Night Stand, from December was an essay in exhaustion:

"All night stand, been around seen a million faces, yeah
 All night stand, seen a good half a million places, yeah
 All night stand, can't get these people off my back.
 All night stand, ten percent for this and that.
 All night stand, all night stand..."

In early February 1966 the band recorded a song that would remain buried in the vaults. Influenced by Dylan's vitriol, Mr Reporter featured lyrics that did not not sit well with the hit-machine image that management had them firmly locked into. This was a song that would be impossible to promote:


At around this time Davies began to balance his increasingly dark satirical vignettes with a strand of quasi-philosophical lyrics seemingly written to pull himself out of depression. The songs varied in tone and delivery but they clearly reached out to "bigger forces" putting the everyday grind into perspective. Songs like Lazy Old Sun and Big Sky with their reference to heavenly bodies, have their origins in the sentiments expressed in The World Keeps Going Round which first appeared in November 1965. The lyric circles around a world-weary acceptance that this is how it is so we might as well just get on with it:

"You worry 'bout the sun, 
 What's the use in worrying 'bout the big ol' sun
 You worry 'bout the rain, 
 The rain keeps falling just the same"

On 4th February a group called The Lancastrians would release their version of the song, marking a period filled with cover versions of Davies product. With the encouragement of a management eager to utilise their prize songwriting asset, Davies would embark on his first forays into extra-curricula activity, writing songs to order like Leapy Lee's King of The Whole Wide World (featuring back-up from The Kinks) and a proposed LP project with "Private Eye" contributor and TV presenter Barry Fantoni. The resulting single Little Man in a Little Box emerges as a typically moody Davies lyric, with the song's protagonist lost in his TV world isolated from his audience and his love:


On 26th February 1966 in between TV performances in London and Birmigham The Kinks appeared in concert in Nelson, Lancashire, squeezing in an appearance at "The Inn Place" boutique in Blackburn. The first week of March was then spent touring Switzerland and Austria. At the end Ray collapsed with exhaustion.

Whilst the band toured France and Belgium with a stand-in guitarist and a Carnaby Street film promoted the Dedicated Follower of Fashion single on TV, Ray convalesed at his North London home. But things got worse. On 17th March he famously ran from Muswell Hill down to central London and attacked the band's publicist Brian Sommerville. Whisked away into the care of a psychiatrist, The Kinks were seemingly in disarray.

Yet the release of tension would turn out to be a godsend. Already banned from US touring, the band now scaled down their live commitments in the UK and Europe. The semi-retirement would effect the band members already parlous finances but the benefits would soon bear fruit. Davies would use the time to compulsively write out his problems in song and the greater proportion of the brilliant LPs recorded in the next 2 years would have their genesis in this public hiatus period. By the time Davies returned to the fold in Paris the band were back in full swing, recording their landmark "Face to Face" LP at the Pye Records Marble Arch studios. The songs reflected the turbulance of the period to a greater or lesser extent. Too Much on My Mind is a stark appraisal of mental health, Rainy Day in June a malevolent fantasy induced by depression and Fancy an altogether elliptical commentary on the enigmatic source of the band's stardom:
Face to Face 1966

"No one can penetrate me,
 They only see what's in their own fancy,
 Always"

But the songs were wrapped in a sound that at least gave the impression that the good-time band were back. A garish pop-art sleeve added to the myth and despite further setbacks including the temporary loss of bassist Pete Quaife in a road accident, 1966 was turning into a good year after all. It is interesting to note how Davies reacted to the second Harold Wilson administration that Spring. The increased austerity gave the country a wake-up call and the newly impoverished Kinks would mark the changing times with songs about upper-class despondency (Sunny Afternoon, Most Exclusive Residence For Sale, End of the Season) and working class hardship framed in Dickensian terms (Dead End Street, Big Black Smoke). The sound was whimsical if not "chipper", but the dark clouds were never far away in Ray Davies world.

To balance this Ray continued to develop a strand of songwriting dedicated to the management of his own state of mind, writing songs that challenged him to transcend everyday circumstances. These songs were clearly therapeutic in their design and at their best, joyous celebrations of the simple pleasures of life. They would culminate in Days recorded 2 years later. Davies was now emulating the positivism encapsulated by the poet Rilke:

"...try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very    foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you  would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now."  
We leave with one such reflection, written with the wisdom of someone who's been run through the mill and come out the other side. This is Where I Belong:

2 comments:

  1. This is superb. Thank you very much for posting this material and commentary. Curtis Roberts

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for this post. Big kinks fan. I've posted some arrangements for string trio (some tacky, some really effective) at:
    www.tindeck.com/users/fuse

    ReplyDelete