CASH FOR QUESTIONS
Q Magazine, February 2005
He has been banned from America, shot in the leg and tried to commit suicide while dressed as a clown. Life's never dull for The Kinks' songwriting genius.
WORDS: TED KESSLER PHOTOGRAPHER: MARIUS W HANSEN
DUSTY OLD KONK Studios in North London has seen better days. But then so has its owner, Ray Davies. Last January The Kinks' frontman was shot in the leg while tackling a mugger in New Orleans. Doctors originally thought the bullet had travelled clean through, but in fact it had fractured a bone. Internet message boards hummed darkly with talk of amputation.
But he arrives in Konk's lounge on two working limbs, even if there's a hint of a limp. He's not planning on resting the wound long, though. "I'm due to catch a train to Yorkshire for a songwriting course," he says, cracking open an M&S salmon sandwich. "I'm giving it, you understand, not taking it."
That's no surprise. The songs he crafted for The Kinks in the '60s provided generations of successful songwriters with the blueprint for their own careers. Pete Townshend, Paul Weller and Damon Albarn are all avid former students of his work. But it's not just the tales of how he invented hard rock or coined kitchen-sink British pop that could enthral a room full of enhusiasts. The story of Ray Davies's career provides just about every riveting twist one could hope for from a life in a rock group.
At its core is the volatile relationship he enjoyed with his younger brother and guitarist Dave, a partnership that resulted in many a bloody bust-up both offstage and on. The career of the contrary North Londoner has also taken in bad behaviour so riotous it saw The Kinks banned from the US for five years at their most popular, nervous breakdowns, a suicide attempt, terrible financial mismanagement and a string of broken marriages. It's fortunate that his songwriting is so luxurious.
The Kinks played their last show together in Norway in '96. Since then, Davies has been working on a solo album and avoiding interviews. "I don't like hanging out with tutti-frutti hobnob critics," he explains, unveiling the first of several toothy, mischievous grins. We'll crack on then...
Why would anyone want to shoot you, Ray?
Tom Larkin, London
Because I don't stop coming. Beyond that, no comment. Whatsoever.
Who is your favourite songwriter?
Tanya Gould, Nuneaton
I like so much different music that it is impossible to pinpoint one. You have the magic combination of Lennon and McCartney. John Lee Hooker, different craft, same result. The combination of Leonard Bernstein's music and Stephen Sondheim's lyrics is fantastic. Charles Mingus wrote great tunes. Not to forget Cole Porter, who put it together in a different era, but it still sounds contemporary - "I get no kick from cocaine." So many. But there's only one songwriter whose taste mirrors my own completely: me.
What were the Swinging '60s really like?
Bruce McLaughlin, Leeds
I spent most of the '60s in a band, writing songs, with a young family and a mortgage. So I didn't do much damage. I did all my damage in the '70s and '80s. The Swinging '60s were interesting, daft but stimulating because it was a class and youth revolution, which gave a voice to a band like The Kinks who came from a suburban, working-class background. The miniskirts were great, too.
Have you ever drunk champagne that tastes just like cherry cola, as it says in The Kinks' 1970 hit Lola?
Ben Hartland, N Yorks
I have. I had a Californian champagne that tasted like it, in some kind of LA bordello tourist trap.
See My Friends, Fancy, Lola... you write a lot of sexually ambiguous songs. How come?
Neil Thomson, Tonbridge
I don't want to write for women or men. I want to write for a central identity that is apart from the sterotypes you see on television. [Eyes BBC News 24] I'm not saying that that weatherman should wear a dress, although it might not be a bad idea after seeing his suit. But sexual stereotypes are boring. I'm an artist who loves boxing and there's a schism there. I like to get to the core of people.
What was the best and worst thing about turning 60 last year?
Alan Kerr, Bidford-on-Avon
I didn't have time to celebrate it. Put it right on the back burner. When I turned 21, I spent it alone in a Sheraton hotel in Chicago. I was too scared to go out because we had screaming fans outside and there were all these security men with guns. My 30th birthday I was in a terrible state. So I think the thing to do is to celebrate the times when everything is good, regardless of the date. I had a secretary who insisted on taking a week off for her birthday and she did this every year. So I sacked her.
My dad reckons he used to play amateur league football against you, even after you became famous. Were you any good and did people try and hurt you because you were "that bloke from The Kinks"?
Stuart Gale, Broxbourne
I was proud to be the captain of the Showbiz XI for about three years. The generations before me included the likes of Sean Connery and Tommy Steele, so it was a big stretch for them to let in a pop singer. I only became captain after I cut my hair. We won lots of games, it was a real hoot. It all went wrong when Radio 1 DJs started to believe they should play the whole game. It became almost like payola. I never got clattered by anyone really, I was too significant a force on the field. My position? Tenuous. Usually midfield schemer, a touch of the Patrick Vieira. I did try and avoid playing with my brother because he would often be sent off. And as captain, that was difficult because I always took the referee's side.
Brian Wilson reconstructed Smile after 30 years. Is there any project you'd like to go back to?
James Provini, New Jersey
Yes, having a life. I was enjoying that before all this started 40 years ago. Creatively, yes, I don't blame Brian. I could spend my whole life redoing my work. In fact, I'm still waiting to do a new vocal on [1966 hit] Sunny Afternoon.
What advice would you give anyone planning to start a band with their brother?
Adam Holman, Crystal Palace
Buy the rights. And be prepared, if there's creative talent in both parties, for a lot of fiery sparks, a lot of anger and a lot of brilliance. Because, when you haven't got it any more, there's nobody to replace it. It's like a great footballer, you're going to have the rough and the smooth. And if you have the chemistry, treasure it because it's a wonderful commodity.
Would you ever consider getting The Kinks back together?
Sarah Martin, Cleveland
If we got together some songs that were new I'd do that, but not just to play the old hits. It's got to feel relevant. Otherwise it becomes a bottle of Grecian 2000 and a one-way ticket to Vegas.
Career-wise, what have been The Kinks three worst blunders?
Jensen Taggert, Aberdeen
The drummer, the bassist and the keyboard player. My brother was 15 when we first started touring and I was 18. You're obviously going to make mistakes. Allowing people to get married, have kids, allowing them to have lives... it's not on. But if it does happen, try and not lose sight of the fact that you're still together as a single entity, the band. Mistakes? Signing our first contract just because we had a hit song and were insecure. But it's too easy to moan.
Is it true Waterloo Sunset is inspired by your time as a child in St Thomas' Hospital overlooking Waterloo?
Jon Barrow, Bristol
Yeah, I was in there for a while. I nearly died. I had a tracheotomy and the balloon burst. I couldn't speak for days and the nurses would wheel me out onto the balcony to watch the Thames. I was amazed by how I could see such life in the river. It felt like blood pumping through the veins of the city. I hate analysing my songs. I don't think [19th-century French Impressionist, Edgar] Degas sat down to work out why he painted. It's instinct and if you can get half a good tune out of instinct, you are a lucky bastard.
Why were you banned from the USA for almost five years in the '60s?
Marie Watson, California
Mick Avory, our then-drummer, summed it up eloquently. He said a combination of bad management, bad luck and bad behaviour. They just didn't understand our North London sense of humour. It was like sending ['30s cheeky chappy British comedian] Max Miller to entertain the American troups in Guam. I think the Americans were actually frightened of us. We thought we were just acting normally. There was something in the air that a British band was going to be banned, and with the way we looked and sounded, we were the ones.
What are your favourite Kinks songs?
Helen Parsons, Teesside
You Really Got Me is quite outstanding. That came from nowhere. I love too many equally and each one was a journey on from the last. All Day And All Of The Night was a step on from You Really Got Me. It's like a space shuttle. The first shuttle goes round the moon, the next one lands.
You turned up at the Whittington Hospital, London, in 1973 dressed as a clown
and said, "I'm Ray Davies and I'm dying." Why?
Robbie Aston, Birmingham
Because I'd just come offstage and sunk a bottle of downers because I wanted to kill myself. Then I changed my mind. I was dressed as a dandy, it might have looked like a clown to everyone else. But even clowns can have bad days. I didn't have time to change because I would have died. Was it a cry for help? No, I liked that outfit.
Who was David Watts, the hero of The Kinks' '67 track, then a hit for The Jam in '78?
Luke Yates, Hong Kong
He was a good friend and a bad concert promoter. Former soldier, leader of men, someone from a bygone age. He fancied my brother for a while. Passed away now. He used to say, "You bums for writing that song!" When I first met Paul Weller he had a badge on that said, "Who the fuck is David Watts?" He had to be my friend after that.
Why have you still not made a solo album?
Mel Hayes, Lincoln
Well, it was going to come out last year, but I was shot in January. It was going to come out the year before but I wanted to write some American songs because I'd written all my London songs to go with it. I toured America a week after the so-called 9/11 and realised how little we had in common. It was like visiting a dying relative you never knew that well. So I wanted to write some songs about that. But now the songs are done, I just have to mix them.
What was the worst fight The Kinks ever had?
Matt Aarons, Acton
It was in the back of a Bedford Dormobile in Norwich before we were famous. It was hell, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I forget what it was about. Oh, I remember. It was about who was going to unload the gear.