Former head Kink waxes eloquent about his mom and dad, Village Green Preservation Society, the Beatles, Keith Richards, “Madame” Jagger, Rod Stewart and the Queen Mother’s teeth
by Legs McNeil and Stacey Asip-Kneitschel
In 2009, Ray Davies toured America to promote The Kinks Choral Collection, which featured new studio recordings of some of Davies’ finest songs backed by the Crouch End Festival Chorus. He performed with the chorus at Town Hall in New York in November. Six of the songs from the classic, underrated Kinks’ album Village Green Preservation Society were included in Davies’ “choral collection.”
On the forty-ninth anniversary of the release of Village Green Preservation Society, we present the following exclusive interview with Davies, conducted on Nov. 11, 2009 by Legs McNeil and Stacey Asip, in which Davies talked about his family, his working class roots and the early days of being a Kink. This version is condensed from a much longer interview.
S: I went to the Town Hall concert and I thought it was great and you did the entire Kinks Choral Collection…I was wondering why that choice of songs?
Ray Davies: I don’t know, it’s the way these things evolve, you know, you listen to things, you try to work out things that are interesting for the choir and for the band to play and, of course, for the people to listen to. And that was kind of the balance, that was how it felt that week. I started this project…seriously, started the arrangements about a year and a half ago.
L: Did you know instinctively or was it by chance that you thought rock ‘n’ roll might mix with a choir? It seems kind of dodgy that it couldn’t have worked.
Ray Davies: It is dodgy. I tried to do it ten years ago but I ended up using the symphony. I was commissioned to write a choral piece ten years ago which has a really interesting story line. It was all new work, it was a hundred singers…and it started off as rock ‘n’ roll, but acoustically as soon as you put drums into the scenario or even a guitar, unless it’s specifically written for the part, it creates acoustical problems.
L: But it worked this time.
Ray Davies: It works this time because it got the band playing orchestrally, in a sense.
L: And it still rocks.
Ray Davies: Yes, it’s tough to keep the rock edge, you know. I think that could only come about with stuff specifically written for a choir. It’s a learning curve for me, it’s all learning. Next time, if I embark on another project like this, I’ll have a slightly different approach to it.
L: What would you change?
Ray Davies: I’d change some of the bolder things I’ve tried like ‘You Really Got Me’. The radical arrangement I did at Town Hall, that’s not on the recorded version, but it’s an abbreviated version with the recorded version.
S: I thought the harder ones almost worked better…I don’t know why.
Ray Davies: They worked…’You Really Got Me’ was really hard…
S: It made me giddy.
Ray Davies: Yeah, when we premiered the show in San Francisco, the audience there is notoriously laid back, but they bought it, they were standing up from the beginning. I think they had that sort of laughter thing because it was so powerful.
Sometimes there’s an element, I think there are elements in rock music, the epic rock music, there’s something about ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and epic tracks like that…even heavy metal that makes it smile.
“Well, I’m different, I didn’t rebel from my parents. I didn’t rebel from my family. I wrote songs that my dad liked, which is the opposite of what, you know, Please Kill Me.”
L: Even when I saw the Ramones for the first time, you’re just giggling because it worked so well.
Ray Davies: But you know what you hear, say it’s the Ramones, say it’s at CBGBs, it’s so loud. There’s a factor that you don’t…this is the music, you’ve watched the performance, there’s a volume factor that you can’t describe, you can’t put that into words. It’s euphoric and it means you like the band…What the choir did was to articulate what that euphoric moment was and that’s why it works really well on the loud stuff… It’s just that element in rock music that you can’t describe. It’s almost like the overtones from guitars and the sound of drums and the thing that make your head go dizzy when you hear something that’s really loud. So, if I had the chance to do it again I’d probably explore that aspect of it.
S: I also noticed that almost half the songs you did were from the Village Green Preservation Society album.
Ray Davies: Six of them were. [“Village Green,” “Johnny Thunder,” “Do You Remember Walter?”, “Big Sky,” “Picture Book,” and “Village Green Preservation Society”].
S: Can you talk about that…Why would you be choosing to do that? You even mentioned that this was your worst-selling record.
Ray Davies: Yeah, well it was originally, but it’s picked up over the years, it’s a slow burner. And that was kind of a tongue-in-cheek statement [about ‘worst selling’]. It’s a revered album. And when I was doing the arrangement for this record [The Kinks Choral Collection], I think it was the fortieth anniversary and I thought [Village Green Preservation Society] deserved to be heard. I was going to try to do it in its entirety because I missed a lot of good tracks…it was a time bubble. Some of the songs really worked. I wanted to do that song ‘Walter’ [‘Do You Remember Walter?’], I always wanted to hear ‘Johnny Thunder’ played with that sort of choir, backing vocal type thing. That works really well. And all the singers taking the part of the characters from the Village Green Preservation Society…the men singing about draft beer and the male things. The woman singing about all the feminine things. That appealed to me.
L: When you were making your switch from doing the hits to ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and then to Village Green Preservation Society, you had a shift in music.
Ray Davies: Yes.
L: Were you influenced by the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds? Was that anything or am I totally off base here?
Ray Davies: I didn’t hear albums much when I started out. I bought the singles, I got singles, like I’d get ‘Good Vibrations.’ But I wouldn’t buy albums simply because I didn’t have a good stereo in my house.
L: You didn’t?
Ray Davies: Well, I was making albums for seven years — successful albums and singles, but I didn’t realize I needed two speakers on my stereo. I was just too busy to get connected…There I was, you know, the troubled teenager leaving art school just earning some money, enough money to get through college, and suddenly within six months I had a number one record. People were knocking on my door.
L: You were 19, right?
Ray Davies: Yes. And they were asking me to write big hits. So, all that confusion was never resolved. I got married, foolishly.
L: To Rasa [Dicpetris].
Ray Davies: Yes, I got married very quickly. My life was in turmoil, for years. I think it’s still unresolved where I am, where I am really, what I’m doing. So, going back to your original question, I didn’t really check out, to tell you the truth, that particular album. It had a llama on the front, is that right?
L: They had some weird animals on the album cover.
Ray Davies: I’m trying put a date on that.
L: ’67, it comes out in ’66. That’s why I thought you might have been because everybody seems to be changing their sound right around then.
S: Yeah, there was a trend toward theme-oriented albums.
Ray Davies: Well, ’66 and ’67 was when technology was changing. You had eight-track recorders and I think people were trying to experiment. And there was a general feeling in the music community that this is something new and the Beach Boys, maybe, Brian was hip to what the British were doing…I think the British were experimenting a little bit more with the techniques and recording and putting tapes backwards and things like that. An era of experimentation and I think everyone was trying something new, that’s all.
L: Well, I think everybody saw more possibilities than just having these hit singles.
Ray Davies: With Village Green Preservation Society, I didn’t go to the summit, it was the writing that changed. The subject matter changed, what I was writing about, to be straight. In fact, if you listen to the record, if you can bear to listen to the album, it is very under-recorded, low achieving, low-fi. So, it’s a first in attitude, I wasn’t trying to be ecstatically, sonically superior to anyone else…In fact, it’s one of the first, I think, it’s one of the first underachieving records. Yet, I felt that the writing would carry the album without worrying about the sonics. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
S: Were you surprised?
Ray Davies: I’m still in shock. I’m overwhelmed.
S: I mean, you were looking back nostalgically at England and life, society and everybody else was like here and now. It was the ‘Swinging Sixties’.
Ray Davies: No, that’s actually what I thought the world was.
S: You thought the world was?
Ray Davies: That’s the way I saw the world. I still do.
S: You were about 24 or so, that was 1967?
Ray Davies: Yeah, must have been… 23, 24 when I started writing those songs.
S: That in and of itself is kind of unusual that a 24-year-old would be waxing…
Ray Davies: Well, I’m different, I didn’t rebel from my parents. I didn’t rebel from my family. I wrote songs that my dad liked, which is the opposite of what, you know, Please Kill Me.
L: Ha, ha, ha.
Ray Davies: Which is what everybody in that book was trying to do.
L: Right, piss off their parents.
Ray Davies: Piss off the parents. I always wanted to please my dad because my dad was cooler than any other rock singer. I had a talk with Keith Richards once, oh in about ’66. We met at a hotel and he was wearing a shirt with no collar, it had studs. I said, ‘you got studs in the collar and no collar’. The collars would be put on separately — ever seen those shirts?
S: You attach them?
Ray Davies: You attach them, yes. They were for working people, for clerks, this sort of people, semi-professional…rather than wash the shirt every day, they’d just change the collar… Keith had one and I said ‘that’s what my dad wears’ and he said, ‘yeah, mine wore these’. I think there was an element…I think this whole teenage rebellion thing is bit overrated. I think…the cool adults understood.
Ray Davies: The cool adults understood. And there’s this whole music thing that came from a generation, I just had a look at the History Channel, what they called the “Greatest Generation” that fought in the Second World War and came out of the war broke. Britain came out of the war broke and then we had the welfare state and threw out the man who won the war for us, Winston Churchill. I remember going to the shop with ration books when I was a kid, to buy things with a ration book.
L: I remember reading that when the Beatles went to Hamburg, they said, ‘wait a minute, we won the war and everyone over here has money and we’re still rationing’.
Ray Davies: It was the injection of funds to the defeated states.
L: Do you remember rations after the war?
Ray Davies: Yeah, I remember going to buy sweets on rations. [Ray Davies was born in 1944]. My mother used to collect the rations, because there were a lot of us in the family. She used to get everybody’s ration books together to get enough meat for the week.
L: Wow, you don’t forget that, do you?
Ray Davies: Well, I seem to recall that and the rationing. And even though I wasn’t around during most of the war, my older sisters told me they couldn’t buy eggs anywhere. They had this thing called egg powder. It’s out of a tin and you can mix it up and make an omelet of it. So, coming from that generation suddenly finding yourself, I think the big impact was the working class revolution that took place at the end of the ‘50s and the beginning of the 60s. It happened in literature, it happened with Alan Sillitoe, who wrote Saturday Night and Sunday Morning [and Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner]. It happened with Room at the Top [novel by John Braine]. It branched over from theater. Interestingly, it had John Osborne, who was…
S: Look Back In Anger.
Ray Davies: …who was a middle class man writing about working-class beliefs. He wrote Look Back In Anger. You had Harold Pinter, of course…Then, of course, you had the Beatles coming through. You had [playwright] Joe Orton [Loot, What The Butler Saw], who I used to know.
L: And [screenwriter] Alun Owen too, who wrote A Hard Day’s Night…
Ray Davies: All these people…So you had this liberated sense of music coming through and my parents were cool because they were part of the working class…you know.
“I think they [The Beatles] were very well organized about the way they worked. …And they had a team. I didn’t really have a team. They knew exactly what their music was being cast for. I didn’t. I knew I had a good riff guitar player [brother Dave Davies]…but I had no one to collaborate with.”
S: What did your father do for a living?
Ray Davies: He was a buyer and seller of farms and livestock. He coordinated the markets in London. I lived in a place called Highgate. The reason it’s called Highgate was because it used to be the last pub on the hill that looks over the city of London. It’s the highest spot in London, but people used to stop, the cattle drivers and sheep herders used to stop at the Highgate for the last drink before they went into the markets…And my dad used to travel a lot because of that.
Going back to Village Green Preservation Society, I was never in rebellion. I thought the world was very enlightening. I think the world is right now, but we’re so guarded, we’re so beaten up over the realities, the other realities in the world we forget that world. I think, I’m not saying anything nostalgic or anything new, I think it’s part of the little bits of people that have left and have a little bit of emotion left in their lives. Because we’re all not in society cause we’re all worried about Iraq, Iran…the banks, all that crap. So, you got to have something to take all the emotions. Some of the things I write about are airy, fairy, a little bit sort of fey, but I think that’s good to actually have somebody keep writing this stuff.
L: Can I just interject here? When the guy asked you to go golfing while you were on vacation—the incident that inspired your writing of ‘A Well Respected Man’—were you pissed at him because you thought he wanted you to caddy?
Ray Davies: I was pissed at myself for being in the situation because I had just come back off a disastrous American tour, my wife had just had a baby…My manager sent me to this really expensive hotel in West Hampshire, a place called Torquay. And people had seen me on television, these well respected people thought that I could be one of them and I didn’t want to be one of them.
L: Yeah, well, in a way that is rebellion though, isn’t it?
Ray Davies: I only rebel about what I…I saw what I could have become if I had been like that. A lot of people bought into that.
S: Other rock musicians?
Ray Davies: Yeah.
S: Will you name names?
L: The Beatles, the Stones, Mick Jagger, come on.
Ray Davies: Mick Jagger, Mick [and] “Madame” Jagger did that.
L: Madame Jagger.
Ray Davies: He did that and she did that very well. And she carried it off brilliantly and more power to him for doing it and to a lesser extent, Keith. They got…not seduced…what happened is that I stayed firmly in kind of the blue collar world. Lived in a semidetached house, maybe I could have afforded to live somewhere else but we were on a shitty deal right from the beginning. So, we only got paid the equivalent of like sixty dollars a week. So, we put ourselves on that and we were having number one records because our deals were so bad, it’s the only way we survived.
L: Did you have to sign away half your publishing rights up front?
Ray Davies: Well, it was the first piece of paper I signed, when I first started.
S: When did that end? I know you signed it to that guy Larry Page and [his business partner] Eddie Kassner…
Ray Davies: It was a three-part deal. My original manager is probably the culprit.
S: Your original managers, Robert Wace and…
Ray Davies: Grenville Collins… The big deal, I think they had the ability to do, I think they were on forty percent commission and…
L: And getting half your publishing?
Ray Davies: They weren’t involved directly with the publishing I think they got involved because they didn’t know how to get a deal. They were laughed at by all of Tin Pan Alley, everyone just laughed at them.
S: Why did everyone laugh at them? Because they were too posh?
Ray Davies: Yeah, they were considered caricatures, which they were. And, bless them for that, because it took a lot of buffle, do you know what the word buffle means?
Ray Davies: Balls. Buffle means bar room glass. So, they signed off part of their deals with Eric Page, in turn had a deal with the publisher, who we signed on too. There was no formal paperwork from the Kinks for writing. So, it was all a bit iffy anyway where there were any contracts. We were rushing around so much and by the time I had time to take advice, get legal advice and start an action, we had already been through like ten Top 10 singles and two or three albums.
S: Was that fairly typical though at that time for you?
Ray Davies: To keep us rushed off our feet so we had no time to deal with things.
L: Well, that’s what amazes me is that you guys had to tour and you were always writing these songs, the Beatles were doing the same thing, they always had to keep writing.
Ray Davies: There is something special about Beatles, though. I think they were such good businessman. And you know the difference between a writer and a businessman, you are obviously a very organized writer…
Ray Davies: The Beatles were organized about what they did. We did a few shows with them and it was apparent that they knew what they were doing.
S: Can you be more specific. What did you notice when you did early shows with them that set them apart?
Ray Davies: They knew exactly what, Ringo said, ‘we can’t do the Scandinavian set because we’re in Blackpool, so we’ll do the English, the north of England set list.’ That probably would change one song. They were very well organized, knew what they were doing…it is apparent and just meeting them they are just very organized businessman and it shows in their writing. In the great stuff that they wrote. And they’ve had some ropy songs, iffy songs.
S: That weren’t recorded or released?
Ray Davies: Released.
S: Like what? ‘You Know My Name’?
Ray Davies: It wasn’t bad…I think they were very well organized about the way they worked. …And they had a team. I didn’t really have a team. They knew exactly what their music was being cast for. I didn’t. I knew I had a good riff guitar player [brother Dave Davies]…but I had no one to collaborate with.
S: Do you think they were like that before Brian Epstein was working with them?
Ray Davies: In a strange way…I don’t think he was that good.
S: Who, Epstein?
L: You met him early on, too. He was maybe interested in you?
Ray Davies: Yeah, but he didn’t fall in love with any one. I think if he had fallen in love with one of the musicians, he would have managed us. Why did my two managers who had this great deal to try and get him to manage us? They were all over the place. It was a complete accident. I think the fact [The Beatles] had him, again, he may not have been the best businessman because I think he signed their first deal.
L: With NEMS [the Epstein family’s music store in Liverpool], which was shitty.
Ray Davies: Oh…he got paid on wholesale. Anything he wanted. Anyway, but there was something magical about the chemistry.
S: Of the other four?
Ray Davies: The other four and him. Just look at the documentaries. He was trying to run it like a suburban business because he owned a record shop. He was still trying to run it like that. Obviously he had a bit of success and he became more affected in his mannerisms. It’s quite a common…you know, I think only the British could have pulled that off, that phenomenon.
L: Didn’t you want to get Rod Stewart early on, he was called the Elvis of whatever…
Ray Davies: He was the Elvis Presley of Muswell Hill…No, I just knew Rod at school, at the same school and we played football together. We called him Rod the Mod. He was in a group called the Moontrackers because they had their own PA, it’s as simple as that. The Moontrackers had an echo locked in, an echo machine which would put echo on everything. And he liked that. I didn’t see myself as being a singer; Dave did most of the singing. We had a guy playing maracas, a neighbor, a roadie called Jonah, who did some of the vocals of the songs. I was just the guitar player…you see, to stay out of trouble. It wasn’t until I started writing that they took us in the studio, my voice double-tracked well.
S: And that’s the reason why you started singing?
Ray Davies: Yeah. That’s all.
L: So, you never saw yourself as a singer.
Ray Davies: Never wanted to.
S: Why didn’t Dave’s voice double track well? What’s the distinction?
Ray Davies: Because he’s got a pretty singular sounding voice when he gets part in the sharp, you know, a little voice. It came as an accident with me singing.
S: When you saw that the Beatles had their act together in a way that you didn’t, why didn’t you do anything to try and emulate them? Did you feel like there wasn’t anything you could do?
Ray Davies: We couldn’t organize it, we didn’t have the organizational skills. Remember I’m…
S: You were a lot younger than them, too.
Ray Davies: I was barely articulate. I could barely fill out a form at college. I got through college out of sheer talent because of painting. Academically, I was okay. But…I was barely potty-trained.
S: Your parents, though, were supportive of what you guys were doing, they bought you guitars, they paid them off.
Ray Davies: They wanted me to have a steady job. When I took on the first signed contract, my mom was very pleased about that. But you know…this whole thing about rebelling against parents…I think this whole thing, even the Beatles, was made possible because of this working class revolution. Nobody was shot, nobody was…but it was a revolution, a cultural revolution. And I think that when we first came to the States, the invasion shocked our people. It was an American domain, you had Frankie Avalon, people like that.
L: But Americans looked so ugly before you guys came over here. If you see the girls, they all had horn-rimmed glasses and all the guys had buzz cuts…
Ray Davies: No, American clean-cut looked beautiful, we were the uglies.
L: No, you guys looked so cool compared to us. We looked like a bunch of nerds, are you kidding me?
Ray Davies: Well, that’s your word, not mine. I thought America looked pretty sharp, was pretty sharp.
S: Well, it was a richer country. Kids had cars, they weren’t worried about hot water.
L: Everyone could afford cheeseburgers and Cokes.
Ray Davies: It’s fake, as we found out, it’s fake.
S: Getting back to Madame Jagger…After about 1965, you got in trouble with the musicians union here and you couldn’t play…
Ray Davies: It was not just that…it was other people, lots of other things. There were two or three issues that got intermingled and one I really cannot talk about that I think was the determining factor on the West Coast. It was really, still to this day…
S: Still angry about it?
Ray Davies: I’m not angry about it, I just cannot talk about it, for legal reasons. It will emerge one day.
S: I guess my question is, is that because you couldn’t play here for almost four years, it must have changed how you wrote, and that affected your career.
Ray Davies: Yeah, it certainly affected things after that. I started in ’67 to write Village Green Preservation Society…I just wanted to write about this world I saw that I actually believed in.
L: Did you like America?
Ray Davies: Do I like America? I was intimidated by it.
L: Because you seem to be so set on describing this Britain that you know and loved…
Ray Davies: Yeah.
S: And you were also stuck there too.
Ray Davies: Yeah, stuck there. We could tour everywhere else in the world but America was a big market for us and suddenly it was denied. And remember, the music that inspired me was American, for the most part. Apart from a few people like Noel Coward. Cole Porter was American, Hank Williams, and all the music from the Mississippi Delta…All influenced me. I was confused why they picked on us. Someone was going to take the rap. Because I heard an interview we were doing on that tour. We were in Chicago, a radio interview somebody said to me ‘what about this ban, who is going to get banned?’ So, there was talk that somebody was going to get banned from the States. There was something in the air.
S: You mean sort of a scapegoat for this British Invasion, so to speak?
Ray Davies: I don’t know what it was.
S: You were on a package tour, it wasn’t just you.
Ray Davies: We didn’t do a package tour, that’s one of the reasons we I wouldn’t go on that awful package tour in 1965.
L: Was that the Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, and that whole thing?
Ray Davies: Oh, no. That was great. That was just a couple shows playing with the Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, Sam the Sham…The Righteous Brothers, the Byrds, one of the greatest.
L: How were the Byrds?
Ray Davies: The Byrds were just like the records.
L: Really, they were?
Ray Davies: We got to the show, they were on just before we went on…When they did ‘Tambourine Man’ you could hear it echoing around the Hollywood Bowl and it sounded just like the record.
L: Did you like them? I mean as people?
Ray Davies: I didn’t really think about them as people. It was just guys that made a record. I was a really bad mixer. I still am. Except, you know, on the big tours and things. I was always the quiet one. Because I was busy writing the songs for the next record.
L: That’s interesting when you say that. In Don’t Look Back [1967 documentary film by D.A. Pennebaker], you see Dylan is writing every night on his typewriter.
Ray Davies: Well, he knows he’s on a roll. It’s just the thing, I can’t instinctively…I wasn’t that smart but I knew I was on a roll. Get it all out while you can.
L: Would you go back to the hotel every night and try writing? Or would it just come to you?
Ray Davies: It just comes to me at a strange time. I’ve always been a bad sleeper so I used to have insomnia. So…other than the ideas, it was such a brilliant time for me evolving as a musician and as a songwriter. And having this great tour at my disposal with the Kinks.
L: What was it about the guy asking you if you wanted to go golfing? Is golfing an upper class thing?
Ray Davies: To me golfing is a sign that you really have become a different type of person. [Kinks drummer] Mick Avory took up golf and was never the same in my eyes again.
L: So did Iggy and Alice Cooper, ya know.
Ray Davies: And you see what disasters they’ve become.
S: You can still hang out with upper class people; your managers came from the upper class.
Ray Davies: But it’s not real. At the end of the day, everybody reverts to type. Here it’s a bit more homogenized.
S: It’s more egalitarian.
Ray Davies: Yeah, and people say, ‘oh you come from Wisconsin’ or ‘I don’t know about Wisconsin…I’m from Connecticut’. It’s kind of inverted snobbery here. It’s not as bad as in England. You wait, when the conservatives get in England, it’s going to be bloody awful. I think there’s going to be a resurgence in the upper class because, you know, the world is now going to have rich people and not going to have a middle class. Very rich people and then the other people.
L: Yeah, right, us.
S: We had that under Reagan, actually, that’s what America was looking like in the 1980s.
Ray Davies: Kind of where you live, New York, is like that. All my friends are moving out because they can’t afford to live here. Will it have an impact on the music?
L: Yeah. Nothing is going to happen here for twenty years or so. Do you think anything is going to happen?
Ray Davies: It’s going to be like this for twenty years?
L: Yeah. because everybody has that twenty-year time slot and then it’s up and they throw you out and it becomes a different city. I mean, there’s a Starbucks on every fucking corner. There’s no more delis.
Ray Davies: What happened to David’s Cookies?
L: I don’t know, what happened to everything? You know, like Blimpies? Now they have Subway…You can’t get a Blimpies, everything is a Subway, everything is like a corporate chain. New York didn’t allow that, the Mob kinda kept it…
Ray Davies: Well, the thing about New York, just to clear up here, is the little shops…It’s still a bit neighborhoody.
L: CBGBs you can’t even…I was there across the street at the Bowery Poetry Project and I look across the street and there was Chase Bank all lit up…Do you think anything is going to happen here? I think we’re moving towards a sterile utopia, you know…
Ray Davies: If something doesn’t happen on the higher echelons to control some of the expenditure and the bonuses and things like that, people are going to start to revolt.
L: No, they just line up to conform.
Ray Davies: Yeah?
L: I don’t see them revolting, no…Plus the girls, the fashions, the Sex in the City fashions, the girls with these fat thighs and these short skirts, it’s just…who’s dressing these people? Ugh…
Ray Davies: Looked good on the drawing board.
Ray Davies: I think that’s the problem.
L: Yeah, and everyone is using “awesome.” Awesome, it’s awesome.
Ray Davies: People have been calling me that for a long time — I never believed it. The expression that I find irritating is “you guys.” My thirteen-year-old daughter in Ireland says it, “You guys.”
L: Can we talk about the Swinging London in ’67?
Ray Davies: Yeah, if you like.
L: Were you going out? Were you a part of that? You must have gone out some clubs and hung out and seen it, no?
Ray Davies: I went to a few clubs. You go to one club you seen them all. I was a secret party goer. Because I was married, I was twenty. And she, you generally stay at home because you have a baby, but I’d go out in secret. Just go out with Mick, my drummer…But the party all came to us.
L: It did?
Ray Davies: Yeah. It came to my house and Mick and Dave had a house and it was nonstop party. So, why go into London and spend money going to a night club when the night club wants to come to you? Because you’re the hippest thing around — at that time. And that’s the bit with that. It was hard keeping people out of my house, you know. I was famous for throwing people out because I’d had enough.
S: Did it drive your wife crazy or did she like it?
Ray Davies: I think she liked it.
S: Yeah, but she was young too.
L: Yeah, she was young, she probably wanted to party.
Ray Davies: Cute little Russian girl.
Ray Davies: Yes. That was another thing on that tour, because she was Russian. The trouble we had was like people calling her commie, we wore red under-jackets people were calling her a little Commie in America.
L: Well, in America a Commie was the worst thing in the world.
Ray Davies: No, it’s so diverse this country. Growing up in New York, it’s a breeze I think.
In Akron, I had a girlfriend that came from Akron, they never went to the theater. They didn’t know what the theater was — in the Midwest. There’s no culture. It’s all like these weird…I think if you’re English you’ve got weird teeth, because everyone in England has weird teeth, you know what I’m saying?
It’s not just Austin Powers, it’s an ongoing issue.
S: Right. I remember they did this thing once where they were showing pictures of the Queen Mother’s teeth…
Ray Davies: She had the worst teeth. She could have had access to the best dentist. She smoked so many cigarettes a day. She actually called people peasants. They couldn’t allow — whoever looks after the royal family wouldn’t let a microphone within like forty feet of her because she said, ‘all those peasants’, ‘are they peasants or are they socialites?’
S: Oh boy. Wasn’t Prince Philip supposed to be notoriously bad in that regard?
Ray Davies: Oh he is. He’s his own man, he’s a man of the Empire. As they say, calls a spade a spade — and why not? But yeah, the Queen Mum was notorious for that, and Princes Margaret.
“I didn’t see myself as being a singer; Dave did most of the singing. We had a guy playing maracas, a neighbor, a roadie called Jonah, who did some of the vocals of the songs. I was just the guitar player.”
L: Did you…does the British class system piss you off still? Or how do you…I mean, you must have mixed feelings about it.
Ray Davies: I think what’s interesting about it is the big divide, this class system before the World War, I’ve known so many, two or three, I’ve known two or three people one of which has died recently they’re all departing, we’ll all depart soon, one guy Jeffery who was very middle class, upper middle class. He was the Captain of the ship or second of command of the ship, was sacrificed when Churchill let Singapore go. He spent four and a half years in a prisoner of war camp in Japan. There’s a whole generation of people who came back and they said ‘sod the classes we’re leaving England, we’re booking Europe’. And they came to live in Connecticut. He worked for an oil company and he said ‘I’ll never go back to England.’ It’s not just upper class people, it’s middle and working class too.
S: What about also moving to Australia like your sister [Rose] and brother-in-law?
Ray Davies: A lot of my school friends all left while I went on tour. A lot of them did well in Canada. A few went to Australia, but my sister went to Australia because it was her husband’s dream to go there. She didn’t want to go. Of course, they got there after breaking my family up — it broke my family up completely. I had lived with my sister.
S: I know you were close…
Ray Davies: Yeah, I lived with her and she’s my closest sibling. And they got there and after about three or four years he died and then her son had gotten married.
S: Then she couldn’t leave.
Ray Davies: Now, she’s in a care home in Australia. I went to see her, I did a gig there in 2007 or beginning of 2008, and I went to visit her. She’s got this Alzheimer’s thing, she doesn’t remember much.
L: I’m so sorry.
Ray Davies: She recognizes me when I’m walking, she still thinks I’m seventeen though… Then the minute I’ve left the room she’s forgotten I’ve been there. And the only way I could connect with her…I used to sing Johnny Cash songs, her name is Rose, I sang ‘Give My Love to Rose’ to her in the care home and all these people were looking around, and I’m singing it in my Johnny Cash voice.
L: Oh, that’s so sweet.
S: Well, you wrote a whole album about their move and songs about her [Arthur].
Ray Davies: I think Australia was the new world and they were building all these, strangely enough… this guy Jeffery, who worked for the oil company, went to Adelaide as well…and he came from the higher echelons of society, but he worked there for Gulf Oil or one of the other companies. And he said they were making all the British people come out, they were like a fat factory…just being sent to a sunny place rather than working in England. They were promised all this land of opportunity. It wasn’t much different, it had better weather. And he knew the town where my sister went to live. So, you had the working class people going with the people who were savvy enough to not come back to England out of choice.
L: I also wanted to ask you, do you think we’re all kind of hungover from World War II? I mean it has affected our lives so profoundly.
Ray Davies: Just from the fact that television is so bad, the only channel I keep flicking to is the History Channel and they’re having this World War II marathon on. What amazes me is that I don’t think people totally celebrated at the end of it, and again, I wasn’t around really to celebrate the end of it. I talked to my sisters who lived through it and they had the best time of their lives in the war.
L: They did?
Ray Davies: Yeah, they were frightened because London was the target of the Blitz…I think in one night 50,000 people were killed in London. I think it was such a shock in the world. After all, it was a world war. We’re in a world war now.
L: And you wouldn’t know it.
Ray Davies: No, you wouldn’t. Maybe people can’t take the truth, that’s what’s really happening.
L: Well, [Stacey’s] father was a B-17 navigator, you grew up on rationing, you know, my mother went out with Carl the janitor who was in Guam building airbases, all our parents lived through it…
Ray Davies: Yes, I think the world took longer to recover from it than just a few years because economies were set in a certain direction. I think Britain has just paid off her debt to America. While Tony Blair was in power.
L: Well, FDR really fucked you guys. He said no more empire, you’ve got to give those countries back.
Ray Davies: Well, yeah…[pause] Have you always been a writer?
L: Yeah. Always, yeah.
Ray Davies: Great.
Update: Dave Davies responded to Ray’s comments in the article on Twitter: