By Ken Sharp
More than half a century since its original release, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society album is lauded as a landmark moment in rock and roll history and one of the group’s signature classics. Yet the worthy follow-up album, 1969’s Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) has wrongly failed to earn the same gushing accolades. Now that’s about to change with a 50th anniversary 4-CD deluxe box set culling 81 tracks; a newly remastered version of the original album, sporting outtakes, alternate cuts, B-sides, BBC mixes, rehearsal tracks, the complete lost Dave Davies’ solo album, along with a softback book and various Kinks ephemera.
A concept album based on Ray and Dave’s sister Rose and husband Arthur Anning, who emigrated to Australia in the early 1960s, the album (the band’s first with new bassist John Dalton) is a powerful and evocative snapshot of a bygone era framed by some of the group’s strongest work with songs like “Shangri-La,” “Victoria,” “Yes Sir, No Sir,” “Young and Innocent Days,” “Australia,” “Drivin’” and “Brainwashed.”
Join us for a conversation with Kinks founding member, guitarist Dave Davies, for a look at Arthur.
GOLDMINE: Following the relative commercial failure but creative success of your prior album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, what was the thinking going into the studio for the album Arthur?
DAVE DAVIES: Working on the Arthur album was very enjoyable because the subject matter of the album was of great interest to me. It really hit close to home as the subject matter is primarily about our family, my sister Rose and her husband Arthur who emigrated to Australia. I was excited about the collection of songs but because of the family connection it made it even more interesting for me. The inspiration for the idea came from our family but Ray obviously gave rise to other subject matter about Britain at that time through the war years. My family knew many people who were very much involved with the war so the album has a lot of references to the war years. Of course, when we were small, small kids in a big family, we were told many war stories. So we heard a lot about the war when we were children.
GM: The title of the album is Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire. Can you address the meaning behind the subtitle?
DD: It’s really a notion that Ray picked up on. After the war, as kids we looked around and went, “Did we actually win anything?” We’re still fighting for injustices and social inequality and all kinds of things that are still going on today so did we really win at anything at all? The sub-title was a reflection of all of that.
GM: While The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society album received its share of mighty critical kudos through the years, the Arthur album has not garnered that kind of retroactive acclaim. Has the Arthur album been overlooked in your eyes?
DD: I think so, definitely. I felt the Arthur album was the start of a new beginning for us with The Kinks. It was like starting again. We could go back to America and tour again and that was a really big thing for us. We’d been banned during the Village Green period. So this was a chance for us to get back on our feet again in America, which took time but it brought us back in a big way in the States. The FM radio airplay of songs like “Victoria” helped us get another stab at America and reconnect with the audiences over there.
GM: What’s the connective tissue and appeal of the Arthur story that draws listeners on?
DD: Well, I think at that time, politically things were changing in Britain and the whole social structure after the war and in the early ’60s and people were becoming more middle class and investing in property, all this new stuff for working class people. I mean, working class people very rarely owned property and considered themselves property owners so it was a very different time in England. The middle class were now able to afford things that that hadn’t been able to afford years prior. When I was a kid I wasn’t terribly aware of the class system until we got older and until we started to tour. Music was a great liberator for working-class people. It actually gave us a platform to express ourselves.
GM: With songs like “Get Back In Line,” The Kinks never lost that sense of the concerns and worries of the middle class.
DD: Yes, that’s right. The music of The Kinks throughout the years draws from our family. We never forgot the values and the traditions of the working class because that’s where we’re from. We were from a big family and were absorbed in that culture.
GM: However, Ray speaks of the band being fragmented at the time, is that your similar memory?
DD: Yeah, I think it was. I was writing and Ray was writing. There were so many influences at the time. On the box set there’s a lot of my solo stuff that over two or three years we pulled from that. I think it fills in a lot of the back story for the album Arthur and what was happening around that.
GM: Speaking of the solo songs featured on the new box set, there was talk you were going to release a solo album in the late ’60s but it never materialized, why?
DD: There was a lot of pressure. There was so much material going around. I was writing lots of songs and my management thought I should make an album. The record company were trying to push the issue as well. The reason I didn’t release a solo album is I particularly didn’t want it out. The songs were very deeply emotional for me and I didn’t want to get it out. I don’t know whether I was afraid of people knowing my feelings; I just felt very uncomfortable. But I’m very glad this material is now out there. It goes to show even though you might not be in the right frame of mind at a particular time, it’s always good to write something and finish what you start.
GM: How were The Kinks’ live shows transformed in 1969 in comparison to the shows the band did in the States in the mid ’60s?
DD: Those shows were much different from the shows we’d play in the mid ’60s. The first few shows we played in America that first week back in ’69 we had to really change our feeling and approach. Back in the mid ’60s there were the screaming kids and it was more pop oriented. But now because of the horrible Vietnam War, which was like a knife being stabbed in the heart of American youth, it was a very different vibe among young people. So we had to take that onboard and learn to perform shows differently. We had to virtually rebuild a career out of the Arthur album.
GM: Is there a defining song on the Arthur album that best tells the story?
DD: There are a few different ones. “Brainwashed’ was always very close to my sensibilities about how our family or our class or our culture was being oppressed by money people, ‘do as you’re told’ and the social structures of the time. But I also really like a song called “Young and Innocent Days,” which was a very tender song that me and Ray sang. I still sing it in my set when I play shows. That’s very much about a yearning for the past, the good things about the past, not just nostalgia. Sometimes the simplicity in a lot of things of the past are important and that’s something we don’t always realize when you get older. I think that’s an important message for us anyway.
GM: That’s a lyrical thread and subject matter that The Kinks have always touched on, the simple pleasures of life like in the song “Autumn Almanac.”
DD: Well, yeah, it’s all of a part of everyday life. A lot of our music is drawn from real people and family and the connection to family. Another song from Arthur that I really like is “Some Mother’s Son.” It’s a very powerful piece of music and probably one of the most powerful anti-war songs around considering America at that time had their own way going on with Vietnam. It’s very poignant. War in any form is a miserable stain on the human race. It seems so weird that after all of this time that we’ve been on this planet, why do we have to keep killing each other and having wars? There has to be another way of thinking about things and sorting problems out. Even now, is it ever gonna end, all this war mongering?
GM: Lastly, can you fill us in on the new Kinks album you’ve been repeatedly working on with Ray and other Kinks founding member (drummer) Mick Avory?
DD: Well, me and Ray are still listening to our archive of Kinks stuff that we haven’t used and trying to write new tracks. It’s still a work in progress. We’re trying to get stuff together. I’d like to get an album together, some of these not lost ideas but songs that have been shelved. We’d see what the songs needed, maybe some tightening up or the addition of other musicians. So there’s a lot to do.