By Ken Sharp
The Kinks were rock’s quintessential misfits, always out of step and out of time but that seemingly self-enforced separation from their fellow contemporaries made them so gloriously unique. The band’s masterpiece, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, stuck out like a sore thumb in 1968, a quaint and reflective nostalgic song cycle of distinctive British-ness, which went against the prevailing tides of rebellion, anarchy and hazy psychedelia of the era, instead embracing old school values and tradition. Says Ray Davies, “I think The Village Green Preservation Society is about the ending of a time personally for me in my life. In my imaginary village. It’s the end of our innocence, our youth. Some people are quite old but in the Village Green, you’re never allowed to grow up. I feel the project itself as part of a life cycle.”
Fifty years after its initial release, the album is cited by pundits and astute music fans as among the most inventive and groundbreaking long players in rock music history. In celebration of this special anniversary comes various configurations of this timeless record. The Super Deluxe Edition (shown above) is stuffed with enticing extras: deluxe hardback book culling informative text, rare photos and ephemera highlighted by an essay by Pete Townshend, 7-inch vinyl singles with reproduced original picture sleeves for “Days”/“She’s Got Everything” (1968), “Starstruck”/“Picture Book” (1968) and “The Village Green Preservation Society”/“Do You Remember Walter?” (1969) and reproductions of vintage memorabilia. The Super Deluxe Edition features include the original album, both in mono and stereo, singles, live cuts, outtakes, BBC sessions, B-sides, interview clips, backing tracks, alternate versions, demos and unissued material and is manna for all Kinks acolytes and music aficionados. We sat down with two founding members of The Kinks, guitarist Dave Davies and drummer Mick Avory (Pt. 2), for a look back on a magical album robust in creativity and unparalleled artistic vision.
Goldmine: How did growing up in North London’s Muswell Hill impact you and Ray and find its way into the scope of sound/themes/songs on the VGPS record?
Dave Davies: Totally. It’s all the energy from when we were growing up and the ideas and a lot of the songs that Ray wrote had characters that were partially based on real people that we would have known growing up. In Muswell Hill when we were living in Fortis Green, it was like a village. Everybody knew everybody. Now it’s called Fortis Green Village which it wasn’t called when we were growing up but now it’s become a village. There are still people walking the streets that are shell shocked or damaged from the second World War. There were a host of all different kinds of characters who had to assimilate. You’d wonder what kind of life they had had. It’s important of The Village Green album and a lot of things of Ray’s songs were inspired by England and our own family. So the emotions and ideas on that album were drawn from family and characters that we knew growing up.
GM: The VGPS album exists in its own wheelhouse, evoking an indelible sense of time and place, nostalgia and memory. Was Ray getting further interested in embracing the old traditions and values?
DD: I think both Ray and I obviously have very strong links with our past and our family; a lot of the energy would have come from family members and as I’ve said before, people we would have met and knew growing up. For example, the song “Wicked Annabella” was about some crabby, old lady but they kind of had grown into other characters in your imagination. There are mystical elements on the album as well. I did some paintings for this special page of the Village Green Preservation Society album. I did six paintings, one of Walter (“Do You Remember Walter?”), one of Annabella, one of Monica, Big Sky and a few others. Apart from the great music, I’m very excited about how people are gonna receive the art that’s featured in the booklet.
GM: Later in the band’s career The Kinks released an album called Misfits. In many ways the group was different from others and co-existed in their own special island, separate from all of your contemporaries, did you as a member of the band feel that way as well?
DD: Yeah, we did. (laughs) I think from the early days we always felt we weren’t like everybody else. We had that feeling like we hadn’t joined the club. We never quite fit in. If we’d have been called The Misfits it would have been quite an appropriate name for the band.
GM: You’ve described VGPS as a turning point in the band›s career.
DD: Well, yeah, in a way I guess it does denote the end of a time or an era in a way because it was (bassist) Pete Quaife’s last album that he made with The Kinks so it was a farewell to him. Musically, we were changing and Ray was developing as a writer. We’ve always been interested in new ideas and a new spin on things. The past is always present (laughs); you can’t ignore the past, you have to come to terms with it and try and integrate it into the present and what we’re all doing today.
GM: You astutely have stated how the band’s previous music was steeped in American influences whereas VGPS is a turn towards the group embracing their British roots.
DD: Yeah, that’s very true. You have to remember the American influence on British bands and especially The Kinks is vast. We’re talking about Hank Williams, who I thought was the first real rock ‘n’ roller. He had such an impact on us but there also were English musicians that were very influential to us like Bert Weedon and Davey Graham... he was an incredible influence. He was ahead of his time because Davey was kind of playing fusion music, Moroccan influences, Indian influences and integrating it with English folk music. Davey Graham was a huge influence on budding musicians in England because he brought other cultures into play.
GM: In many ways, the title track of the album says it all.
DD: The first few bars of that song is full of optimism. Music evokes all kinds of expectation about what’s gonna happen. It’s like a mini-overture in a way. That’s a very special song. Socially, Ray and I always liked unusual musical nuances and feelings. You can create so many weird and wonderful feelings through notation or playing across from each other. Those ideas all came together on that song, I think.
GM: The musical palette on VGPS is wide and varied, much more colorful than what The Kinks had been doing in the studio... mellotrons and harpsichords abound.
DD: I think that’s very true. You have to remember we were getting used to being in the studio and what this gadget was used for or what compressors and echoes were. We were becoming more professional about the way that we did things. It’s not like we took ourselves too seriously because most of the songs on this album are heavily tinged with humor and pathos and longing. There is mystical elements in some of the music like “Big Sky.” That song has a lot of humor, we had a lot of fun making it because it’s a huge epic thing in everybody’s mind.
GM: You’ve described VGPS as a “prophetic” album, what did you mean by that?
DD: Well yeah, it is. If you consider what the climate was like in ’67 and ’68, everyone wanted to get rid of things that were old. Pete Townshend wrote in “My Generation”: “Hope I die before I get old.” (laughs) People were wanting to throw the past away and this was the opposite. When they started to considered the options of recycling and the power of it, and people going to thrift shops—you can get really good clothes in thrift shops.
It was like, “Why do we have to spend as much money on stuff we’ve already got?” So I think the idea of remembering things or keeping things are very useful, not just throwing everything old because it’s old and finding a way to integrate that in with the present.
GM: Ray has said he casted you to sing “Wicked Annabella.” Did you ever figure out why?
DD: The thing is, the key that the song is in, it suits me and it has a bridge that is rocky. It’s very geared to the way I used to sing at that time. Ray kind of wrote it with me in mind, I’m sure of it. I always loved the bridge in that song. Even now in my solo shows, if I do “Wicked Annabella,” I sometimes do that bridge twice. It’s such a great bridge.
GM: Is there a defining song on VGPS for you?
DD: I mean they’re all good in their own right but I do like a lot of the vocal harmonies that me and Ray worked on the song “Village Green.” We worked a lot on the vocals on this record. I always had a sneaking love for “Picture Book” as well. I love the vocal parts and the blends of my voice and Ray’s. I’m particularly happy about that. “Picture Book” has a great backbeat as well and I like the guitar riff, too.
GM: When entered the studio to begin work on the VGPS album, what was the state of The Kinks’ career in 1968?
DD: Well, after we got banned form America, we couldn’t tour there again until 1969. I was very happy to come back to England. I spent time with my family and we have a big family so I kind of felt like the Village Green album feels—a bit like coming home. That feeling is very predominant in the album. I did a painting of Walter (“Do You Remember Walter?” and it’s such a lovely and poignant reflective kind of song. We’ve all known people like Walter.
GM: Take us into Pye Studios for the VGPS sessions, this was Ray’s first album in the producer’s chair.
DD: It was a good time for the band. We’d go to the pub after sessions and play bar billiards and have a pint. There was a lot of camaraderie and there was a lot of family influence around it. Me and Ray were getting on well and our kids were growing up together. The session went down fairly quickly because we were into it. Time goes by slowly when life’s not good. But when you’re on the money and you’re happy and you’re enjoying what you’re doing time flashes by. With Ray producing the album, a major thing is the band was very supportive of him. I’ve always been very supportive of Ray’s writing and his work but it seemed more galvanized on this record. The subject matter was very family oriented, love, and all these really good emotions as well as a lot of pathos and sadness in the music, too, but that’s alright. That’s what happens to people.
GM: Can you recall any songs on VGPS that were dramatically transformed from the demos that Ray presented the band?
DD: I think “Phenomenal Cat” because originally it was just a little tune and then it developed into almost psychedelic and mystical. I find it a very mystical track although there’s a lot of humor in it which is constant throughout the album. We were talking about “Big Sky,” that has humor, too. Even Ray’s opening line which is half spoken like Burt Lancaster (laughs), he was an actor that we loved growing up. It was very funny mimicking these physical characters in a humorous way. We thought it as funny as well as adding to the atmosphere.
GM: When you listen to VGPS, what type of mood does it put you in?
DD: Yeah, I think it does. It evokes times when you were growing up and feeling happy, there’s a lot of comfort in a lot of the tracks on the album and happy is an unusual place to be. There’s a lot of positivity in the record. There’s a lot of that feeing in the record.
GM: Pete Quaife has stated that he felt VGPS is the pinnacle of the Kinks recorded work while he was in the band. Where do you stand on that debate?
DD: Of course at the time I expected the album to be a massive hit but it wasn’t and maybe that was good. Sometimes things take time, for people to ponder over and think about. It’s like wisdom isn’t instant, wisdom grows. It’s an album to grow with. I also had great fun working on the Arthur and Muswell Hillibillies albums. They’re kind of linked to Village Green in a way, it’s the next phase. There is an element of the album being your own little secret because it’s intimate. It’s about our feelings growing up and our family and it’s very personal and emotional tales of people in this imaginary village green.
GM: Looking back, the album didn’t even make the charts in the U.K., which is perplexing given its remarkable artistic quality, but today the album is considered a jewel and has a timeless quality that draws in multi-generations.
DD: I think it didn’t grab ahold initially because of its differentness, it’s like tales of the past meeting the present and a lot of people weren’t ready for that. Everybody wanted to throw everything old away, even down to furniture. People wanted new furniture and nowadays some antiques are priceless. I think the album is timeless. When you enter a psychic collective space in your mind of joy and happiness, “let’s make it work” ethos, it’s a different space than getting up in the morning and watching it rain. It’s a really good collective vibe. Everybody knows people like that, maybe not these specific characters that show up on the Village Green album but you know somebody like that. So it’s a mutual collectiveness that everybody is attracted to. These feelings on the album have a broader energy that connect us together.We’re all connected.
GM: Given the outtakes, alternate versions and unreleased songs that comprise the deluxe VGPS set, what have been the greatest revelations for you listening to it?
DD: Well, I haven’t heard it all. I’m very happy about the album being available as it came out originally. All of the others extra stuff only help illuminate the nature and theme of the album. I’ve got some paintings that are included in the booklet so I’m very happy and very excited about the whole thing.
GM: Lastly, Dave, you have a new solo album coming out soon?
DD: Yes, it’s called Decade. It’s an album of tracks from the ’70s that were previously unreleased. It’s a collection of my songs that I recorded in the ’70s but never came out. My sons, Martin and Simon worked on this project and they got the tapes together. It took them about two or three years to collate all of this music together. There’s 13 tracks which were never released. So it’s new and old. It’ll be out close to the release of The Village Green Preservation set so the two albums will coincide with each other and that’s kind of fun for me.
Next week, Goldmine will run Pt.2, the interview with drummer Mick Avory.