By Ken Sharp
This is Part 2 of an interview with The Kinks about their classic album, The Village Green Preservation Society, among other things. Second part of the interview is with drummer Mick Avory. The Kinks Village Green Preservation Society interview, Pt.1: Dave Davies
" target="_blank" rel="noopener">[Part one was an interview with Dave Davies.]
Goldmine: I’d read that the VGPS album initially started as a Ray Davies solo album, any truth to that?
MICK AVORY: (Laughs) Because Ray didn’t really discuss things, it’s hard to say. If he says that’s the truth then it is. He gets ideas and sometimes maybe he thought this might not be good for the group initially but reconsidered and thinks that maybe it is good for the group and there is a way for the band to be drawn into it. All of these things came out of development. You don’t start off with a hard and fast idea and stick right through to the end. Artistic things change along the way.
GM: What was the state of The Kinks’ career when you began work on the VGPS record?
MA: Well, the band had come to a bit of standstill. We couldn’t go to America which was a hold back, it held us back a bit. We didn’t do a whole lot of work in England either, or Europe. We were a bit frozen in a vacuum. We were still making records and having hit records in England but the albums probably suffered a bit. I think we were a little bit lackadaisical. We didn’t do enough gigs. I remember thinking at the time that I’d like to go out and do more shows because I’m a gig person. I like to go out and play live. When you’re a writer you use a lot of time writing stuff.
GM: Tell us about how songs came into shape at rehearsals at Ray’s home in 87 Fortis Green.
MA: Ray got us into doing rehearsals in a small way. He used to have a cassette machine and he used to record everything on a cassette machine. It was a time where we were developing songs; they weren’t finished songs, they were just ideas. I used to play on a set of pads so it didn’t make a noise. I didn’t have a proper drum kit because we were in Ray’s front room. Dave would play guitar, Pete was on bass and Ray would usually be on the piano depending on the song or he’d be strumming his guitar. We didn’t really think about stuff, if it felt good with a rhythm and a tempo we would all join in. We’d play around with it and someone would say, go somewhere with it, and we’d follow them. It would be recorded and we would capture the essence of it all. We’d try out different things, figure out if it was the right feel and tempo. That would all be worked into the songs so it would be more integrated from the band rather than Ray saying, “Well, this is how it goes. Play the song and everyone join in.” It wasn’t like that.
GM: Did you get a sense working up those songs in the rehearsal that this record was special?
MA: Yes, definitely. If there’s a trend Ray goes the opposite way. He’s never followed a trend but (will) try to set a trend. At the time we were all still in the psychedelia trend, people walking around with flowers in their hair, (laughs) but we didn’t do that. When all of the big noisy bands came out we were doing something really light, doing “Lola” or something. We did things our way. They couldn’t really classify us.
GM: As a drummer, the songs in VGPS were more intimate and decidedly less “rock,” how did that open things up for you as a player?
MA: I enjoyed it more because it was more my style anyway because I’m not really a rock drummer. I’ve never thought of myself as a rock drummer. I became more of a rock drummer as the songs got more rocky. I didn’t start off being a rock drummer, I started off being more of a jazz drummer. I came from the skiffle era which related more to jazz rhythms and country. That stuff stays with you and then you catch on to different things and you put that into your repertoire. I wasn’t a John Bonham; I was the opposite. I liked the things that were a bit more subtle like the songs on The Village Green Preservation Society record, songs that had dynamics but weren’t full-out, straight-ahead stuff.
GM: The late Pete Quaife spoke about the album as a time of creative peace. Did you get a sense of that?
MA: (laughs) Well, then why did he leave then? That’s when he left. (laughs) We did have a bit more time to spend on the record and Ray liked time to develop things. He didn’t like to rush things, he liked to ponder over things and get them arranged right and he had the time to go through loads of alternatives. But through that process he was able to satisfy himself. He wasn’t a black and white person who says, “That’s it, I’ve written the song, this is how I want it and that’s it.” He wasn’t like that at all. He wanted things to breathe and allowed other people to think of ideas and if he didn’t like it he would say, “That’s not quite what I wanted.”
GM: Looking back, while working on VGPS, were there any songs that you were particularly impressed with?
MA: I quite like “Starstruck.” That’s a track I really liked; it has a certain feel about it and a sound to it that seemed to be different; the drum sounds seemed to be different than some of the other tracks. Looking back on the record nothing stands out as not being in place, it all blends together well. I like all the songs on the record but after I reflect back upon playing the songs live, I think, “Well, that’s the way, I should have done it this way.” So there’s a little bit of that attached to it but with “Starstruck” I never had any qualms about it. I also liked “Last of The Steam-Powered Trains” because there were a lot of different parts in it and a bit more drumming parts. It was good for stage; in fact, we do it now in the band I’m in.
GM: Bring us into the studio for the recording sessions at Pye Studios.
MA: We’d always try and play together first. There weren’t many tracks that we recorded on then, maybe it was 4-tracks or it might have been 8-tracks. So you couldn’t do too much with it. If you’re gonna take something off it’d be on a separate track. So we’d try and layer a good basic track down with everyone so we’d get the feel right and then if you wanna replace something you can do it. As long as the bass and drums are fairly well together you can build on that. But you don’t know that until all the parts are on it which adds to the feel of the song.
GM: Mick, are surprised that this record still resonates so strongly with generations of music fans?
MA: I am surprised I felt it was a good album, a nice theme album and the songs were good and we did fair renditions of them that sounded like The Kinks. All the ingredients were there. But at the time the album wasn’t well received. It was untimely. But in retrospect everyone sort of likes it so at the time it’s not always the right time. But you reap the benefits afterwards when people pick up on it, which is really good. So there must be a quality about it but people didn’t come across it straight away.
GM: What are your memories of shooting the album cover?
MA: The album cover was shot on Hampstead Heath. It was done by a guy called Barrie Wentzell. It was a good photo session. In the package that’s just come out, included are some of the photos that weren’t used for the album at the time.
GM: In March of ‘68, Pete Quaife left The Kinks, how did his departure from the band impact upon the group as a recording and touring act?
MA: It changed things but it didn’t change things radically because we weren’t doing a lot at the time. We were in a bit of a lull. It wasn’t like we were a big band touring the world at the time and then suddenly the bass player leaves. If that had been the case I think it would have had more of an impact then. But because we weren’t doing a lot it seemed to go fairly smoothly. We got John Dalton enlisted; when we made Arthur, that was when he joined us. That was a good album and that got us back into America. So it took on a change and made a step forward in a way but only because of the timing of it. So it didn’t really make much difference fame-wise or anything.
GM: Cut a year after VGPS, I’ve always loved the B-side of “Plastic Man,” the song “King Kong,” a track with a T-Rex flavor that predated the huge success of T-Rex. Any memories of that track?
MA: That was a character in a film that Ray liked. He could write about anything and that’s something he fell upon to write about it and likened it to something and recorded it. I don’t think we spent a long time on it; it was a fairly easy song to record.
GM: The Kinks played with The Beatles a few times, once at Blackpool Opera House on August 16, 1964 and at the NME awards in 1965.
MA: I remember playing before them in Blackpool. We played after The Beatles on the NME concert in Wembley. In Blackpool that was the first time we met them. They all stood up and talked to us and shook hands. We went onstage before them. We used to go down really well with tons of screaming. We came off the stage and Paul McCartney said, “You didn’t have to warm them up that much!” (laughs) That’s what he said; I thought that was nice of him. We went down so well that they weren’t shouting for The Beatles all the time. As for the NME show, the reason we played after them was not because we were late. We were supposed to go on before The Beatles but they swapped places with us because they knew they were gonna get mobbed and wanted to get out of there. They didn’t hang around because they knew they would get crucified by all the people if they were last. Most of the audience had gone or were going when we came out onstage. I think half the sound crew were gone too; I heard the playback and half the sound was missing. It was a disaster. People thought that was the end of the show when The Beatles went off.
GM: Set the record straight about The Kinks’ legendary 1965 gig in Cardiff, England where there was a fight onstage with Dave, what’s the true story behind what actually happened?
MA: We had a row the night before and they kept us apart. When Dave counted the second number in, he proceeded to kick my drum kit stage right and there was only the hi-hat left. I picked the hi-hat up and whacked him with the pedal end, but it was a rubber pedal, an old Premier thing. But it hurt him and that was the end of the show and the tour actually.
GM: The rumor was I heard you thought you had killed him and raced out of the venue.
MA: I didn’t hang around I must admit. It was all over stupid stuff‘cause Dave would go over the top about everything. He was an extremist and had a healthy temper on him.
GM: Did the tension and fractiousness in The Kinks between Ray and Dave and you and Dave, work to the band’s detriment or did it provide the fuel that helped spark the band creatively?
MA: It could have given it a bit of edge but to that extreme it was disruptive rather than helpful or creative.
GM: There’s been talk through the year of a Kinks reunion with you, Ray and Dave. Will it ever happen?
MA: Well, I said I would be open to doing it but it’s been up to Ray and Dave to agree on something and they didn’t so we never got there. As time goes on it’s looking more and more doubtful because everyone’s older and I’m the only one who’s really performing regularly. I mean, Dave had a stroke about 16 years ago and he’s never really been the same, which he wouldn’t be. So we’d have to have help. After the last time of discussing it, which was three years ago, we were quite serious about it. Ray said, “Monty Python has done it and they all hate each other”—or they hated John Cleese actually—“so just let bygones be bygones and go out and do it,” which I agree with but Dave had another idea so it never materialized and it’s a shame. But I can’t see it happening now but Ray has said, “Never say never.” If it were to happen it would have to be done in the correct way.