Dave Davies is widely considered to be one of the greatest and most impactful guitar players of the last 60 years. His work as the lead guitarist of the legendary British Invasion band The Kinks helped define the very sound of the instrument throughout the 1960s and beyond. Playing through a razor-spliced amplifier, his unique sound — nasty, gnarled and sneering — imbued singles like “You Really Got Me,” and “All Day And All Of The Night,” with an attitude that resonated with millions of angst-riddle teens who took to their parents garages and basements from London to Los Angeles and started making a racket.
It was to the Kinks’ great credit, however, that they eventually moved past that overdriven sound and in the years after that initial boom, and released albums of heartfelt beauty and touching romanticism. The best example of this particular, pastoral proclivity can be heard on their 1968 release The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, which is getting a deluxe reissue treatment next week on October 26. Filled with 174 tracks spread across five CDs, the new set offers listeners unparalleled access to what the Kinks were doing at a time when they were officially banned from performing in the United State Of America, and decided to get back in touch with their inate British-ness.
Many of the characters on the record were inspired by real people and real places that the Davies brothers knew throughout their childhood, growing up in the public gathering spaces near their home. It was, for all intents and purposes, the same kind of back-to-basics, yearning for a different time type of record that groups like The Band and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were rolling out across the pond. Same ideas, very different cultural influences.
“I think The Village Green Preservation Society is about the ending of a time personally for me in my life,” Dave’s brother Ray noted in a statement. “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.”
Recently, I had the chance to talk to Dave Davies over the phone about the Village Green era, his new collection of unreleased ’70s solo tracks Decade, where things stand with his brother and Kinks chief songwriter Ray Davies, and whether or not a reunion might be in the cards.
Before we get into talking about Village Green, I was hoping we could go back in time a bit first. What was it like to get banned from performing in America in the mid-1960s?
It was quite a weird time, getting banned from the States because the tour started great with limos and excitement and screaming fans. They kind of picked it up towards the end and we never really found out exactly what happened; why we were banned. But when we got back to the UK, though, I was quite relieved. When Ray came up to me with an idea for a new album, that was Village Green, we really kind of relished it, because it reconnected us to our past and with the people that we grew up with. A lot of the characters on Village Green are based on real people.
Who are some of the real people that some of the songs are based on?
Growing up there was a Cockney old woman that used to live on the corner near me, used to hate kids running in the garden. The way she acted kinda formulated “Wicked Anabella.” All these characters grow out of real people.
I’m an American, so I don’t have much of a concept for what a village green is. Can you kind of expand on that concept?
It’s very traditionally English. It’s fundamental to the British way of life. Or it was. There’s a cricket pitch. There’s a green where everybody meets, has fairs, and celebrates events. It was a meeting place for local people, and local communities. It’s has a very prevalent meaning still, but things change.
What did you think when Ray initially presented the idea to you, to take things back to maybe a more idyllic time in English history with all of these softer sounds? Well, softer than “All Day And All Of The Night” anyway.
That’s the great thing about the Kinks I think. You get a chance to do heavy rock, and you get a chance to do lighter things. That’s what I always found stimulating about being a member of the Kinks. Different styles. Because when Ray and I grew up, we grew up in quite a big household with six older sisters and they all sang and played piano, and my dad played banjo and stuff. There was so many different kinds of music and I think I was very fortunate that there was. I liked Fats Domino. I liked country music. I liked skiffle.
So, it wasn’t a stretch to kinda go into a different direction?
No. And it was also quite an interesting time because Pete Quaife left the band so it was kind of a, not the end of an era but a new phase. I think that’s what makes it a special album.
Someone who I’m really fascinated by — who a lot of people don’t know about — is Nicky Hopkins, who played piano on several Kinks records, includingVillage Green. What are some memories you have about working with Nicky?
After all this time I can’t remember exactly what tracks he played on, but obviously, Nicky during that time and just before in ’64 was a great musician to work with. He was very accomplished and so he integrated really very easily and very well with the type of songs that we were doing. He was a big contributor. Village Green wouldn’t have been quite the same without Nicky Hopkins.
How bout you and Ray? What were the two of you like when you were making this album? Were you getting along
I think that Ray and I were getting on really well at the time. We came back to England, and we were very close during that time. Our families were quite close, we had kids, and it was really good. We got on really well. I think that shows a lot on the album.
I have to ask you more about “Wicked Annabella” obviously, which is a song that you sang on the record.
I love that song. I always loved the bridge where it changes key. Sometimes I include it in my solo shows and I sometimes do the bridge twice.
It definitely stands out from the rest of the album. It sounds a little more sinister.
Yeah, well I think its a nature of village society. It all looks so very pretty on the outside with people waving their flags and everything, but often there’s something sinister afoot behind all of the facade.
Village Green was released on the same day as The Beatles’ White Album, and maybe it wasn’t as appreciated in its time as it should have been, but it has really has picked up a lot of critical acclaim in the years since. A lot of people think this is the best Kinks album now. What is your take on the initial reception and the pervading opinion these days?
Well, it has been a strange journey for Village Green because when we finished it I thought it was going to be enormous. But then it didn’t do very well. I don’t think people were ready for those ideas, then. Because if you think about it, it was only at the end of the ’80s and ’90s when they even considered the idea of recycling things. The Village Preservation Society album is full of notions about keeping the good stuff, and maybe don’t throw everything away. Integrate the new things that could help society or the Village Green community. It was kind of ahead of its time I think.
Let’s move forward in time a bit and talk about your new solo collection of songs, Decade. How did that come together?
I’ve had these tracks hanging around for decades. My sons helped me put them together from old recordings and tapes I had in attics and under the bed and from various sources. They’re unreleased songs I wrote and recorded in the ’70s that somehow didn’t see the light of day.
“This Precious Time,” which is the last song on the album, might be my favorite. It’s spacey and massive.
I’m so glad you like it! That song has been around for many years. We thought the nature, the way it flows, it did seem as though it would make a great final statement of the feelings and notions I had growing up through that time. Spiritually I changed in that decade. I think it’s kind of a summary of all that came before it.
I spoke to The Kinks early producer Shel Talmy many, many years ago, and he told me that he thought you were one of the most underrated rock guitarists of all-time. I wonder if you’d agree with his assessment?
Yeah, totally! I’ve always been interested in arrangement and production as well. It’s not about playing all over all of the time. Really good musicians, I mean you wanna talk about people like Nicky Hopkins, they can be very sparse at certain points. There’s like a musical intelligence about the song and not just the instrument.
More than just showing off how fast you are and everything.
Yeah, it’s what you can do to the overall picture of things. The song, and especially the mood and feeling. It’s not just about how fast you can play or how long you can play for. There was a spat in the ’70s when a lot of bands used to overplay. They’d start a guitar solo and go on forever. I used to get so bored of those bands who used to smoke a lot of grass by the side of the stage and bore everybody to death.
One enduring legend through the years surrounds Jimmy Page involvement behind the scenes on guitar in some of those early Kinks songs. Can you finally put to bed how much he either played or didn’t play in the studio with you and the rest of the band?
He actually openly admit that he never played on “You Really Got Me,” thank you for that, because he didn’t. It’s my solo, my sound, and the Kinks’ record. Jimmy was around at the time as a session guy, and was obviously trying to get in on everything in sight. Eventually, he went on to do great things with Led Zeppelin. I never understood why he, or other people would want to take credit away from me for those great records. He played on a track from our first album called “So Mystifying,” and it was fun to play with him on that, but he never played on “You Really Got Me.”
When you play “You Really Got Me” now, do you still play it through an amplifier with speakers sliced by a razor?
No! [Laughs] Though, it took a while to integrate that sound through technology.
The first time you happened upon that sound through your little green amp, was your mind blown?
Yeah. I got that small amp from a radio shop near where we lived and it wasn’t sounding good at all. It pissed me off an in a moment of rage, I don’t know why, but I got a razor blade and shredded the speaker and out came this really angry, raunchy, gritty sound. Me and Ray loved it. “You Really Got Me” was born out of that guitar sound. So many great things in music have grown out of accidents.
What is your relationship with Ray like these days? I know people have been talking lately about like The Kinks getting back on the road or back in the studio.
We have been talking about doing some stuff. We’ve worked together on a few songs and he has some material that he wants to go over and re-record or something. I’m in New York at the moment, but I’ll be back in London in a couple of weeks and I’m sure we’ll get together and talk about what we are actually going to do.
The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society is out via BMG on October 26. You can pre-order your copy here.