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Dave Davies on the ‘New Beginning’ That the ‘Arthur’ Album Presented for the Kinks
More than a 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 is lauded as one of the group’s signature classics.
Yet its 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 culling 81 tracks, including a newly remastered version of the original album having been released in late October.
In addition to the above, the reissue features 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 ‘60s, 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 Sire,” “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.”
Rock Cellar: 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 it’s 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. 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 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.
Rock Cellar: How much older was your sister Rose to you and Ray?
Dave Davies: Well, she was the oldest sister. She was at least ten years older than us. She and her husband Arthur and their son Terry moved to Australia right at the time The Kinks were starting to take off. That would have been about ’64. We always imagined Terry would be a part of our team.
Rock Cellar: Is Terry still alive?
Dave Davies: Oh yeah, he’s a year older than me and a year younger than Ray. I’m still in touch with him.
Rock Cellar: What did your sister Rose think of the Arthur album, and what was her husband Arthur’s impressions?
Dave Davies: Well, I think she thought it was a bit amusing and tongue in cheek. It was one of those, “What are those brothers up to now?” kind of thing. Arthur of course knew much of the album was about him and emigrating to Australia and at that time it was a big deal to emigrate, not like nowadays. I think Arthur was touched by it in the end.
If you listen to the track “Arthur” it’s full of understanding. One of my favorite lines in “Arthur” is (recites lyrics), “Arthur, could be you were right all along.” It was a song of sympathy for what he did and what he was trying to do with his life. And maybe he was right. (laughs)
Rock Cellar: The title of the album is Arthur (Or The Decline and Fall Of the British Empire. Can you address the meaning behind the subtitle?
Dave Davies: 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 subtitle was a reflection of all of that.
Rock Cellar: While the The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society album received its share of mighty critical kudos through the years, Arthur has not garnered that kind of retroactive acclaim. Has Arthur album been overlooked in your eyes?
Dave Davies: 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.
Rock Cellar: Ray says Elvis was rumored to have come to band’s show at The Whisky in November ’69. Is that true?
Dave Davies: (laughs) Well, I never saw him. But it was a rumor that he was there in one of the booths at the Whisky in LA but I never actually saw him. But it’s nice to think that he could have possibly been there.
Rock Cellar: What’s the connective tissue and appeal of the Arthur story that draws listeners in?
Dave Davies: Well, I think at that time, politically, things were changing in Britain with 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.
Rock Cellar: With songs like “Get Back In Line,” The Kinks never lost that sense of the concerns and worries of the middle class.
Dave Davies: 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.
Rock Cellar: How did the addition of new bassist John Dalton impact on the sound and scope of the record?
Dave Davies: He came from a similar generation to us and had very similar musical influences. So that obviously helped a lot to galvanize us as musicians. He was a big football fan as well, and me and Ray have always been, so he had that going for him. (laughs)
Rock Cellar: However, Ray speaks of the band being fragmented at the time, is that your similar memory?
Dave Davies: Yeah, I think it was. I was writing and Ray was also 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.
Rock Cellar: Listening your solo songs on the “Arthur” box set like “Lincoln County,” I hear a lot of country influence in your work.
Dave Davies: Oh yeah. Growing up, American music was a big big inspiration to me but also I was a big fan of country music, especially people like Hank Williams. My sisters had Hank Williams albums and Johnny Cash was also a really big influence. In fact. The first record that I ever bought was a 45 PM single, “Ballad Of A Teenage Queen” by Johnny Cash. I was a big fan of Johnny Cash after that; the B-side was a fantastic track as well.
Rock Cellar: 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.
Dave Davies: 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 was 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.
Rock Cellar: “Shangri-La” stands as among the most beautiful and exquisite songs in The Kinks catalog, discuss its creation in the studio.
Dave Davies: I agree, I love it. It was a big deal for us. There were three or four separate song ideas in it and Ray pulled all of those together into one song. The song works for me because it seemed like buying a house and getting a car and that new lifestyle is not the be all and end all of everything.
There are more important things at large. It wasn’t all about getting ahead, getting a new car and a new house; with The Kinks it’s always about something else, that attachment to the past and the more spiritual aspects of life, not just owning things. We came from a very sharing atmosphere with our family. We grew up in a big family but the community was close as well. So community was a big thing growing up.
Rock Cellar: “King Kong” is an overlooked Kinks B-side from the time cut in this period. What are your memories of that track?
Dave Davies: Oh yeah, I love “King Kong.” I hear a lot of Indian influences in it, as well, with the droning guitars. It also fit in that kind of a rock and roll attitude, the working class always being pushed around by Mr. Big. We have to stay in our place and the money people have all the power. It was very relevant at the time.
Rock Cellar: How were the Kinks’ live shows transformed in ’69 in comparison to the shows the band did in the States in the mid-60s?
Dave Davies: 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 poppy 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 on board and learn to perform shows differently.
We had to virtually rebuild a career out of the Arthur album.
Rock Cellar: Is there a defining song on the Arthur album that best tells the story?
Dave Davies: 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 we get older. I think that’s an important message for us anyway.
Rock Cellar: 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.”
Dave Davies: 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 its own war 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 warmongering?
Rock Cellar: Lastly, can you fill us in on the new Kinks album you’ve been repeatedly working on with Ray and other Kinks founding member Mick Avory?
Dave Davies: 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.