The Kinks, eternally green
Dave Davies isn't the record-collecting type. "I used to when I was younger. Otis Redding, Howlin' Wolf, Elvis, Lead Belly…" he recalls. Then one day in 1964, he took a razor blade to his Elpico amplifier, hit the life-changing riff to You Really Got Me, and joined the British Invasion.
"I've travelled quite a lot," the Kinks' lead guitarist says with a dash of English understatement. "I've always felt like a bit of a nomad. I can't really take a lot of possessions with me. A suitcase, guitars…"
So last week, when the postman delivered a 3 kilogram-box of records, CDs and memorabilia to his house in Highgate, North London, the nostalgic rush was intense. "Have you seen this box set? It's wonderful," he says. "It's like treasure. A feast! I love it."
The Kinks’ Peter Quaife (left), Mick Avory, Ray Davies (front) and Dave Davies.
He would say that. Spread over scores of songs and a big glossy sprawl of words and pictures, the 50th anniversary reissue of The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society showcases his band, and the pastoral visions of his songwriter brother, Ray, at a glorious peak.
The classic album reissue is an industry of its own now, of course. Lavish bonus-track reboots of "the white album" and Blood on the Tracks are other hot gift ideas this Christmas. What’s intriguing about looking back at this album, though, is that it was all about looking back in the first place.
"I like that," Davies chuckles. "It’s like a bad trip, man!"
The Kinks’ classic album.Credit:The Kinks
Unique among the post-psychedelic trippers of '68 — the Beatles, the Stones, the Who; with the Doors and Hendrix and Joplin ascending — the Kinks were a band obsessed with the simple, local pleasures of the old days.
Their Village Green is a rose-tinted community framed by family photos, Animal Farm, The Last of the Steam-Powered Trains, and quaint composites of schoolfriends and local eccentrics. "God save little shops, china cups and virginity," Ray Davies sang as free love raged around him.
"Childhood," his brother says when asked what the big box of memories means to him. "Our hopes and our dreams; the loss of our old world and moving into a new world.
"There's no need to throw everything away to move on. Some things from the past are important to keep."
Pete Townshend describes Village Green as "a pop masterpiece" in his essay for the reissue. All the colours of Carnaby Street paled, he writes, compared to what he and his peers all secretly longed for.
"If we were honest, we wanted the brief elysian, Arcadian and idyllic period of peace our parents and grandparents had enjoyed between the two huge European and world wars. Yes, we were nostalgic, but for something we had never known and would never know."
Look no further than the era-defining garden party of Sgt Pepper for proof of that. But the Kinks found themselves more deeply immersed in the old country than most, thanks to a couple of unfortunate incidents on their 1965 US tour. The Davies brothers, bassist Pete Quaife and drummer Mick Avory were a notoriously volatile bunch.
"Because we were banned from America and we couldn't tour [for four years], it kind of galvanised us," Dave says. "I felt more supportive of Ray's work and we were much closer than we'd been for a few years and a lot of those emotions and connections are on the album.
"I mean, you play the first eight or 12 bars of this album and it's a joy. There's this expectation; a happy feeling. Some of these weird characters, like Monica and Wicked Arabella and the Phenomenal Cat, I mean, they're very amusing.
"People ask me what it was like to get banned from America and I say, 'It felt great, I was at home'."
His brother certainly found no lack of inspiration. Village Green was the start of an "inner world" the Kinks would explore on two more albums in the early '70s, Preservation Act 1 and 2. "I feel I'm still writing the Village Green," Ray says in the box set, which comprises two different versions of the original album and another village of tracks that didn't make either cut.
There's an extra layer of poetry in the one recording that's previously unreleased. Time Song was aired just once, at Drury Lane Theatre in 1973, to celebrate England joining the European common market: "a warning that time was running out for the old British Empire," Ray reflects today.
Politics aside, it's impossible to imagine British pop without the Kinks' Village Green. The album was a flop in '68, but the conscious preservation of English voices and characters was upheld by countless Kinks fans from Bowie to the Clash, XTC, the Jam, Madness and the '90s Britpop of Blur, Pulp and Oasis.
This is all music to Dave's ears but again, he's not the record-collecting type. His latest, Decade, is another exercise in looking back, this time at tracks he recorded but never released in the 1970s.
"Maybe it's a natural part of ourselves," he says of the nostalgia at the heart of so much pop music. "lt's a kind of rebelling, saying 'Do we really need all this shit?'
"We miss so many things in our rush. We forget to experience the moment. It's always got to be something else; that constant quest for something new and … maybe it's not there, you know?"
Today the Davies brothers both live within walking distance of their home turf of Muswell Hill. "You gotta walk when you get older," says Dave, who recovered from a stroke in 2004. He talks fondly of childhood scenes, from Hampstead Heath to Camberwell Green and "Cherry Tree Woods, on the way up to Rosie and Arthur's house in Highgate".
As to the inevitable question, "Well, obviously, we would both like to do something," he says. "We are working on a few ideas that could happen in the near … we'll have to see. But it looks good. We see each other a lot. All is good."
The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society reissues are out now through BMG.
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