Splendour in the grass: the Davies brothers before the terminal disconnect.

So, to voyage a little further back in time – Ray Davies reigned supreme in the family kingdom for a mere three years before his tenure was rudely cut short by the advent of an infant usurper, his baby brother, Dave.

I do have some experience akin to this as my first memory, at the age of four or five, concerns a trip with my mum to a local hair salon called Jon’s, which boasted a swing at the end of a long back garden. My twin sister and I raced each other down the garden to be the first on the swing, only to be unceremoniously turfed off to make way for our apparently much cuter little brother, three years younger, who all the hairdressers then cooed and clucked and fawned over, while we were relegated to the role of resentful lookers on. I remember thinking for the first time that life was unfair; and maybe the memory has stuck in my head because it established the pattern for the rest of our childhood.

So perhaps Ray’s gradual takeover of the Kinks in some ways pays Dave back for stealing the young monarch’s thunder when Ray was just three.

Footage of the Kinks in the early days seems to focus on the members on a fairly equal basis. But after a few years, Ray is prancing around (delightfully, it must be said) in the spotlight at the front of an enormous stage while the others are almost invisible, like some anonymous backing band, somewhere behind him in complete pitch black.

Pete Quaife and Dave Davies may have been natural allies.

Purporting to loathe the limelight, Ray nevertheless managed to do a pretty good job of seizing it and basking in it as the band’s career progressed. He blossomed in its caressing glow while the others wilted in the preternatural dark. Perhaps it was a case of ‘here I am again wanting to be invisible then furious when ignored’ (Toltz book again).

Ray embraces the persona of the flamboyant showman, while inhabiting different characters, his lyrics chronicling the minutaie of their lives, gently lampooning them but retaining a viewpoint that’s ultimately sympathetic despite the outwardly sardonic stance. He’s adept at bittersweetness – pretty tunes with undercurrents of melancholy, tongue-in-cheek observations, a raised-eyebrow inflection to his voice. He slyly invites our complicity in his dissections of modern-day life. His numinous delivery and wistful, elegiac tone are so suited to celebrating the ordinary and everyday and transforming these into poetry. There’s no denying his genius.

As he begins to believe in his own genius, however, relationships begin to fracture and things start to deteriorate. Perhaps the band is his respite from early marriage (to Rasa) and fatherhood (to Louisa, followed by Victoria), tethering him to conventional mores, and so something he’s reluctant to relinquish control of lightly. I find a photograph of Ray on his wedding day, some newspaper item; and I have to say that I’ve never in my life seen anyone look so fundamentally unsure. It can’t have been easy to watch his fancy-free younger brother having the time of his life.

For while the young Lothario was laying waste to all in his path, deflowering virgins left, right and centre, completely irresponsibly and without any thought for the consequences, indulging in whatever drugs came his way and drinking himself into oblivion, Ray was shouldering all the responsibility for band matters.

The burgeoning disconnect between the brothers on stage becomes more evident as time passes. By the 70s, Dave’s ally in the band, original bassist Pete Quaife, has left, with stalwart drummer Mick Avory tending either to sit on the fence or side with Ray. New personnel probably didn’t want to join a faction or lacked the clout to influence things. Possibly Dave felt increasingly isolated and frustrated. And perhaps Ray thought Dave shouldn’t be having so much fun, leaving him to deal with the more tedious aspects of a musical career like management, agents, legal and copyright issues. Shouldn’t this entitle Ray to greater control?

Of course there was also Dave’s abortive solo career, spawning the major 1967 no. 3 hit ‘Death of a Clown’. But Dave quickly became disenchanted and his failure to follow through, despite second single ‘Susannah’s Still Alive’ reaching 20 in the UK in January 1968 (subsequent singles ‘Lincoln County’[1] and ‘Hold My Hand’ had limited success in the rest of Europe but failed to chart in the UK), meant that, as Pete Quaife said in a BBC4 documentary, (paraphrased from memory so apologies if inaccurate), this became ‘another stick for Ray to beat his brother with’. And if you read on, you will see that this is what Ray sometimes did.

Here, for instance, in a 1977 Whistle Test, relations seem amenable. Ray introduces his brother, beginning pleasantly enough ‘This kid over here on my left is a relative, he’s in the family. Let’s hear it for Dave Davies on the guitar’ and Dave smiles back, saying something inaudible, softened up for the killer blow, as Ray continues, unable to resist having a dig: ‘Yes, Mr “Death of a Clown” Dave Davies.’ Outrageously ungracious to  tacitly downplay Dave’s output to this one hit.

Ouch. Similarly here, again before ‘Muswell Hillbilly’ in this clip from a 1972 TV show: ‘On lead guitar we have a very good friend of mine’, perfectly fine and unobjectionable, but once again he can’t help himself and goes on to deliver the inevitable barb ‘Mr Dave “Death of a Clown” Davies’.

But it’s the chummily affable prefaces that make these snide attacks so deadly – he disarms Dave, then, once he’s defenceless, goes in for the kill. It’s brutal – like enticing a puppy over just to kick it in the stomach. These, together with the tactic of launching into another song in the middle of one of Dave’s, are typical examples of Ray’s bitchy onstage antics, apparently calculated to humiliate. Why would you do this to anyone? Do you want them to spit in your face or something (as Ray reports that Dave did to all the band after a gig in Santa Monica once)?

Sometimes he thanks Dave during a gig as if he’s just another one of the backing singers. That’s got to hurt. Especially when you have the feeling that something that comes over like a casual and unintentional slight isn’t actually as inadvertent as it might appear. Here’s an example from a live show at London’s Rainbow in 1974, after ‘Here Comes Yet Another Day’, in which he adds Dave onto the thanks to the singers ‘and of course my darling brother Dave’. Cheers, bro.

Of course I’ve no idea of Ray’s actual motivations or if Dave had done anything to deserve a putdown on these occasions – maybe he’d punched him in the dressing room beforehand so that Ray felt some verbal retaliation to be justified.

Because fisticuffs seemed to have been commonplace, though the brothers by the 70s look so girlish that the sight of them sparring must have been rather incongruous, like a particularly vicious catfight with bollocks. In later years it was enough to leave one manager in tears.

That’s enough speculative and (mostly) unfounded postulation for now though. More next time. Seeing the Kast Off Kinks in leafy suburban Chislehurst next Thursday may be the nearest I’ll get to the real thing for a while. For a review see http://sshh-sshh.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/kast-off-kinks-at-beaverwood-february.html.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

[1] I misheard the lyrics of ‘Lincoln County’, below

I’ve been doing wrong but now I’m going home.
So come on girls, you better put your best boots on.
‘Cause when I get home to Lincoln County,
Won’t know which way to go, I’m gonna find all those pretty girls.
I’m gonna find them all.
‘Cause when I get home to Lincoln County,
Gonna lift the lid off hell, drink some beer, I’m gonna live it swell[?].
Then I’m gonna shout for more. (lyrics from kindakinks.net)

Misheard the last line as rather more Dave-like ‘Then I’m gonna shaft them all’. Well, you can see where I was going.

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