‘Mrs Avory’s child was all fingers and thumbs/But solid as a rock, setting time on the drums’ – ‘The Road’
After advertising in Melody Maker as a drummer seeking a rhythm and blues band, Mick Avory auditioned for the Kinks at the Camden Head pub in Islington and three days later found himself playing with them on TV’s Ready Steady Go.
He was in the band from that day in 1964 until 1984, although he didn’t feature on some of the first recordings, when the custom was to use session drummers like Bobby Graham.
Relations between Mick and Dave were rocky from the start.
I remember reading some dismissive comment Dave made about Mick, and find it in his autobiography Kink. He was conscious that the south Londoner looked ‘so different from us, like a navvy builder with his Sunday best on’. This endeavours to damn Mick by degrees – he doesn’t look right and his efforts to look right just make him look even more wrong. I suppose Dave, natural fashion god, was just trying to decide whether Mick would fit in visually, before considering his personality or playing ability.
Elsewhere Dave recalls: ‘When Mick came to audition for The Kinks and saw me, he couldn’t believe it. I was wearing a plastic raincoat buttoned to the neck, moccasins, and I had shoulder-length hair.’
If Dave found Mick unprepossessing on first sight, I can only imagine what it must have been like for the East Molesey boy to walk into that audition with his new haircut and dressed to impress only to confront this strange trio of camp dandies who looked like they’d been let loose on their mother’s dressing-up box on a rainy day. And who had their hair styled at some ritzy salon in Chelsea rather than tidied up down the high street barbers.
The phrase ‘pretentious art school poofters’ comes to mind. Mick instantly consigned any plans to pull birds to the dustbin of could-have-beens: ‘Actually, my first impression was that they were gay.’ And certainly Mick remembers that a good proportion of their early fans were ‘not normal’, homosexuals, transsexuals and the like.
But they were playing the right sort of music so he agreed to join despite any immediate misgivings about the way they looked. I wonder if the Rolling Stones, whom he’d rehearsed with in 1962 and turned down an offer to join, could have seemed any more alien. And if the girls would have been more readily available.
But Mick was fed up with working on a building site and didn’t want to lose another opportunity to make it in the music business.
Dave describes Mick as ‘short-haired, nervous, and wary of our campy appearance’ and ‘very defensive and unsure of himself’. And no wonder the down-to-earth sticksman felt out of his depth. It sounds like he was aware of Dave’s initial antipathy, as he says in interview: ‘I don’t think Dave particularly liked the idea of me being in the band in the first place’ though this might have been said with the benefit of hindsight.
How the two of them ended up renting a house together in Connaught Gardens, Muswell Hill, I’ve no clue. That had recipe for disaster written all over it. Although in press at the time, Dave averred: ‘The only thing about Mick is that he insists on being last. We have a great competition in the morning to see who is last dressed. It’s generally afternoon before I give up.’ And certainly they shared a similarly epicurean lifestyle so it probably seemed like a good idea at the time. In fact Dave’s philosophy could have been summed up in the lyrics to ‘Bright Lights’ – ‘If it feels good then it’s alright’.
By the next year, their relationship had deteriorated to such a nadir that, in the middle of a gig at the Capitol Theatre in Cardiff, both bearing the scars of a fight the night before in Taunton, Mick (incensed by Dave kicking over his drum kit and shouting insults at him) attacked the lead guitarist with his drum pedal. After rendering Dave unconscious, bleeding copiously from a head wound that necessitated sixteen stitches at Cardiff Royal Infirmary, Mick fled the scene, fearing arrest.
It’s a wonder they managed to coexist in The Kinks for another nineteen years before things came to a head. Indeed bassist Pete Quaife, who left after Village Green Preservation Society in 1969, asked if he was surprised that Mick stayed with the band as late as he did, responded: ‘I’m surprised Mick stayed alive until 1984! I truly thought he would quit before I did.’
Pete has also said that it often felt like he and Mick were session musicians rather than bona fide members of a band. This could explain why they didn’t feel like they had much say in major decisions.
And many altercations erupted because Dave felt that Mick should voice his opinion more. He believed that Mick sometimes thought the same as him but refused to speak up against Ray.
‘Bright lights on a cold night/If it feels good then it’s alright’: a Dave Davies demo of a Kinks track from UK Jive.
Of course the brothers were also at loggerheads much of the time. Pete (interviewed by Martin Kalin in 1998) says of his own decision to leave: ‘The band was fighting all the time and I was getting sick of it. When I did quit altogether, I wanted to run as fast as I could in the other direction. I just couldn’t take the constant brawling any more.’
Pete also believes the band could have been huge if they’d only communicated with each other better and stopped squabbling, if they’d ‘worked as a collaborative unit and cut out the bullshit and fighting’. He even pulled Ray aside to talk about this only to be told to fuck off. So much for collaboration.
Mick recalls that relations with Dave were up and down, blaming the latter’s volatile nature and the fact that it ‘didn’t take a lot to upset him’ and that he had ‘a foul temper’. But he concedes that Dave could also be ‘good company and sociable on his good side’. Mick remembers that he used to call him Mr Hyde.
But if one Davies brother didn’t like the new drummer much, it was a sure bet the other one might be more amenable. Mick soon became Ray’s best friend and ally in the band. The new boy’s easygoing nature and laconic deadpan groundedness might have helped.
For instance, asked why The Kinks were banned from the US for almost five years in the 60s, Mick responded that it was ‘a combination of bad management, bad luck and bad behaviour’. I think Ray punching a union official a few times may have to be taken into consideration too.
Indeed Mick may well have been partly responsible for Ray meeting his first wife Rasa, as it was a friend of hers who knew the drummer who got them in through the stage door at the Esquire club in Sheffield, when The Kinks were playing.
And Mick acknowledges: ‘I didn’t have too much problem with Ray on a working basis – although he could be difficult, it wasn’t so personal.’
Ray could be demanding and unreasonable in the name of his art. That’s one downside for Mick when considering a Kinks reunion, having to be available all the time in case he got called in to do something at short notice. He says, ‘You never knew with Ray. He’d get a whim in his head, pick up the phone and everyone would have to be there. You’d feel like you were on a hook sometimes.’
Mick’s hair never really got that much longer, even in the late 70s and I like to think he resisted the pressure to conform to the fashion strictures of the day. He still makes those odd mouth movements while playing, as if he’s trying to keep an unruly set of dentures in place. More masculine than the androgynous brothers, he seemed to attract his fair share of drag queen devotees.
Another one of Mick’s memorable lines concerned the night he and the elder Davies brother spent in that ‘club down in old Soho’ together. ‘So I went up to Ray and said there’s this transsexual I met in Sainsburys and he wants us to go to a club.’ Ray wasn’t keen to begin with but decided ‘It’ll be a laugh.’ Mick proceeded to get ‘absolutely slaughtered’ and emerged with little but a killer hangover to show for it while Ray sat down in a quiet corner and wrote ‘Lola’. This story is often told at Kast Off Kinks gigs. More on this and that next time.
Looking forward to the Dave Davies Satsang Retreat next weekend. Hoping he’ll play this one, ‘Young and Innocent Days’, recorded at the World Trade Center in 2001,
among others, maybe even ‘One Fine Day’, an early song he penned for Shel Naylor.
 And nothing underneath the mac probably.