At the satsang in September 2012, when asked for the setlist as a souvenir, Dave Davies promises innocently, ‘I’ll give it to you after’ before realising what he’s said and following it up with a smile and a saucy wink.
In that instant, I can visualise him so well at sixteen, descending a grand staircase before striding across a hotel foyer in thigh-length leather boots to snog a gorgeous redheaded teenage fan and fervently vow ‘I’ll see you later.’
Even without his stunning looks, he could effortlessly capture a young girl’s heart with just a dash of the charm and confidence he seemed to hold in abundance. That charm is still captivating today in the now 65-year-old rocker, whose interest in the spiritual side of life stretches back some 40 years.
At one point on the first day, when I’ve somehow prompted discussion to veer toward the occult, Dave hesitates before continuing, worrying that he wouldn’t want to scare anyone. When I say, ‘I’m not scared’, he replies, ‘No, I don’t think you’re scared of anything.’ I gather at that instant that I must come across as much more fearless than I actually am.
During the Saturday gig, before ‘Tired of Waiting for You’, Dave recalls that, when they were producing an album for Tom Robinson’s Café Society at Konk, they hung around ages for Ray Davies, who, to be fair, had had a meeting somewhere else first. When the elder Davies brother finally turned up, the infuriated and impatient Tom started playing ‘Tired of Waiting’ in a sarcastic manner. I asked whether this was the occasion when Ray had to be taken away in an ambulance. I’d heard this was after some altercation between him and Tom. But apparently that was another time.
[Here’s the time I was thinking of, described in delicious detail at
Café Society had secured a weekly residency at the Troubadour in London, where Ray Davies had checked them out, on the lookout for new talent for Konk. Hereward Kaye (guitar, vocals) remembers:
‘Alexis [Korner] produced a huge spliff. Raymond Douglas Davies was amongst us, old melon grin. So moved was he by our songs, that he got up and joined us. … After that he was “Uncle” Ray. The deal was as good as signed.’
Despite poor record sales, Sounds crowned them ‘Most Promising Band of 1976’.
Unfortunately, things did not continue so harmoniously for long. The recording of the second album was beset by problems, with the producer sacking the keyboard player and drummer on the second day. Tom was exploring his gay political identity and hankering after being a punk rocker. The band’s manager Colin Bell convened a meeting with Ray Davies, putting such intense pressure on the Kink that he simply disappeared halfway through.
‘Well we sat and we waited. Then his secretary Claire appeared.
“What have you done to Ray?” she said. “He’s just left in an ambulance.”
It was a fabulous exit, in retrospect.’
Tom badmouthed his former mentor in the music press until Ray finally wearied of the onslaught and freed the band from their contract. This result worked rather better for Tom than for the others in Café Society, who found themselves out in the cold in the middle of recording the album. Hereward says,
‘Like two caged birds whose door has been accidentally left ajar, Raphael [Doyle] and I waddled to the edge and waddled back. … We didn’t want to be free. … Tom signed to EMI and Motorway went to Number Four.’
The rancour between Ray and Tom festered on for a little while, with Ray writing the derisive ‘The Prince of the Punks’ (‘He’s the prince of the punks and he’s finally made it/Thinks he looks cool but his act is dated’) about Tom and the latter retaliating with the admonitory ‘Don’t Take No for an Answer’ (‘I’d just come from the country/Wide-eyed and naïve/I signed on the line/I signed a long time/Now you won’t let me leave’).]
Dave also tells a story about Joey Ramone calling him up to ask for the chords to ‘Celluloid Heroes’. Dave supplies them and, a little while later, seeing Joey, asks him how they got on. The response was something like ‘Didn’t do it. Too many fucking chords, man’.
But back to the gigs, Dave no longer seems to remember much of ‘One Fine Day’, a very early composition, which I’d love to hear him perform. We are treated to heartfelt renditions of ‘Are You Ready, Girl’ and ‘Too Much on My Mind’ and an enjoyable snippet of ‘Muswell Hillbilly’ before a communal camaraderic singalong to ‘Strangers’. ‘When I First Saw You’ is a new song, the lyrics still unfinalised, as evinced by a lyric sheet featuring various alternatives that Dave signs for attendees. ‘Creeping Jean’ has really grown on me, like an insidiously beautiful parasitic plant. I remember when I first came I couldn’t even recognise it.
A brief interlude sees Dave leading haphazard group versions of old Cockney standards like ‘My Old Man’, ‘Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner’, etc. before an uproarious ‘Death of a Clown’. ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ is a fantastic encore but when I realise we didn’t get ‘Flowers in the Rain’ I exclaim aloud in dismay, whereupon Dave obliges with a touching solo acoustic performance.
The album is scheduled for release early next year (with provisional titles of I Will Be Me or In the Mainframe) and there are rumours of at least a US tour to promote it, sparking further rumours of a possible export of the satsang experience to the US.
At the pub after there are pots of tea and arguments about guns and hunting – how we Brits marvel at the wonderful wildlife in the US but all most Americans seem to want to do is hunt it down and kill it.
Back at the hotel, three of us find ourselves locked out and, after ringing bells and banging on the door with no response, we start to shout up to the room of another one of our party. Hearing her name yelled at intervals by three voices from outside in the dark, our soon-to-be saviour comes first to her window to see what’s going on, and then downstairs to let us in, bless her heart.
Despite copious amounts of pharmaceuticals, I’m still awake at 4.40 am, when I look over at the alarm clock beside the bed. I have a strange hallucination (possibly drug-induced) – I can see filaments descending from the ceiling toward my head, an intricate gossamer web that’s almost reached me. But it disappears when I turn the light on. Take another heavy-duty sleeping pill at 5.35 am, when I also go down to push a note under a friend’s door. But I’m awake again at 7, when I hear them push one back under mine.
On the second day, after meditation and stuff, we have the talking stick ceremony. ‘My favourite’, I comment not without sarcasm, and once again pass it straight on without feeling like ‘sharing’. The next person along knows me well enough to say, ‘I had a feeling you were going to do that.’
Dave revealed his guilty pleasure and, though he didn’t swear any of us present to secrecy, I just think it would be too damaging to his credibility and reputation to release it to the cyberworld.
Setlist for the second gig below –
- [teaser for Till the end]
- All day
- Good times
- Set me free
- Get back in the line
- Sea of heartbreak
- This man he weeps
- Living on a thin line
- Death of a clown
- Everybody else
- Young and innocent days
- Hare Krishna
- Rock you, rock me
- When I first saw you
- The lie
- Got me
- All day (again)
- Flowers in the rain
- [bit of Happy talk thrown in]
Highlights not played the night before include ‘Get Back in the Line’, a song that Ray sadly neglected to play on his autumn tour, ‘Sea of Heartbreak’, ‘This Man He Weeps’ and ‘Rock You, Rock Me’.
Port and lemons supplied with alacrity so much so that I spill one all over myself before kicking someone else’s glass of Exmoor Beast over. Kate proposes a champagne toast by candlelight during the performance to thank Dave and celebrate the end of the weekend.
Apparently, after the gig, one weekender tries unsuccessfully to jolt Dave’s memory of some evening in the long ago that they spent UFO hunting together. She remembers all the details – a riverside walk, a crying child – but he’s drawing a blank.
I don’t think Dave was on the same emotional knife-edge as on previous weekends. There were fewer tears when he remembered momentous or sad occasions. I’d asked him on the first one if he’d always been that emotional and he confessed that he had.
I feel like we made some deep connections with special people on this retreat and hope that we keep in touch for some time to come.
 Ray Davies was impressed enough by seeing the band live to produce their debut album, though it sold only 600 copies.
 Ironically, it seems Tom felt himself trapped by a disadvantageous contract in a similar manner to the way Ray had been when he started off in the business.
 Of all The Kinks songs, who would have thought that the Ramones would choose to cover that one?
 My chronic insomnia is always worse when I’m away from home.
 Misery loves company.
 It seems that quite a few people saw the same kind of scene in their mind’s eye while receiving a blessing or meditating. I wasn’t one of them. I came up with zilch. Mind curiously blank of visions of any kind now it’s daytime and the drugs have worn off.