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God Save The Kinks by Rob Jovanovic (2013)

God-Save-the-KinksFrom The Telegraph

In the early months of 1967 we had the Beatles’ Penny Lane and Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks. Even in a year extraordinary for its harvest of good songs these two stood out: who could imagine writing a hit about everyday people doing ordinary things in a Liverpool street? Paul McCartney did.

Who would know rush hour at a London railway terminus was the stuff of pop dreams? Ray Davies, the only songwriter sharp-eyed, witty, angry, sensitive and skilful enough to vie with the Beatles at turning home-turf goings-on into songs that would still be in rude health half a century later.

Nostalgist and ironist, he was the consummate minstrel of humdrum consolations – hymning the old-fashioned working-class house as Shangri-La, leading The Village Green Preservation Society and lampooning the Dedicated Follower of Fashion.

The Kinks didn’t have the winsome charm of the moptops or the cunningly nurtured outlaw chic of the Rolling Stones. Ray and his brother Dave, pretty-boy somewhat-unhinged lead guitarist, were often at war. Ray is a difficult man: difficult for colleagues, wives, his brother and above all himself.

Rob Jovanovic’s book begins with a harrowing and very graphic account of a July day in 1973. Ray’s wife had left him and taken their two daughters, he had just played a terrible concert, he had overdosed on drink and drugs and stumbled into a hospital saying: “My name is Ray Davies. I am lead singer of the Kinks. I am dying.”

He doesn’t die but the book is never quite so healthy again. The Davies brothers were not involved. The author didn’t speak to either of them. That needn’t matter, but it does mean that a lot of effort is required to conjure up scenes and make the characters live. That doesn’t happen nearly enough. Instead, as occurs in all but the very good rock biographies, any chance of a compelling narrative is too often lost in thicketry of details of tracks, recording days, sidemen and outriders.

Mentioning the two best books about the Beatles – Philip Norman’s meticulously researched Shout! and Revolution in the Head, Ian MacDonald’s brilliant song-by-song analysis – is setting the bar very high but one does yearn for just a little of the virtues of both.

The author isn’t old enough to have been around in the Sixties, which is not his fault, but in order to explain and animate the Kinks he needs to conjure up the times and the peculiar cultural stew that provoked so much good music. Sentences like: “Fashion designers like Mary Quant and Paco Rabanne, models such as Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, as well as hairdressers and make-up artists, were part of the new zeitgeist – popular icons, even stars” hardly get you there.

The early chapters about the young brothers’ lives with their large family in their small north-London house have all the facts but aren’t well written enough to draw you in.

As for the songs, one would love a more telling account of what went into them. This is not a churlish gripe. Listen to John Wilson’s Mastertapes radio interview with Ray Davies last year and hear how very interestingly he talks about his work.

Many Kinkswatchers will come to this book with a special advantage – in the past couple of years Julien Temple made two documentaries that were on BBC One, one about Ray, one about Dave, that really takes you to the centre of Kinksdom. Ray’s is fairly well trodden territory but beautifully done. Dave’s is absolutely compelling – he was the guitarist who, age 16, on You Really Got Me gave the world the power-chords soon copied by the Who and everybody else; he put a sitar-like sound on to See my Friends before George Harrison ever did anything Indian for the Beatles.

These days, having suffered a stroke, he is an almost unrecognisable but very sympathetic spiritually inclined figure. He says his brother was a nightmare but that may have been all to the good, it made him be himself.

God Save the Kinks doesn’t make attractive reading. Theirs is a tough story. It isn’t a tale of sweetness and light, there was too much fighting and too many cock-ups. After a mayhem-filled, shambolic mid-Sixties tour of the United States at the time when they might soon have taken the place by storm, they were banned from returning. Ray Davies has always been rather hazy as to precisely why and Jovanovic hasn’t produced any more clarity. Financially it was a setback but creatively it was probably a blessing. It kept them here to produce their best work.

This book does contain a lot of good material but it isn’t well served. Unlike gazing on Waterloo Sunset, reading it is certainly not paradise.

June 16, 2013 Posted by | Book God Save The Kinks by Rob Jovanovic | , | Leave a comment