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Death & Mortality: Ray and Dave Davies

Ray, you’ve been very prolific of late. Is it too simplistic to suggest that your narrow escape in 2004, when you were shot in New Orleans, sparked a new sense of urgency?

It wasn’t directly linked. But probably, if I hadn’t been shot, I wouldn’t have finished any recordings. It gave me something to focus on when I got back. When I was there I was living in Treme. It wasn’t the greatest part of town, but it was a cheap neighbourhood and I liked it. I lived opposite this old church where they’d have those New Orleans jazz burials. For the rest of my life I’ll have mobility problems because of the injury. It’s not so much the gunshot wound itself, but the care I had afterwards wasn’t good. So I’m reminded of it every day when I’m trying to walk around. Psychologically, it hasn’t affected me in the same way.

Three years ago you returned to play the Voodoo Experience Festival. Did you have mixed emotions?

I only went back because I’m friends with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and I booked them to play Meltdown. What was it like? I was dubious at first, but as soon as I got off the plane, I asked the cab driver to take me to all the places I knew. I still genuinely love New Orleans.

Did you lay any demons to rest by going back?

No, not at all. The demons are still inside.

Does your approach to songwriting change as you age?

When I first started out writing, we didn’t even have a tape recorder at home. You Really Got Me, for example, was written down note for note, the best that I could do it. So it’s not a question of me getting older, it’s technology becoming more intrusive. There are many advantages of technology, but I try to remain as old-school as possible in the sense that I like to write things down. Basically, the thought process is the same. It’s to do with connecting with people through song; being concise. I’ve been doing this for a long time and the secret is to grab people within 30 seconds. In a corny way, it’s like being a salesman: keep them occupied for the next two-and-a-half minutes and you’ve got them. Job done.

How do you see your back catalogue now?

I’m constantly learning new things about my old songs. When I look back on the originals, I sometimes think I didn’t push the envelope enough. Things like Village Green [Preservation Society, 1968] really work as albums, but sometimes being in a band is constrictive. I’d still like to be more experimental.

You once said that if you could have your life again, you’d change almost everything.

I would’ve written more, rather than being a singer-songwriter and performer. And I may have painted more too.

Is there any truth to rumours of a Kinks reunion?

No. It’s all down to the music. And I want the players to play together; there’s some discord between the players. I don’t want to be the mother hen who brings it all together, I just want to do the music. I’ve got a great guitarist and a great touch drummer who’ve played with me for years, and if they can play together then that’s a different matter. Because if it’s all like The Beach Boys and we all have different agents, I don’t want to deal with that. I’ve got a life to live. I haven’t ruled anything out yet, but I’m not sure about these big reunion tours. It’s got to have new music. So we’ll see.

Dave, how has your attitude to life changed since you had a stroke in 2004?

The major thing was discovering that fundamental things in our lives are important. I was on my back in the hospital, couldn’t move even if I’d wanted to, and could smell flowers outside the window. It was a Zen moment. It made me think about what I’d been doing: flying all over the world, trying to fit in gigs that I shouldn’t have been doing at my age, getting up at four in the morning. I’ve been a perpetual sixteen-year-old since I was a teenager, but the body reminds you that you’re not getting any younger. It was a big wake-up call.

Did your interest in spirituality play a part in your recuperation?

It was a major part of it. Attitude and the way you think affects everything in your life and I like to be around positive people. It breeds optimism.

That also applies closer to home with your brother Ray…

Yeah. It must’ve been very hard work being Ray. It’s bad enough being me [laughs]. I don’t know if he developed his own way of dealing with it because medication doesn’t help. It just puts things off. And when the dam breaks, people end up in hospital with all sorts of psychological problems. That’s why it’s so important to have a different facet to your life that has a positive ring. Religion has such power over people. We always tend to think that when things go wrong there’s something out there, but there isn’t. Unfortunately, we’re all kind of stuck here in isolation. And when you’re lying on your back in hospital, you really notice that.

Tell us about your interest in spiritualism.

When we were kids, my sisters and my mum were into crystal balls and fortune telling. But it only hit me in a more meaningful way when my sister Rene died [of a heart attack while dancing at the Lyceum Ballroom in the Strand in 1957]. I must have been about eleven at the time and it was on Ray’s thirteenth birthday. She’d helped buy a guitar for him, so it was a big event in our lives. In the late sixties I had an acid trip at a party in Hollywood and realised that I needed to rethink my whole life. There was stuff going on that people didn’t discuss or even seem to know about. Spiritualism wasn’t the sort of thing you read about in the paper or saw on television, so I began retracing my steps. The obvious point was yoga books and seeking out all the teachers from the East.

Do you get less or more nostalgic with age?

I’m not great with nostalgia because it can drag you down if you dwell on it. On my new album [I Will Be Me] there’s a song called Living In The Past. It’s partially based on me, but also people I know. The guy’s confronted with a situation where he can’t pay his rent and he’s going to get chucked out. He’s got all of his vinyl and things he’s collected, but in the end he can only take what he can carry. There’s a line in it that sums up how I feel: ‘No matter what you do or say/The future’s here to stay.’

Is there any truth in the rumours of a Kinks reunion?

The sixteen-year-old kid in me says, “Of course.” It’s that ‘rock till you drop’ kind of thing. Of course it’d be nice to do something, but there are business issues behind the scenes that I won’t bore you with. I think we’ve got a wonderful legacy and nothing would be worse than going out there and not doing it justice. I’m not saying that would happen – it would probably be great – but it would be nice to do something.

Rob Hughes
Rob Hughes

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2008, and sister title Prog since its inception in 2009. Regular contributor to Uncut magazine for over 20 years. Other clients include Word magazine, Record Collector, The Guardian, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and When Saturday Comes. Alongside Marc Riley, co-presenter of long-running A-Z Of David Bowie podcast. Also appears twice a week on Riley’s BBC6 radio show, rifling through old copies of the NME and Melody Maker in the Parallel Universe slot. Designed Aston Villa’s kit during a previous life as a sportswear designer. Geezer Butler told him he loved the all-black away strip.