Where Have All the Good times Gone?

Ray Davies wrote this when he was 21. His producer apparently said it was the kind of thing a 40-year-old would write.

Personally, I was about one year old when the original came out, at the end of 1965, but when I was discovering the Kinks in the late 1970s, this was on a live album.

It’s a somewhat rocked up, stadium version, it has more bounce than the original recording, but retains the same knowing, warily ironic lyrics. I fell in love with the Kinks around this time, even though they were well past their best. It was difficult to get hold of out-of-print albums in New Zealand then, but I managed, after a few years, to scour enough second-hand bins to put together a collection.

I loved them because they were so damn different to anything else going on – even though you could hear their influence in a lot of the music of the time.

Ray Davies visited Buck House last month and arose Sir Ray.

Davies sang like an old man, well before he was one. The run of recordings from roughly  mid-1966 to mid-1969,  although spread around several different albums,  some nominally formed around “concepts”, plus a splattering of magnificent if often neglected singles,  is like a unified body of work.

A body of work completely out of sync with its times:  amid the spectacular multicolour of psychedelia and the self-conscious,  self-dramatising youth revolution of the late 1960s,  Ray Davies penned a series of monochrome songs about the world that was being lost.

“Dead End Street”, a single at the end of 1966, could probably began this body of work, although there were glimpses in some of the tracks on the ‘Face To Face’ album earlier in the year.

“Dead End Street”  is more reminiscent of the 1930s than the 1960s:  Davies’ vocal begins,  pinched and cold,  like an unemployed man huddling into a cold army surplus overcoat for warmth.

‘There’s a crack up in the ceiling
And the kitchen sink is leaking …’

The rhythm is a march: there are horns, like a northern brass band, and it calls to mind mental pictures of the Jarrow March of 1936 rather than the psychedelic “happenings” of 1966.

The video is silly, but one thing it has in common with the song is it is in black and white.

Davies’ songs from this era all sounded monochrome: they were like Ealing, or Boulton Brothers, films set to music.

‘Dirty old river, must you keep rolling, flowing into the night?’

Including, of course, the masterpiece: Waterloo Sunset. A big part of the appeal of the song is the loneliness of its narrator (‘every day I look at the world from my window’) and the imagery of the detached, solitary observer viewing the bustling crowd and the dirty old river, rolling, flowing into the night, sticks in the mind.

There’s both a distance and a clarity and a detail in what Davies is singing about – again, the imagery is monochrome, and his brother Dave’s guitar matches the mood perfectly.

And if words, and playing is gritty and monochrome, the ethereal backing vocals float away, above the busy urban scene, like Philip Larkin gazing through his High Windows, nowhere and endless.

This body of work culminated in two albums, ‘The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society’ and ‘Arthur or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire’  – the latter from a tv play by Julian Temple which was, in the end, never made.

Davies has since redone it, with a choir – there’s a live version here. It works, pretty much.

Davies said once, somewhere, that Waterloo Sunset is him at his best, and he himself as not as good as Waterloo Sunset. I recently read Johnny Rogan’s recent biography of him, ‘Complicated Life’ and this is certainly a piece of that good old English understatement. While not exactly a hatchet job, Rogan – whose earlier book on the Kinks was subtitled ‘A Mental Institution’ – does not exactly go out of his way to hide his subject’s flaws.

But it’s always the way, isn’t it? Brilliant creativity – and Davies’ influence can be heard on musos as diverse as David Bowie, the Who, the Smiths, Ian Dury, and even our own Split Enz – often goes hand in hand with a certain personal rebarbativeness of character. “A miserable little bleeder” one of his uncles dubbed him when he was a child, and there’s no doubt Davies, from childhood, was suffering from some form of undiagnosed mental illness.

There’s a good recent interview with him in the New Statesman here, where he discusses hipsters and Pete Townshend, amongst other things.

He’s clearly an awkward bugger, somewhat at odds with life. But that kind of goes with the territory, it seems.

 

Good old fashioned steam powered trains

Happened to come across this item about a place close to the origins.

The railway station featured, the main one for the Glenbrook Vintage Railway, is about 10kms from where I grew up. It’s just down the hill from my grandfather’s farm, and across the road from another relative’s farm.

The branch line closed in the mid-1960s: I have a very vague memory of watching a small engine, without any train, chugging under the bridge by the old electricity board building on Waiuku’s Kitchener Road, probably around the time the line shut. I would have been, though, only about three or so.

Bit of a story with how the railway line came to be built in the first place: in the late 19th century, the locals agitated for a branch line to be put in.

Such decisions were made by cabinet ministers in those days, and the Prime Minister, Richard Seddon, tended to award such infrastructure projects to electorates which had been farsighted enough to elect an MP which supported his government.

As the area was, at the time, part of the electorate held by the then leader of the opposition, William Massey, the locals were told to go whistle.

The government changed in 1912, Massey was PM, and he got them their railway, though not right away – World War One intervened.

I gather it never made a profit and had to be constantly subsidised by the government. According to that story linked to above, the line now manages without any such government support.

When I was a kid, after the line closed, the station premises were used by Karaka Bulk Spreaders as a fertiliser depot.

The vintage railway went in, gradually, from the early 1980s. The bit that extends into my home town, Waiuku, runs through another relative’s farm, where we used to do hay every year.

It was kind of neat – we’d be part of the show, it seemed, as the train came through.

The vintage railway is recommended, for any of you Aucklanders – or anyone in holidaying in Auckland and wanting a day trip out to the country .

I’m biased, of course, but its a great place to visit.

There was even a song about it, albeit written and recorded, oddly in 1977 – during the period between the railway being closed circa 1968; and the vintage railway opening sometime in the mid-1980s.

Warning: contains yodeling. Catchy, though.

As a bonus, here’s the Kinks, singing about trains. It’s off their masterpiece, the low-key, out-of-its-own-time, Village Green Preservation Society album, which, by a coincidence, was being recorded around the time the Waiuku branch line closed.