Interview: Dave Davies - "You can't be glued in the 60s"

The Kinks' legendary guitarist talks about the influence of his mum, mysticism, and why tribute bands don't rock

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Interview: Dave Davies - "You can't be glued in the 60s"
Written By
David Crawford
Dave Davies, 64, the pioneering guitarist with 60s rock royalty the Kinks, is not a man to dwell on the past. He practically invented heavy rock when he took a razor blade to his amplifier and created the distorted guitar sound of You Really Got Me, and tore up America to the extent that the Kinks were banned for three years, but he is sanguine about former glories.

“You can't be glued in the 60s. Walking around, going up the pub or popping to Tesco in a hunting jacket,” he told me when we spoke over the phone as he took a break from recording new material at his secluded home in Exmoor. “I can’t stand tribute bands. It’s nice, bless 'em, but it’s not right. They can’t capture the right spirit. You never see a tribute comedian, a tribute Les Dawson.”

Our chat was prompted by a new film by Julien Temple about Davies, Kinkdom Come (Friday 15 July, 9.00pm, BBC4), which shows the former 60s wild man in reflective mood as he communes with nature and talks of his spirituality on the desolate rocks and moors near his home.

It would be easy to dismiss him as a rock 'n' roll stereotype - the burnt-out star in thrall to eastern mysticism – and he provides ample ammunition for cynics when he admits, “Some of these cancers, these terrible illnesses, are, I believe, psychosomatic.”

But there's grit amid the esoteric. When, in 1971, he found himself holed up in a New York hotel room with voices inside his head telling him to jump out of the window, he did not seek the advice of therapists or pill-dispensing doctors. He simply sat down and decided to work through his mental problems himself.

“I get that self-will from my mum, I think. She was a no-nonsense woman. If something needed sorting, you sorted it yourself. Going to see a psychiatrist was like going to see the local witch doctor. It was frowned upon,” he says. “I thought I’d got myself into that mess, I had to get myself out.”

Davies was the youngest child of a close-knit, working-class family in London, with six elder sisters and one elder brother, Ray, with whom he formed the Kinks and with whom he has a famously prickly relationship - he half-jokingly says, “I think Ray was only ever really happy for the first three years of his life [before I was born].”

But he credits growing up in such a matriarchal household with giving him the licence to experiment with his life: “They just let you get on with it. There was no one standing over you saying, 'Why aren't you drawing that line straight?'”

And experiment he did, to a degree that led to that pivotal night in New York. “We thought being young was about enjoying yourself, exploring and discovering things. Which we did with whatever we had at our disposal.”

But after New York Davies set himself the task of “having a conversation with the mind” to see if he couldn't remedy what led him down such a self-destructive path – or a “deconstructive path” as he prefers to call it now, as, according to his philosophy, there are no bad experiences - everything can be learnt from.

Ultimately that “conversation” led him to psychics and swamis, and to the belief that the universe is governed by positive and negative energies. “Science has proved that everything is energy, and now they have dark energy, dark matter. They don’t call it all-embracing consciousness, they call it dark because they can’t measure it. You know, paint it black.”

It may sound wacky, but Davies reveals that he felt talking about his philosophy in the film was a chance to show a different side of his character, “a side of my life that’s always been as important, perhaps more important, than the music”.

For the sensitive youngest child of a large family, who has spent all his working life with a domineering elder sibling, has striving to forge a distinct identity been a perpetual struggle?

“I have suffered creative suppression and depression...[and I want to say] I am me. They always want to invalidate you, but I am a person; there is a back story.” He may have his problems with Ray, but nowadays he doesn't sound bitter. “You have to take responsibility for how you act. You can’t fix everyone.”

But the importance of family raises its head again when I ask one final question: what would be your Desert Island Disc? “Oh blimey. Just one? By anyone? Off the top of my head? I wish you'd given me three weeks' notice.” At first he’s drawn to classics he’s recently rediscovered - “Maybe the Byrds' My Back Pages or the Band’s album The Band” - but then he admits his fondness for the number of Kinks songs based on his family life, “with some of that Davies magic."