Thursday, 26 April 2012

Village Green Preservation Society – The Kinks

This purports to be an analysis of concert footage from London in 1973, specifically of the song ‘Village Green Preservation Society’, but diverts from its purpose many a time.

This video is a virtual microcosm of the Kinks’ career and Dave’s trajectory within it. A foretaste of what was to come. It’s a falling line on a graph: from singing lead vocal on much of the Kinks early output, albeit B-sides or album tracks, some self-penned, some by Ray and many of the covers (‘I Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight’, ‘Got My Feet on the Ground’, ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’) to joint lead on some songs (early, ‘Milk Cow Blues’, 'I Don't Need You Any More', slightly later, ‘Juke Box Music’, at least live), to backing singer (‘Life on the Road’, ‘Slum Kids’, ‘The Informer’). Later, and you imagine it’s in the manner of a papal dispensation, he’s granted a temporary recall from banishment and brought in from the cold to sing a song or two live (with some kind of entente cordiale in the early 80s when he gets to sing three: ‘Come On Now’, ‘Living on a Thin Line’ and ‘Bernadette’) unless a song proves very popular like ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’, in which case Ray resumes lead, even though he wrote this song for Dave’s voice, as he did ‘Sleepless Night’. (For more on this, please see 'bashfulbadgersblog'.) Sometimes he’s allowed to sing ‘Too Much on My Mind’ but they never seem to play ‘Strangers’, ‘Mindless Child of Motherhood’ or ‘This Man He Weeps Tonight’. At least, if they ever did, they’re not on YouTube, which is I’m afraid my only point of reference since I never saw them live. If only.

[In fact, ‘Milk Cow Blues’ proves an exception to the rule, with Dave originally singing a verse then passing the lead to Ray as in the 1965 version above - Dave’s like a wild animal, a tiger (in fact, in 'My Way', he sings 'I was born a tiger'), there’s often something uncontrolled about him, in his guitar playing and his singing – you’ll never hear him play/sing a song exactly the same way – it’s all fluid and flexible and when he gives, he gives it all, totally instinctual, the lyrics are mutable; at this stage, Ray’s more like a pussycat, riled enough to reveal his claws and rhythmically thump his tail but back to refuting my own point, in this 1966 performance, Dave starts the song, Ray takes over lead vocal then it reverts to Dave at the end and it’s as if they’re competing with each other as to who can hold the notes longer and deliver them with the most passion.]

While I’m on Dave’s backing vocals well I was on them till I went off-track I have to eulogise them a little. Their voices are so distinctive and they blend so well; Dave’s higher-pitched tone an emotional echo (it is an echo as it’s often just slightly behind Ray’s lead as people have commented on the Ray Davies Forum but it works like this and I’m sure is deliberate) and counterpoint to Ray’s voice of reason. Listen to ‘Scattered’, ‘Life on the Road’, ‘Slum Kids’, ‘Picture Book’, 'Jukebox Music', ‘Mr Pleasant’. I said in one of my first blogs, how live, Ray quite often acknowledges the advent of Dave’s distinctive backing vocal with a smile of recognition, sometimes combined with a sexy hairtoss, no doubt realising that this is a pretty irresistible combination, the incorrigible flirt. [It reminds me of a Bratpack movie, where a girl could flick her hair and smile and it was wryly considered a great accomplishment. Might have been About Last Night.

Googled it and it was (how’s that for my memory of total trivia?), found this:
Joan Her big move should be coming up any moment. The combination hair flip with a giggle.
Debbie There is a 3.2 level of difficulty here, Joan. Let's see if she can pull it off.
Joan This is it... this is it... Oh Yes!
Debbie Oh Yes! Yes! Oh Bravo! Bravo! 9.0!]

Don’t get me wrong. I love Ray’s voice and appreciate the way he can turn on a dime, from playful and affected to impassioned. To see him perform ‘Yo Yo’ (1982, Essen), with such total and more-than-adrenalin-fuelled commitment, is astonishing. He’s completely mesmerising. He gives everything. And so does Dave on guitar, so powerful; they match each other’s intensity. I love it when Ray reaches the top end of his range in ‘Million Pound Semi-Detached’ – it’s really touching. The choices he makes musically are always spot on. It’s not so much that he can do something as when he decides to do it, sometimes on the most unromantic word, like ‘semi’. ‘The Real World’ is a beautifully put-together song, in which Ray’s vocal wrenches your soul. Listen to the last verse/chorus ‘So head off in the car and follow the stars’ – it’s heart-breaking, the first half of the line plain-speaking, the second imbued with that wistfulness that only Ray can impart, in lyric, voice and melody (his signature move, level of difficulty: irrelevant to him because it comes so naturally). When he writes about Dave, and I don't think I’m reaching here (‘So you headed down south, left your old home town, … relocated so far away from the real world’ – it doesn’t take a detective to work this out although I admit that it could just as easily be about an ex-girlfriend), there’s always a special intimacy plus a real evocation of loss and regret. You can hear the love in his voice even if he’s unable to express it when they meet. I don’t think Dave needs to worry that Ray sometimes minimises his contribution (after all, what better way to wind him up?), because it’s obvious that he’s always in his thoughts. And I’d venture much more so than the other way around.

Anyway, I digress: Ray is sweaty and preternaturally pale and extraordinarily beautiful in this particular incarnation. Dave is slight (and perhaps used to being slighted), almost physically diminished somehow, insubstantial, an effect of his stance and position; as if he’s trying to disappear altogether. He looks like his body is there but his mind somewhere else. His eyes are glazed. They look without seeing, in complete contrast to this early ‘Waterloo Sunset’, in which he’s so alert to the camera’s every move, so intent on being noticed, forever making eye contact with the lens.

So, let’s (over-)analyse:
Ray is in shot as he shyly and somewhat disingenuously introduces the song.
Camera zooms out from Mick to a wide shot of the band.
Both Ray and Dave are shown, in the forefront of a wide shot, side by side, almost equal partners.
Then a two-shot, both in view, with Ray in focus in the foreground, Dave out of focus behind him.
Throughout the performance, the cameraman pulls focus now and then, rendering one clear, the other blurry, neck and neck, as it were. There are glorious stereo hair tosses as they synchronously approach the mikes to sing. Usually Ray is in focus and pre-eminent, with Dave out of focus; he seems to be first a shadow, a smaller image of his brother (because of perspective), then in his brother’s shadow. This is the most recurrent shot (this technique is also evident in this live version of ‘Juke Box Music’ although the emphasis on Ray is less pronounced). And possibly the story of Dave’s life; also used in this video of ‘Days’, with Ray mostly clear and Dave mainly blurred although it switches occasionally.
Dave medium close-up right, remembering the words.
Ray extreme close-up right – don’t need to say whether he knows the words or not – if he didn’t, there would be no song; he can't rely on Dave.
Back to the usual two-shot, with Ray clear in the foreground, Dave less distinct behind him.
Then they are shown separately, from different sides, superimposed on the background of the whole band, face to face, as it were, with Dave visible in the background and foreground, forgetting the words (well, there are so many!) and, in the background shot, looking somewhat dazed, perhaps by the onslaught of lyrical verbiage.
A technique much beloved of the BBC at the time is common here, where a dissolve is unresolved so that you can see through the subject in the foreground to the shot behind. Very noticeable in much ‘TOTP’ footage of the Kinks. See the aforementioned ‘Waterloo Sunset’, for instance. A contrariness in me always wants to see the person in the background.
The camera pans down from the right to show most of the band one by one.
Ray alone in medium shot, from front. Can hear Dave in background – it’s not fair – he knows this bit!
Shot of horn section.
Two-shot again, Ray in front, with Dave and John Dalton part of the indistinct background.
Camera swerves to show Ray from right.
Camera ranges to show most of the band.
Back to the recurring shot. Both again, in a two-shot and both in focus.
Switch to the facing images again but this time they’re both Ray, one medium close-up left and an extreme close-up right and only part of Dave is accidentally visible; he’s lost in some dark, out-of-focus (as out of focus as his eyes) hinterland, an in-between world, another dimension, between the two in-focus shots of Ray before disappearing altogether. This scenario is the one that seems to have most often proliferated in live footage of the Kinks ever since, with sometimes almost whole concerts in which the only parts of Dave you’re likely to catch sight of are his hands on the guitar, during a guitar solo – that’s if they’re not showing Ray’s by mistake.
Dave alone right.
Camera pans to two-shot again, this time with Dave in focus, everything but his eyes at least (and that’s no fault of the cameraman). A final reprieve.
Back to the horns again, with the shot gradually widening to encompass Mick then the rest of band.

After
Dave smiles shyly, timidly, at Ray, with something of a beaten dog still anxious to please an unpredictable and volatile master.

Ray graciously and flamboyantly receives the audience applause with a grandiose flourish.

Dave isn’t zoned out for the whole concert. He invests all his energy and enthusiasm in ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’, very obviously enjoying himself (and when you see him like that, how could you deny him the opportunity, the unadulterated joy, also apparent in his failure to hide his smile of anticipation before he sings the beginning of ‘Juke Box Music’); in fact, the whole band looks more relaxed, apart from Ray, whose engagement seems jittery and nervous in comparison and whose backing vocals sound a little strained and frantic. During Dave’s guitar break, they show Ray on the mouth organ, which you can't hear in the mix.

Poor John Gosling is so far over to the left that the camera can hardly ever include him. He can occasionally be spotted in the background of other shots. But at least he isn’t made to appear in some costume or other, those wicked boys.

Obviously, it’s natural for the lead vocalist (especially when he’s also the songwriter) to take centre stage in performance so this analysis is in a sense, a little facetious. But I had fun.

Intended to do a blog on the recent Satsang event at Dave’s house but I know someone else who’s writing one so don’t want to duplicate that. More later but suffice to say 'Milk Cow Blues' is still a showstopper.

First, I'll report on a weekend in the perfect village, according to William Cobbett, where the Church of Leven gathered for Easter.

3 comments:

  1. Another A+++ (on all counts) analysation (irrelevance or not) worthy of a Master thesis, my Dear, Lady Sshh.

    You wrote: >>...always wants to see the person in the background.<< As a visual artist, I collect JPEGs of “Mother Nature Genetically-Engineered Beauty” in human beings---both male and female (and all points “in-between,” but, that's a whole ‘nuther ballpark). I prefer (to say the least) natural beauty (as opposed to the literal [genetic-engineering and/or plastic varieties so commonplace in urban areas, circa 2012]). My JPEGs folder of R.D.D. is quite large: I have collected X-number of R.D.-only and group shots, and of this latter, I have copied them into the band folder BUT for the R.D.D. one, the other chaps have been cropped out so that only R.D.'s face and hands remain. Why? And this brings me (finally---yawning yet, Beautiful?) to *your* point above: Without this cropping-isolation, R.D. fades into the background (as does M. Avory); the viewer is continually distracted by the strikingly-beautiful, porcelain face/features of the late Peter Quaife and/or D.D. Not because either, and, especially, the latter (D.D.) is "prettier" than R.D., but because the two of them (P.Q. and D.D.) were obviously having such great fun posing for the camera and enjoying their young time in the spotlight that they simply cannot contain their ebullience.

    R.D. is elegantly, and unostentatiously beautiful from an artist’s perspective: generations of selective Willmore genes have prevailled in he; perfectly, symmetrical features.

    Of D.D.'s career: He fairly flaked---by his own admission---and just BARELY skated through on his big "DoAC" solo hit of the late-1960s w/its supporting tour, press junket, and all-too-important solo television appearance(s) on the Continent. But, I attribute this *ALL* to over-indulgences of "recreational drugs," and alcohol---quantities of which would've likely felled one of less, hardier, genetic stock. D.D. is surprisingly, quite brilliant, (yet, no surprise---he *is* R.D.’s *brother*; they share the same, “brain stuff” genes); it, too, saddens me to compare 1964-1966 footage of D.D. with post-"DoAC" ones, to-present: He lost confidence in himself…*because of drugs*---especially, LSD.

    In the 1964 footage of he performing “YRGM” and “ADaAoTN”, we see this FIFTEEN Y/O kid---barely out of boyhood---hands down, the *BEST* guitarist of his generation---dancing as he is playing; *his joy is palpable* and about to BURST out of every pore in his body; it’s a beautiful thing; clearly, a “force of nature.” D.D. was truly incredible---before drugs. I think one of the saddest visuals on D.D.’s website (“Picture Book” folder, is it?) is a photographer’s B/W contact sheet of D.D., circa 1966-67; looking beautiful in his coiffed hair and fab ensemble, but the look in his eyes in each iterative visual is tragically, heart-breaking; by then, he was “an old man” at the ripe, “old” age of 18-19. The drugs *really* did a number on his self-confidence. Over the decades, he has blamed R.D. but R.D. *didn’t make* his younger brother take drugs; it was D.D.’s own choice.

    There was never anything wrong with the brothers’ relationship (save for some typical, “boys will beat boys” childhood scrapes that they eventually grew out of in their teens). All of this terrible talk of R.D. “hating” D.D. for “being born”---that is the voice of some ill-educated, sophomoric hag, some “Iagoesque” female, no doubt, whispering with a truly, evil tongue, into “Othello’s” vulnerable, impressionable ear. It is banal, paranoid, typical “abjectly insecure female logic,” turning this all into a sorry game of psychological paranoia and warfare. I should like, very much, to see D.D.’s eyes open to the genuine love and stewardship his older brother has *always* had for him…after all, they were two little soldiers in a sea of females, growing up: I believe there is no greater love between human beings than between same-gender siblings....

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  2. My older sister died in late May of 2010. She was my only, same-sex sibling. I had always taken it for granted that we’d putter about as “two little old ladies, in our eighties” in England---rather dressed as “twins,” antique shopping, stopping for tea and a leisurely smoke…but, illness took her far too soon from me.

    However, as I am just now, rather beginning to celebrate my true love of life, again, I am infinitely grateful that I had her *for as many decades as I did*: She was my Heroine---in every way---as a female. Fortunately, we were always so very close (save for a few, blessedly, short-lived periods of typical, sibling estrangement, which never lasted more than a couple of mos.). She knew---unequivocally---how much I loved her and vice-versa before she died. Illness ravaged her (cancer) until there was nothing left for her to feel but pain (despite copious amounts of opiates IV-streaming into her system 24/7); the moment she passed, it was a blessing and I am so very grateful that I was *there* when she breathed her very, last, breath: She died in the arms of her best friend, a beautiful lady named “ValDonna” who held her up and was humming in her ear with her lovely, soothing soprano. My parents and I were there and my sister just relaxed---and “went.” I couldn’t have asked for a more, beautiful, and peaceful, death scenario for my beautiful, beloved Margaret…that was her name: “Margaret.”

    I only hope these two brothers---these two forces of nature---can make a genuine peace with their past and each other…before it is too late...but, the ball has always been in D.D.’s court: Let’s hope he gets back in the game, soon. I miss that “palpable joy” which did manage to rise up on more than a few occasions when he played with the band, during those heavily-populated, stadium gigs The Kinks had---gazing out on a *huge* sea of love.

    Thank you for your time, my Dear: Have a brilliant Sunday evening.

    As Ever,

    Your Pal in Cal

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  3. Just a quick note as have already replied by email. So sorry about your sister. I'm very close to mine.

    I know what you mean about Dave in early days - he looks like he's having the time of his life, like he hasn't a care in the world and it's a joy to watch. Ray, on the other hand, seems less secure (especially in the 60s). Of course, he had a family to worry about. But, in the late 70s and early 80s, the situation is reversed, with Ray now the focus and seemingly loving it, and Dave much more reserved in comparison. I only know from watching YouTube though so it's pure speculation. Ray takes on a character or a persona and forgets himself for a while. Wish I had seen them in real life.

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