After his sensational meeting with Ray Davies in The Big Issue’s Heroes edition, Mark Hamill joins forces with Ray’s brother, The Kinks’ legendary guitar man Dave Davies, in a living room far, far away (well, west London). If you thought the encounter with Ray was good, then you’ll love this…
Mark Hamill: So the night that Ray showed up to play at your solo show last December – is it true you didn’t know he was going to do it?
Dave Davies: I had rehearsed a few Kinks songs with the band so I emailed him: Why don’t you come on at the end, do You Really Got Me and the fans will go crazy? He said he would try but had a prior engagement. He kept tormenting me, like he does, right up until we get to the song. Then I look over my shoulder – and it is like the shadow in Dirty Harry.
MH: You always think in cinematic terms. You cast your songs like movies, I’m sure.
DD: Me and Ray have always talked like that. Our writing has always been visual. So he was standing there, like my shadow, I announce him and he comes on. I was so ill that night but made myself do the show. When I got on stage something automatic took over. Your brain knows what to do. It was like I was watching it.
MH: An out-of-body experience? I’ve had that feeling performing. It is so odd.
DD: I’m so glad you got to speak with Ray, though.
MH: Ray was very engaging, very funny. I hope I made him laugh. This has been so special for me. I’m not trying to organise some sort of faux reunion. You have been such a part of the soundtrack of my life. Is it true you had legendary rave-ups with your dad, who was a gardener and loved music?
I’m not trying to organise some sort of faux reunion. You have been such a part of the soundtrack of my life
DD: The start of The Kinks was around the piano playing folks songs.
MH: And didn’t you have a band before Ray came into the picture? The Ramrods?
DD: Well remembered! And then the Boll-Weevils, which I got from an Eddie Cochran B-side. Ray was at art school but found he liked music more. It is so immediate.
MH: Well into my career, I took my dad to see The Paper Chase in Hollywood. I had been a professional actor for six years. On the way home, he said he loved the movie but if I ever wanted to consider law school he would match me dollar for dollar. He couldn’t conceive of acting as a legitimate profession.
DD: My maths teacher said to me: Davies, you will only be fit to sweep the street!
MH: John Lennon’s aunt Mimi famously told him: “The guitar is nice but you will never earn a living from it.” You were lucky to be in an atmosphere where it was encouraged.
DD: Your father thought you should go into a safer career?
MH: Well, we can talk about over-achieving older brothers. We have that in common. My brother Bill got great grades, was really handsome, good at sports, the girls threw themselves at him and he became a doctor. Doctor Hamill, the success of the family. Because, let’s face it, science trumps the arts every time.
DD: That is why I got interested in eastern mystical stuff – because in the east, people who develop their spiritual lives are revered.
MH: I went to nine schools in 12 years. My dad was in the navy. When I heard we were moving to Japan, I was crushed. All I could think was, do they have The Kinks in Japan? But we used to have campfires on the beach and listen to music. To earn money I taught Japanese rock bands what the lyrics to rock songs were.
DD: You were a pioneer! Do you know what I’m thinking of now? Yoda! What a stroke of genius…
They put her in an unmarried mother’s home. I found out where it was. I used to walk by and hope to catch a glimpse of her in the window
MH: You are only a few years older than me, and when I first heard You Really Got Me on the radio, it ripped my guts out. I was 12. I had never heard anything so primal. All I could think was that I had to get that single. I mowed lawns, collected deposit bottles, I’d take my wagon door-to-door to save up the money. From then on my goal in life was to convert people to The Kinks. But I can’t relate to you at that age because you were having hit records whereas I could barely get my shoelaces tied correctly. I was clueless. You grew up so incredibly fast – just the fact you got kicked out of school for having sex with your girlfriend made you a hero in my mind!
DD: I can remember that like it was yesterday. I forgot to pull up my trousers, I was so embarrassed.
MH: And she had a daughter by that experience. You wrote the song Susannah’s Still Alive about that?
DD: I am still writing songs about that.
MH: It has to be a haunting experience – they made you separate?
DD: It never goes away. They put her in an unmarried mother’s home. I found out where it was. I used to walk by and hope to catch a glimpse of her in the window.
MH: That’s so sad. Really poignant imagery there.
DD: Different times, the ’60s were like Victorian times compared to now, in some ways.
MH: I’m looking at your solo stuff, and it is almost like George Harrison in The Beatles. You must have built up an enormous amount of material. We had been waiting for your debut solo LP since Death of a Clown in 1967. In 1980, AFL1-3603 finally came out and Glamour follows right away.
DD: It was a time when Ronald Reagan became president. I thought, politics has become showbiz. It is entertainment. A lot of people didn’t like it. But if you try to do what the audience want, that is death. For Chosen People [in 1983] I had been investigating religion. The concept was, maybe we are all chosen – it is whether we take the chance or not.
MH: I read once that you like working fast because it doesn’t give you a chance to second guess yourself. Pure instinct. That is so smart. You can be too much of a perfectionist. If they had let Stanley Kubrick keep going, he would still be shooting his first movie.
DD: There is something in that. With a lot of our work in The Kinks, instinct takes over. I go: “Ray, we got it!” After a certain point, you can make it worse.
MH: You lived round the corner from me when I was doing Slipstream in 1988. That is when I got to know you better. My wife Marilou got along with Nancy [Evans, Dave’s partner at the time] really well, our kids were around the same age. They went off to hang out, leaving us by ourselves. We would watch Monty Python and you turned me on to Tony Hancock. This guy is such a genius!
Did you know they changed the name when we were already filming? He was originally called Luke Starkiller
DD: He is just brilliant.
MH: I had never heard of him, he is not well known in the US.
DD: His work really stands the test of time. He relates to all of us because he feels like he’s failed at everything. We all carry that character with us.
MH: And comedy comes from great tragedy. The pathos.
DD: I love opposites. That is the great thing about Star Wars. The story is embedded in our collective unconscious. I watched it about six times on tour in 1977. It was on in every town we passed through. And because I had started on the occult, magic, mysticism and yoga, I thought it was weird because Darth is a name that’s part of the Kabbalah. They used ritualistic magic. I thought, who is this George Lucas guy? Is he a mystic? Even your character – the word Skywalker is from ancient occult history, someone who projected his spiritual body out into the sky.
MH: Did you know they changed the name when we were already filming? He was originally called Luke Starkiller.
DD: Ooh, no. That’s like Rambo or something.
MH: Sure but at that age, in my young 20s, I thought he needed macho-ing up.
DD: That is the genius of the character.
MH: I see it now.
DD: Star Wars has a very powerful message. We joke about the Force when there are events we can’t get our heads around, where we don’t have the language. But I think there are other languages – psychic, feeling. Being a performer, you are looking for an idea. You sense where it is. Ideas are waiting for us to reach out to them – like Yoda!
MH: You get Star Wars far more than I do. I’m much more literal.
DD: It is a state of mind. And Luke Skywalker is like that. There are mystical elements. He is channelling this energy from somewhere. Ray is very psychic. But he doesn’t like to talk about it. He talks about music as a visual language, the characters come to him.
MH: Do you feel a psychic connection to your brother? It is almost unique in the annals of rock history that two siblings are so tied together in their careers. It must be difficult at times.
DD: Absolutely. But we have a telepathy or rapport like twins. I experience it so much with Ray. It reminds me of feeling a disturbance in the Force! We can affect each other for good or bad. On stage, in a room, performing, I have experienced moments with Ray when I don’t know what is going on. Something else has taken over. You look for it and it has gone. Every time the conscious mind tries to get hold of it, it goes.
MH: I’ve been trying to work through your solo LPs but we are only up to Bug in 2002!
DD: I’ll tell you a story about Bug. As you know, I’ve always been interested in the mind and psychic stuff. Around that time, I knew this woman who was a psychic, and she told me that she had been implanted with something in her brain which she thought might be aliens, maybe the government. I wrote a song about a character with a bug in my brain, trying to make it funny as well. A year later I was in London doing radio and became really faint. I was with Christian, my son – he says hi by the way – and I was in the throes of having a stroke. Same year that I write that story about a bug in the brain, and I was in hospital having a stroke. Something going on in my brain.
MH: You had to relearn everything. Speech? But you could do your fret arm. The rhythm was the problem. I noticed the long gap before Fractured Mindz…
DD: I had to relearn everything.
MH: That was why it was so astonishing seeing you last year at the Roxy. You were as great as you ever were. It is interesting to hear you sing See My Friends. The essence of the band was there with just you.
DD: That is sweet, thank you.
MH: I mean that. If you got back together as The Kinks, great. But you have given us what we need. Without reading your biography I would never have known you had any health issue, much less a stroke. That chunky guitar, the vocals. Ripping up Time? You ripped the roof off the joint! Oh, I’m so glad we got to do this.
DD: We could go on forever.
MH: I don’t want to stop…