Face to Face: Mark Hamill and Ray Davies sit in the theatre upstairs at the Gatehouse Pub, Highgate…
Mark Hamill: So, you haven’t seen the new Star Wars movie, have you? I invited you to the premiere.
Ray Davies: I was working that week but I will see it.
MH: My first question was going to be, do you think Rey is Luke Skywalker’s daughter or just a random scavenger? I thought it’d be a great icebreaker, as you would be expecting something about The Kinks. The new protagonist, Rey, is from a desert planet, strong with the Force – it is like Luke all over again. In one of the early drafts Luke was a girl.
RD: You’d have to shave the beard!
MH: I get these kids on Twitter asking whether Luke could be gay? He is whatever you want him to be.
RD: When you were cast, who would have thought what it would become? I first saw Star Wars in Troy, Michigan, when we were on tour. That is how we hooked up, isn’t it?
MH: Yeah, I went to see you guys in New York in 1977. You had seen Star Wars, recognised my name on the list and invited me backstage. I said to my wife, Marilou: “I have been a mad fan of this band for so long but you have to be careful about meeting your heroes.” When Mark Millar said he was guest-editing The Big Issue and the theme is icons interview their heroes, I immediately said: “I wanna interview The Kinks.”
My mission in life was to convert people to The Kinks. I first saw you at the Whisky A-Go-Go in 1969
RD: All right!
MH: I hadn’t seen you in years. But Mark told me how it is sold by homeless people and I thought that would hit Ray in his sweet spot.
RD: They sell The Big Issue on the street. Richard just did it. Gere. He was on the front cover. He’s a cool guy.
MH: He is concerned about homelessness, as am I. The problem in the US got more severe when the Reagan administration started closing down mental health clinics.
RD: Who was Mayor of New York at that time? Dinkins? Ed Koch? He hosed them. Zero tolerance. I used to live on 72nd Street and Central Park West.
MH: I was at 87th and Central Park West for years. You came to one of my shows on Broadway, the musical Harrigan ’N Hart. It was a wonderful show, although it didn’t run for more than a month. I was nominated for an award, but I think the performance you saw was not one of my best, and I was a bit embarrassed. We went for dinner afterwards.
RD: Sounds familiar. So, what are we going to talk about, Mark?
MH: I want to talk about what you want to talk about. I was a massive fan before I came to England. I was with you all the way. Even in your Schoolboys in Disgrace and Preservation Acts I and II days, when you had girl singers, wore costumes, added horns. My mission in life was to convert people to The Kinks. I first saw you at the Whisky A-Go-Go in 1969.
RD: You were at that gig? Did you know Elvis turned up one night? He sat in the corner with his girlfriend.
MH: I get intimidated when I know someone is in the audience.
RD: I didn’t know until after. I wouldn’t have been able to cope. I might have played Jailhouse Rock…
MH: When I first came to England in 1976, it felt like there was a whole new dimension to how I understood your music.
RD: We have re-releases of Muswell Hillbillies and Everybody’s in Show-Biz coming out.
MH: Muswell Hillbillies is about displacement of people, so it’s even more important we are doing this for The Big Issue. Did you know The Beverly Hillbillies sitcom?
RD: It’s legendary! A lot of London was bombed. I grew up near a bombsite, wrecked, rubble. After the Second World War, a lot of my generation were uprooted and forced out of London to New Towns. Muswell Hillbillies is a political record. We were moved out of the slums into a more refined place called Muswell Hill . We were the most working-class people there. I equated it to The Beverly Hillbillies. Politically I couldn’t relate to London at the time. I wanted to find a new identity.
I look at Luke Skywalker and there is a disconnect from me. I’m not heroic. I don’t even like flying
MH: Having all these bonus tracks on the re-release is another piece of the puzzle for us completists. I wrote them down.
RD: You have neat handwriting! Good news for you is they raided the vaults for Carnegie Hall shows outtakes…
The Farce Awakens
RD: Who is going to win the election? Donald Trump?
MH: Oh my God. He is like Mr Flash [Ray Davies’ anti-hero on the Preservation LP series] on steroids.
RD: Haha – that is what I think every time I see him.
MH: I have faith in the American public. I believe if Trump gets the nomination he will lose in a landslide. I have to believe that or I can’t live there.
RD: There is no character coming through who is an alternative to him in that party.
MH: Ted Cruz is even more scary. I don’t think Trump has a true ideology. He can be malleable to whatever he thinks will make him successful. Cruz is a hard-edged ideologue and a right-wing religious fanatic to boot.
My most feared words when I answer the phone are Harrison saying: “Hey, let’s go flying!”
RD: Wow, what a combination.
MH: I saw you five nights in a row at the House of Blues. What shocked me was how different the set list was every night. One night I requested See My Friends. When I went backstage, you said you were hoping I’d ask for Celluloid Heroes.
RD: I wrote Celluloid Heroes when I was living in a seedy area off Hollywood Boulevard.
MH: It is a poignant song about an absurd notion – “their names are written in concrete” – where you can walk over your favourite stars. People ask if I feel outraged that I don’t have a star on Hollywood Boulevard. No way. You have to pay for them – so Donald Trump has a star but I don’t.
RD: You should get a free one! One thing I regret. When Dennis Hopper had his star unveiled, I didn’t go to wish him well. He was dead within a month… From the first beat of Celluloid Heroes you know it is not going to end well. Here is someone disconnected from the world, looking at what could have been.
MH: I look at Luke Skywalker and there is a disconnect from me. I’m not heroic. I don’t even like flying. All these virtues he has I don’t relate to. Mark Hamill feels pain, Luke Skywalker feels no pain. I asked for See My Friends because I couldn’t understand why it sounded so different. It was before The Beatles did Norwegian Wood with a sitar. How did you get that sound?
RD: A cheap 12-string Framus guitar. I recorded Well Respected Man, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Sunny Afternoon with it. On See My Friends it was played near an amp, so the notes were feeding back. The engineer put a compressor over it and the cymbals and guitar sound like they are one instrument. I wrote the song in India.
MH: I read you were listening to the workers chanting in the morning?
RD: I’m an insomniac. I went to the beach and saw people chanting as they walked to work. The imagery and sound stayed with me, a very cinematic moment.
We took a big hit. Emotionally it really upset me. It was like being on a blacklist
MH: Paul McCartney wrote All My Loving as a poem but woke up one day with the tune for Yesterday in his head. Do you set out to tell a story or have a melody in your head?
RD: For me, the two come together on the best ones. Although Waterloo Sunset was called Liverpool Sunset for a while.
MH: The greatest compliment I ever heard was McCartney saying “I should have written that” about Waterloo Sunset.
RD: I have never heard that before. That is really nice. As if he hasn’t written enough already!
See My Friends: Ray Davies catches up on Star Wars gossip…
RD: What happens to Darth Vader in the new film? Didn’t he turn out to be you?
MH: No, he is my father. He is Dad Vader to me. Don’t you remember at the end of Empire? Luke, you don’t know the truth… it is one of the great twists of all time.
RD: What is George Lucas going to do now?
MH: George has retired. He sold Lucasfilm for $4.5bn to Disney. Even if he started now it would be impossible to spend all that money.
RD: What is the relationship between you and the other guy?
MH: Harrison Ford?
RD: What’s his character’s name?
MH: Han Solo? No spoilers but the new movies are all about the new generation.
RD: Young blood, Mark.
MH: Exactly, it’s all about the kids. We are relegated. You have to move over.
RD: How is Harrison after his plane crash?
MH: He had a plane crash then the Millennium Falcon door fell off and broke his leg. His foot was on backwards. This guy seems indestructible to me. He won’t stop. My most feared words when I answer the phone are Harrison saying: “Hey, let’s go flying!”
My most feared words when I answer the phone are Harrison saying: “Hey, let’s go flying!”
RD: Do you have any hint at what the music is like when you are filming a scene?
MH: Not at all. And until Star Wars, most sci-fi films used very cold, electronic scores. I remember Gary Kirsch, the producer, picked me up to drive to a dubbing session. He played me a tape of the London Symphony Orchestra playing the score to the movie, sitting in the passenger seat of this little sports car. It came on, and I’m telling you, I was in tears.
RD: It worked in Troy, Michigan, that is for sure!
MH: People ask what my favourite Kinks album is but it is a continuous timeline. It depends what kind of band you want to hear.
RD: When we signed to RCA, they asked why we couldn’t do two albums sequentially that sound the same. It must be the same in your world.
MH: Once you get known for one thing, they want you to do it over and over. But you’ve got to please yourself as well as the audience. Can you just do variations of All Day and All of the Night or You Really Got Me forever?
RD: Those songs are great but it gets to your brain after a while.
MH: It was so disturbing when suddenly you were not able to play in America [The Kinks were banned from the US between 1965 and 1969].
RD: We took a big hit. Emotionally it really upset me. It was like being on a blacklist.
MH: I took it very personally. Not many bands could have survived that. I saw you play college dates in Santa Barbara. We had to take our shoes off. It was in the gym. We felt so lucky to see you in such an intimate space.
RD: The rebuilding process took 10 years. But we ended up in the early ’80s at Madison Square Gardens.
MH: Saturday Night Live must have helped.
RD: Yeah. My big regret is when we were on performing Sleepwalker I was asked to be in the first Coneheads sketch and turned it down. “Thank you but I’ve got to tune up my guitar!”
MH: By the way, I never sang Sleepwalker, I always sang Skywalker because it scanned so perfectly.
RD: Hahaha. [sings] I’m a Skywalker…
MH: And I have to tell you, while we were making the first Star Wars film, I sang Supersonic Rocket Ship in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. On one side was one of the most venerated actors of the 20th century, Sir Alec Guinness, on the other an eight-foot tall actor in a dog costume flying a spaceship! How much more surreal can it get?
RD: What did Sir Alec think about it all?
MH: I asked why he wanted to do a movie like this. He said: “I have always wanted to play a wizard in a children’s film.”
RD: He probably always wanted to do panto!
MH: I was asked to do panto but figured I should do the West End first otherwise they won’t take me seriously.
RD: There is no way back from that.
MH: Exactly, I would be David Hasselhoff forever. Anyway, I started singing Supersonic Rocket Ship – a great song you can’t categorise – “there are too many people, side by side”. And it was so apt. Because Harrison, Peter Mayhew [the Wookiee], me and Sir Alec were cramped in that cockpit. There was lots of downtime to get lighting right. To pass the time I would sing. And of course, your music is never out of my head, ever.
RD: Bless you.
The Kinks’ album Everybody’s in Show-Biz (Sony) is reissued on June 3
Illustration: Miles Cole