Ray Davies: ‘Sometimes the great songs write you’

The Kinks legend comes to Dublin to promote new book Americana

Ray Davies with author Joseph O’Connor at the National Concert Hall last night as part of the Dublin Writers Festival.

Ray Davies with author Joseph O’Connor at the National Concert Hall last night as part of the Dublin Writers Festival.

 

The Kinks front man Ray Davies said his best songs wrote him rather than the other way round.

Davies spoke about his new book Americana last night at the National Concert Hall as part of the Dublin Writers Festival.

He recounted how he wrote some of his most famous songs including Waterloo Sunset. “I’ve no idea how I wrote it. Sometimes the great songs write you. That’s how all the best songs come about.”

The book chronicles his love-hate relationship with America, a country that inspired him to take up being a singer-songwriter, but where The Kinks were banned for four years at the height of their fame in the 1960s and where he was shot in 2004.

Davies said he wrote Americana as an act of “vengeance” for the band’s ban which he blamed on bad management.

He also spoke about how being shot in New Orleans in 2004 profoundly changed his outlook on life and how he had been told that the man who shot him, who has never been apprehended, was facing ten other serious crime charges.

He also joked about his famously fractious relationship with his brother Dave. “Let’s not go there,” he said to his interviewer Joseph O’Connor, though he was happy to mention him on several occasions.

O’Connor described Davies as the “Dickens of pop” and paraphrased from Sunny Afternoon: “The taxman’s taken all our dough - great to have you here, Ray.”

Davies said his brother’s unpredictability and energy was part of what made The Kinks successful. As individuals they were not great musicians and he admitted not to being a great singer himself, but together The Kinks were special, he said.

Before he spoke at the almost sell-out audience, he talked to The Irish Times about his relationship with Ireland through his teenage daughter Eva, whose mother is Pat Crosbie of the Cork-based newspaper family.

Five years ago Davies played a concert in front of 400 people at the White Lady Hotel in Kinsale to raise money for an extension to his daughter’s Ballinadee National School, which is between Kinsale and Bandon.

“That crowd was on a par with the crowd that saw us when we went back to America after being banned,” he quipped. His daughter wishes to be an actress. “She has dreams. It is a wonderful thing to see.”

He also recounted how he almost toppled over a cliff top trying to get a signal on his mobile phone one Christmas Eve near the Old Head of Kinsale. “It was the story of my life really. The gardaí had to come and take me away. They didn’t know who I was. I was just another drunk in a car.”

Davies, who will be 70 next month, said contemporary musicians had a better support structure than he had starting out in terms of professional advice, but he conceded it is “much harder because everything seemingly has been done”.

A recent book by author Rob Jovanovic entitled God Save the Kinks said Davies’ best songs were the equal of the 20 best Beatles songs.

Davies responded: “It always has been a competition. The secret for any writer when he starts writing is that you want to write the best thing you’ve written. You want it to be worthy of the effort you have put in particularly after you have done it for so long. You want to justify that time rather than go fishing.

“This book put me through quite a lot because it was quite therapeutic and cathartic in many respects. It deals with the time I was shot and nearly killed in New Orleans. I was lucky to get out of that scrap. Let’s see what new ones I will get into now.”