The sunsets over the South Bank are decidedly more tarnished with skyscrapers than when Ray Davies, one of the founding members of the 1960s pop group the Kinks, wrote of a dusky date at a decaying Waterloo Station 40 years ago. It is almost as if the romantic London that his words celebrated had passed away.
But decades after his band rode in a "supersonic rocket ship" to redefine British music with its distinctive visualisations of a country in decline, the Kinks' influence on British music remains astonishingly resilient. And now Davies, 63 – who released his latest solo album, Working Man's Café, last month – has announced that the band is thinking of reforming.
The story of the planned comeback is as turbulent as his relationship with his brother and fellow band member, Dave, 60, with whom he formed the Kinks in 1963. But their music continues to amaze fans and laymen – not to mention the Terrys and Julies of a romantic bent worldwide.
David, a singer-songwriter, said this week that if the band were to reform he wanted to do it "properly" and he would not do it if it was just a "karaoke" get-together done for "old time's sake" . He added: "I really would like to get together if we had new music, otherwise it's just a nostalgia evening, 'Karaoke Kinks'."
To most contemporary music critics, this is an unlikely danger. Even at a time in popular music when artists wearing their English influences on their sleeves are less obvious, Ray Davies's influence is still pervasive. Damon Albarn may have moved from mockney to monkeys, but new artists such as Lily Allen and Kate Nash, along with the 21-year-old south London singer-songwriterJamie T, all show evidence of Davies's influence. Their work follows from that one of their main role models, in that they are observant, knowing and, above all, English.
According to Phil Alexander, the editor-in-chief of Mojo: "The anglicised lyricism we see around us the whole time has a direct link with Ray Davies. He tried to phrase a sense of Englishness almost to the extent that it excluded his work from the American market. But what we're seeing now – whether it is conscious or subconscious – is the third generation of Davies's work – that we didn't get from the Stones or The Who. In fact Pete [Townshend] would acknowledge Davies's importance to some of The Who's work."
The former Kinks' frontman concluded the BBC's five-day Electric Proms season in Camden this month, again to rapturous praise. Then, the Razorlight frontman, Johnny Borrell, joined him on a duet of "Sunny Afternoon," one of the many more modern acts – including Albarn – who have queued up to share a stage with Davies. Around the same time, his album was given away free with a Sunday newspaper, a practice now in vogue with artists such as Prince and Radiohead. He even told this month's Mojo that he would like to be London's Mayor. "London's in a terrible state at the moment, but it should be celebrated," he said.
The move to reform the band has seemingly emerged from nowhere. As Alexander points out, as recently as the release of his latest solo album in February 2006, Davies was writing off the chance of his group ever getting back together.
This week, however, he gave new hope to Kinks fans as it was reported that he said: "I really hate being a solo artist. But there's no other way to get my songs sung. The chemistry is still important. I wrote for those characters [the members of the band] and they all had an influence on what I did. I know I wrote a lot of the stuff, but they were my muse. They were what I was writing for and I couldn't have done it without knowing they'd be there."
Davies, who penned such memorably British albums as 1969's Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) says he is getting on with his bandmates better than ever. He said: "I still talk to [the drummer] Mick Avory. Whenever I've got a big issue, I always talk to Mick. We grew up together and he's a wise old bird. And [the one-time bassist Peter] Quaife too, I call Quaife up sometimes."
But there is one missing person required to fix this jigsaw puzzle, and that is Ray's brother, Dave. Davies said he hadn't spoken to his younger brother, who suffered a stroke in 2004, since February, and described the meeting as "not a happy confrontation". He said their rift was down to "family problems" that have continued since their beginnings in the suburbs of north London. But those two words quoted do not tell the full story: that of one of rock's major Cain and Abel warring partnerships to rival even the notorious Gallaghers of Oasis.
To understand the roots of this sibling rivalry, one must return to Muswell Hill, to where the Davies brothers grew up.
It was that period which Ray puts at the heart of his sometimes violent relationship with his brother. In a 2002 interview, he said: "I've thought about this a lot. My eldest sister was 20-odd years older and she brought me up, so Dave and I lived in separate houses. Brothers and sisters who live in the same house learn to live with each other's space. We didn't do that early on. Also, when Dave was 17 and I was 19, we couldn't go out on the street for screaming fans – we weren't taught how to be pop stars."
A precocious talent, Davies was 14 when he first took to the stage at the Clissold Arms in Muswell Hill, and 16 when he wrote "You Really Got Me" – the Kinks' first No 1. But as their fame increased, and saw them become one of the country's biggest bands, one element stayed constant – their violent feuds, which have ascended into the pantheon of legendary rock barneys. One story involves Dave tormenting Mick Avory on stage. It is said that soon afterwards, Dave kicked over Avory's drum kit, prompting a fierce retaliation from Avory, who smashed a drum into Dave's head. Ray allegedly continued to perform while his unconscious brother was taken to hospital.
Dave recounted in a 2004 television interview how he hit Ray with "a lucky punch" during an onstage spat. Ray collided with a piano as he fell; Dave thought he had killed him. Add to that the time when in a restaurant, Dave stole one of Ray's chips and Ray stabbed his brother in the chest with a fork. Ray also left Dave out of his autobiography. And Ray also recollects that he was so irritated by the volume of Dave's guitar that: "We had a guitar technician who worked out a device on the side of my amp so I could control his maximum volume. We had Dave well in control."
The belligerence has also often extended into creative differences. Ray is said rarely to acknowledge the contribution Dave made to the band's sound. "He knows it, but he wouldn't tell you," Dave was reported as saying. "The problems started when he was three and I was born. I stole his thunder. He's been trying to make up for it ever since, he can't help himself. He's spoilt. He's worse now he has money. I don't know one wealthy person that's survived money," said Dave. In return, Ray was said to be angry at the attention his better looking brother received from the press.
Despite this public fallout, however, the latest reports suggest that the rift may be beginning to heal – albeit slowly. This may in part be due to Dave's stroke in 2004, and Ray's wish to perform in a unit once again.
"He wants to forge his own way," Ray said recently of Dave. " In a strange way he's at his least communicative with me, but we understand each other more because we're brothers." In another interview, he continued: "Being in a band like the Kinks, even though you don't always have success and you go through hard times, you have a cause: the four of us against the world."
Rumours abound of a "clever idea" that would make a great reunion project – "as long as they'll do as I ask", Ray insists. So the creative juices are still flowing strong, even if Ray's wish is to be in resolute control, as ever. His dedicated followers wouldn't have it otherwise.
Other musical sibling rivalries
Liam and Noel Gallagher
The Gallagher brothers, leading lights of the band Oasis, are the heavyweight championsof inter-sibling squabbling.
Most tension sprang from Noel's songwriting talent. He worked, while brash, punchy front man, Liam, hit photographers and got spectacularly drunk. Noel once said sarcastically: "Liam is a songwriting genius. His songs make me cry because they are better than mine."
The pair filled the tabloids with tales of their fisticuffs. During their 1994 tour of America, Liam would change the words to songs Noel had written so they offended both the American audience and Noel. After one show, Noel threw a chair at a wall and left the tour, heading for San Francisco, then Las Vegas. In 1995, the brothers had a fight in which a cricket bat was wielded after Liam invited people back to the studio from the pub while Noel was trying to work.
"To work with members of your family is pretty difficult," complained Noel once. "Especially when one of those members is Liam Gallagher."
The Appleton Sisters
Originally from Canada, Nicole and Natalie Appleton found fame as part of the 1990s girl band All Saints. When All Saints split acrimoniously, Nicole and Natalie formed the duo Appleton in 2002 and reached No 2 in the charts with their song "Fantasy". In 2004, Nicole said on Frank Skinner's ITV talk show that Natalie had "a list of issues" and that she had mild obsessive-compulsive tendencies. "It's over the top. She does my head in. She makes me feel dirty. You can tell when she's been to the toilet because she will use a piece of tissue to open the door and get in and turn on the taps. Then she leaves it on the side."
During an interview for All Saints' short-lived comeback, the sisters admitted they found being a twosome "really lonely" and " stressful" and have never said they would go solo again. Alas, they were dropped by their record label Polydor in 2003, so that may not be an option.
Justin, the lead singer, and Dan Hawkins, the guitarist, were the brothers behind The Darkness, which started when Dan saw Justin miming to " Bohemian Rhapsody" at a New Year's Eve party. In 2006, Justin was admitted to The Priory for alcohol and drug addiction and shortly after announced he was going to leave the band, to the surprise of his brother. The band had nearly split up in 2005, after sacking bassist Frankie Poullain, due to the pressure on them to write another bestselling album. "We were all over the place," said Dan Hawkins. "We virtually split up because of the pressure."
The brothers have barely spoken since the split. "It's sad," Justin said this year. "It's a bit like when you finish with a girlfriend and you don't stay in touch."
The Everly Brothers
Tensions between Don and Phil Everly came to a head in 1973 when they split up acrimoniously. During a performance at Knotts Berry Farm, Phil broke his guitar and stormed off, leaving Don to finish the concert by himself. Don Everly told the crowd: "The Everly Brothers died 10 years ago." The brothers were most successful between 1957 and 1961, with hits such as "Bye, Bye Love" and "Cathy's Clown". But their career was interrupted when they had to enlist in the US Marines in 1963, just before the Beatles took America by storm. When they returned, their inability to recreate their former success led to arguments. The brothers reformed 10 years after they split, in 1983, with an album and a reunion concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
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