With Sunny Afternoon, the Olivier Award-winning musical inspired by their music coming to us soon, we take a look at the story of The Kinks.
While they may never have achieved the same level of fame as The Beatles, The Kinks are widely regarded as one of the most influential and most-loved groups of the 1960s, going on to influence bands such as Blur and Oasis in the 1990s and beyond. They were formed in 1963 by brothers Ray and Dave Davies and two of their friends, in the probably not very rock’n’roll London suburb of Muswell Hill. The group began its life under the name The Ravens. Within a year they had secured a record deal, re-naming themselves The Kinks along the way. (Although Ray Davies has since claimed that he never liked the name).
Their third single, You Really Got Me, became their break-out hit, storming to the top of the UK charts in September 1964. The song, which has been cited as inspiration for punk, garage rock and heavy metal, was written by Ray in his mother’s front room. Further hits, on both sides of the Atlantic, followed in quick succession.
But, as recorded in Sunny Afternoon (the show, rather than the original song of the same name), it wasn’t all plain sailing. Tensions within the band began to surface in 1965, a year in which they toured extensively. During one gig in Cardiff, Dave Davies insulted drummer Mick Avory, and kicked over his drum kit. Avory retaliated by hitting Davies with his hi-hat stand, knocking him out.
It wasn’t an entirely isolated incident, with tensions among the band – especially between brothers Ray and Dave – frequently leading to rowdy on stage behaviour. After a brief tour in 1965, the band were effectively banned from touring America until 1969 by the American Federation Of Musicians. Although no official reason was ever given for the ban, articles from the time suggest that it was due to the band’s rowdy behaviour, both off stage and on. Speaking to Rolling Stone magazine in 1969, the year they were allowed to return to the States, Ray Davies said: “It wasn’t that we didn’t want to come back. We weren’t allowed to come back. There were permit problems. We did want to come back a few months after the last tour… I’d like to tell you about what happened but there are some things I don’t want to talk about. It’s very difficult and we’re lucky to come back.”
The touring ban wasn’t the only cloud on the horizon. In 1966, the strains of constant touring, and the wrangles within the band, led to Ray Davies having a nervous breakdown. Despite all this, musically, the period between 1965 and 1970 was The Kinks ‘golden age’, during which they released songs like Dead End Street, Sunny Afternoon, See My Friends, Waterloo Sunset, Lola, and Dedicated Follower Of Fashion.
See My Friends, with its sitar-imitating guitar and raga feel is cited as the first crossover single, and is credited with inspiring The Beatles later use of an actual sitar. Barry Fantoni, a 1960s celebrity and a friend of both bands, remembered: “I was with the Beatles the evening that they actually sat around listening to it on a gramophone, saying ‘You know this guitar thing sounds like a sitar. We must get one of those.’ “.
They saw a brief return to commercial success is the late 70s and early 80s, when the singles Come Dancing and Don’t Forget To Dance both charted on both sides of the Atlantic, but the band’s star waned from the early 70s. But their legacy lives on – they returned to prominence during the 1990s, when many of the stars of the Britpop era, including Blur, Oasis and Pulp declared that they had been influenced by The Kinks. Waterloo Sunset attained iconic enough status to be featured (with Ray Davies performing it) in the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, introducing a new generation to The Kinks music. With Sunny Afternoon (the musical) now touring after a successful West End run, The Kinks legacy continues!
Sunny Afternoon: Tuesday 4 to Saturday 8 April. Book here.