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A Conversation with Mick Avory of the Kinks

Mick Avory joined the Kinks in 1964, shortly after they formed and signed a record deal. He remained a member and went on to play drums on all of the band’s albums until 1984. For the past 20 years, he has been playing with the Kast Off Kinks, a group comprised of previous members of the Kinks, and the 60s Allstars, featuring past members of British 60s bands. We talked about what it was like to be a musician in the 60s and how he feels about the music industry these days, among other things.

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The Kinks in 1965

‘Something Else’ recently turned 50 years old. What memories do you have of the making of this album?

We recorded that one at Pye Studios and IBC Studios. We didn’t spend a lot of time on it; most of the songs back then were done fairly quickly. We probably rehearsed them at Ray’s house at some point and then we went in the studio and recorded them. We used to do a backtrack and then record the vocals. Sometimes it was quite difficult to know where we were and where to put fills and embellishments until we had the vocal line.

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You had quite a tense relationship with Dave Davies. Did you find it easy to work with him at the time?

It wasn’t like that all the time; it wasn’t a continual argument. It was a bit volatile and up and down. Sometimes it was fun and things were going right, and other times there was a very touchy atmosphere. That’s just the way it was.

What’s your relationship like with the Davies brothers these days?

I’m quite friendly with Ray. I see a fair bit of him because I still go down to the studio that the Kinks used to own. He took it over years ago, but I go there to do bits of administration, sound checks etc. It’s near where Ray lives, so sometimes we get together and have a drink and talk things over, because there are always business things going on with the record company. But Dave is never here; he’s in America most of the time. I don’t really see him or talk to him. He likes doing his own thing and he doesn’t like the Kast Off Kinks, I know that much.

How did the Kast Off Kinks come about?

It was born out of the convention, which we were doing for charity every year for years and years, and then we took it on the road. And as soon as we took it on the road, Dave didn’t like it. But he can’t really do anything about it. It does no harm to the Kinks at all, because it promotes the catalogue of songs. It’s all positive promotion, and I think Ray realizes this. But the thing with Dave is that he’d started the band in the first place, so he believes it shouldn’t be tainted in any way. We’re not tainting it, but that’s his view on it. There are tribute bands that have nothing to do with the Kinks, and he doesn’t mind that, but he doesn’t like us doing it. It’s tough.

How did you get involved with the 60s Allstars?

I joined them about 20 years ago, but the band has been together for over 30 years. I was playing with Brian Knight’s blues band at the time, and the 60s Allstars asked me if I was interested in joining them, because their long-time drummer had moved away. I think I was a bit light for them at the time, because John Dee, the bass player, and the two guitarists were quite heavy. It took me a little while to fit in, but it’s been a bit more in balance lately, I think.

Let’s turn back to the 60s for a moment. The Kinks were very popular during the peak of the hippie movement. Did you ever identify with the counterculture of the time?

We never walked around with flowers in our hair. We didn’t do any of that. We’d rather set a trend than follow one. Ray never steered himself consciously to write about things that were in fashion. I don’t know how people viewed us at the time, but I don’t think we were really involved with the whole flower power thing. Some people might read into songs more than what was intended. Some of the clothing we bought may have been a bit like that, because everyone went to Carnaby Street to get clothes, but we never really followed that trend consciously. And later on, when the heavy rock bands like Led Zeppelin came in, we were doing quieter and gentler, more melodic songs. So we’d usually do the opposite to what was going on.

Would you say that the 60s was a better time to be a musician than today?

Yes; it was easier then. It wasn’t easy, but it was easier. There weren’t so many people trying to do it, and as long as you were different, you’d do fairly well. And all the bands back then used to go out on the road before they had hits, play a lot of gigs and get success afterwards. But now they do it the other way: they have lawyers and contracts before they really paid their dues on the road. They do all the business work first, and it’s more manufactured.

Do you pay any attention to the music industry these days? Do you listen to any young bands?

I don’t really listen to them, but I hear them on the radio.

And what do you think of the music you hear?

There are lots of bands that are good, like Kings of Leon and Kasabian. Their songs are different to what was written in the 60s. A lot of them are influenced by 60s stuff, but they don’t copy it. They have their own way of doing it. And they’re good players; they play their instruments well, because they’ve got more to learn from now. But there’s so many at it that there’s only a few that can get through and get any longevity. Most of the bands don’t last that long.

In what ways do you think drumming has changed since the 60s?

If someone wants to make music with a perfect, constant and robotic beat, these days they can use a machine. But if you want something that varies a bit, you have to use a human being. But even the drummers are more robotic now than they used to be; they’re more machine-like, because they grew up and practiced with machines. But the way we worked, it wasn’t absolutely strict timing all the way through. You got little deviations in the tempo, and they went well with the songs. But I think they’re now more conscious of laying down something that’s constant as a foundation for what they do, and then they just do everything on top of it.

Do you think it’s still possible to invent a new rhythm, the same way as rock ‘n’ roll was based on a different rhythm to the music that had gone before?

When you’re selling to the public, there’s no point making it any more complicated. Most of the pop music you hear on the radio these days, it’s just four in a bar, and you get a loud bass drum sound, which is obviously a machine. The bass drum seems to have taken over, and it’s louder than the snare sound. And that sells because it gets in people’s heads. Most of it is about the same tempo as the heartbeat, so it gets in people’s system and they can unconsciously identify with it. If it’s more complicated, people can’t digest it and it hasn’t got an immediate impact. So if you want to make a popular record, you can’t make it too complicated rhythmically.

 

 

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