Check out the captivating story of how The Kinks rose to stardom during the Swinging Sixties in Sunny Afternoon, coming to the Theatre Royal April 11th-15th. We spoke to The Kinks' frontman and all round legend Ray Davies about why he wanted to bring the band's story to the stage, and how important it was to him to keep things real.
Let’s talk about the story of Sunny Afternoon. I read you always wanted to bring the story to the stage. Why?
I was writing another musical called Come Dancing based on one of my songs which was eventually staged and in 2005, I found myself thinking about significant times in my life around the time of Sunny Afternoon. So many things were happening to me around that time: overworked, infighting among band members, lawsuits with managers and publishers that nearly gave me a breakdown and the rest. I wrote a draft and then came back to it after Come Dancing had been produced. I wanted to write about that time in my life when so much was happening to me. British music was starting to conquer the world and England were on the verge of winning the World Cup. I put all these elements together and wrote a short script. I had already done a one man show called Storyteller with songs, storyline and spoken words. It was originally linked to an American producer but since it was a British show I felt it needed a British producer and Sonia Friedman was that person. Then Joe Penhall came on board to do the book, we did a few workshops and after that Ed Hall came on board to direct. After another workshop the production started its life with a trial run at Hampstead Theatre, before it transferred to the West End and now it is on tour.
You have been described as the Samuel Pepys of the Sixties so I am guessing you love stories and characterisation. What did you get out of re-living the stories and songs creatively?
Well I think once I had got the initial treatment and outline done, I had to detach myself from it and treat it as a piece of theatre for the stage. Detachment is good. It allows you to look more at the character development and the issues involved and I could concentrate more on the story. It is easier to keep going that way.
Was that hard though, as Sunny Afternoon is partly about you?
It seems more to me a like a portrayal of Britain at a certain time in history. We were leading the world with music, arts and fashion. The classes were merging and it seemed as if we were all as one. As one of the characters says it was “a very special time”
Tell me a bit about the writing process. Were there any particular challenges putting the story together?
I think the hardest thing is trying to remain objective. I think it is quite a compelling story about how I began this journey and the story is important. It needs to be a great story for The Kinks fans but also for those who maybe don’t know much about the band, their origins or music for that matter. I think people will enjoy the show. It brings a new generation to the story who may connect with the songs but not necessarily the band per se. I think they will enjoy it on a number of levels.
The show itself is very much yours/The Kinks story warts and all. Why was it important to you to make it authentic?
Well, The Kinks were arguably one of the most dysfunctional and hard edged bands around before punk. Someone said to me the Kinks were one of the bands the punk bands looked up to. It is a coming of age story, it is about sibling rivalry, a changing society, the pitfalls of the music industry, about loss of self, and it is about being on tour with my brother. It is compelling on several levels and, of course, it has got the songs as well.
There are elements of The Kinks story that people know – the conflict with your brother, being banned from the States etc. There is also a sense of the importance of London as a place and of how community and friendship were key too. Why was it important to have those elements in the show?
Well London is very present in my life. I always wrote about what happened within a square mile of where I lived. There is an element of London in Sunny Afternoon but it is more about England, and for that matter Britain, at the time and going to America and the confrontations over there. It sounds strange now but at the time, we were seen to be invading America. People in the USA thought the British invasion was taking their music away from them and possibly corrupting a young American generation. It is also about how different classes band together. There is a very touching moment in the show where our manager who is from the upper class and us bonded. I think that was a very key thing in the Sixties because we all had a common quest and it was more about social bonding.
And having read about you (and the show), rather ironically you were very publicity-shy too. How hard was it being in the spotlight of the media and the fans?
I remember keeping a low profile at the workshops for the show once the writing was done but at times I had to jump in if I felt things were not quite right, I had that detachment which again, really helped me get through it. There is a lot about me in the show which, looking back, I was a bit shocked to see portrayed live but I had to be objective. It is also important that the creative process is collaboration, collaboration, collaboration. The pay-off is that you get something very special. Other than that I remain a very private person.
Do you think music has come full circle now? The Kinks were successful due to their talent. With the advent of the internet, do bands still need a strong media profile or can they just go their own way as The Kinks did?
Music is more accessible now than it used to be and the internet is really useful for bands these days. However the big corporations hover around. In many ways the internet giants have replaced the old record company model.
Are there any bands you are particularly enjoying at the moment?
I listen to everybody. A lot of people who have been on the music courses I have done have done well. It is a very exciting time with so many voices and styles to listen to.
Coming bang up to date now, what about you? Sunny Afternoon is proving very popular on its UK tour. What is next for you creatively?
I have got a new album coming out in the spring called Americana, which I’m finally just finishing off.
Finally, the most obvious question last. A lot of other bands are doing it. Will The Kinks ever re-form even if just for one night?
I often hear rumours of Kinks reunions but we can’t do that of course because we lost Pete Quaife, one of the originals a few years ago. I miss Pete and I miss that team effort a lot; I’m not sure it’s something we could do without him. But never say never and one never knows.
Catch Sunny Afternoon at the Theatre Royal on Tuesday 11th-Saturday 15th April at 7.30pm, and Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 2.30pm. Tickets £8-£42.50.