He may have been outside The Kinks for three decades now, but Mick Avory was there when it mattered, overseeing a happening 20-year period with this most quintessential English outfit.
While it was his difficult relationship with guitarist Dave Davies that led to Mick’s 1984 departure, he‘s remained in touch with both Davies brothers and for the last two decades has played with offshoot band The Kast Off Kinks.
He’s in good company there too, fellow personnel including John Dalton (bass/vocals, with The Kinks in 1966 and 1969-76), Ian Gibbons (keyboards/vocals, with The Kinks 1979-96, still with Ray Davies) and Dave Clarke (guitar/vocals, formerly with The Beach Boys, Noel Redding and Tim Rose).
What’s more, the band resumes its on-going UK tour tomorrow night at Preston’s Charter Theatre (Thursday, February 11th), where you can expect many of the big hits, from All Day And All Of The Night and You Really Got Me through to Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Days, Sunny Afternoon, Waterloo Sunset, Lola and later hit Come Dancing.
Born in Hampton Court and now based in Kew, Mick’s remained true to his South West London roots. In fact, for all his travels over the years, he’s less than 10 miles from where he started in East Molesey.
“Yeah well, I’ve remained attached to The Kinks too, even though I’m not working with them. When I first joined the band I lived in North London with them, then came back when my Dad was ill, then moved to W2, and after 20 years of that moved here.”
The 71-year-old, who has a 37-year-old daughter, added: “These are my roots and I live more or less in the hub of London, which is convenient. Being out in the country sounds nice, but I get bored stiff and have to drive for an hour just to get somewhere.”
It helped that Mick went straight from the band with whom he made his name to a day job at his former band’s Konk Studios in North London.
I bet you saw a lot of good bands coming through those studios.
“There have been quite a few, although I’ve lost track with it all since, other than being a signee with some of the companies. “
Mick’s actually been with The Kast Off Kinks longer than the original band now, with more or less the same line-up.
“Yeah, although we weren’t always that active, it gradually gathered momentum. We initially did a show with John Dalton in Shepperton, a one-off really, but then occasionally did others and did The Kinks Konvention every year, raising funds for a leukaemia charity, something that’s continued.
“We started with John Gosling on keyboards, but now it’s Ian Gibbons, while things were getting on top of Nobby (John D), who was also working, so Jim Rodford came in. But now Jim’s very busy with The Zombies, so Nobby’s doing them all now.”
Funnily enough, I was talking to fellow Zombie Colin Blunstone just a couple of weeks ago, and he’s till going strong too.
“Yes, he’s trodden the boards for many years and he’s still singing well, not least considering his age.”
Furthermore, last weekend I went to see From The Jam playing in Lancashire, and I believe you were involved with them at one stage.
“I didn’t actually play with them in the end. I listened to them and saw their DVDs, but it was all a bit frantic for me!”
They still do a cracking version of David Watts.
“Yes, we did a show with Bruce Foxton and Russell Hastings for Ray Davies at the smaller hall of the Royal Festival Hall and they did David Watts with us – it’s a bit faster and louder than our version!”
In Jon Savage’s official Kinks biography from 1984, there’s a questionnaire printed from the NME from 20 years before, giving a nice snapshot of how things were with you at the time, this relatively new boy in the band. It mentions you were previously a draughtsman, carpenter and sheet metal worker. Could you have stuck with any of those jobs?
“I was fairly practical so it was natural to go into trades, but I didn’t really have it in my heart. I did painting and decorating as well.”
Still keep your hand in with any of those skills?
“I wouldn’t mind it if it was a case, taking the carpentry for instance, of being a furniture-maker with my own business, designing it, seeing it all the way through. But it wasn’t about that. The jobs I had were a bit ‘hammer and nails’, with people who didn’t really want to teach you. I got disillusioned.”
He soon got a far better job anyway, eight years after his live debut, which just happens to have been 60 years ago at Molesey Carnival.
“You know more than I do! Yeah, it was Cigarette Island, Hampton Court, and they wanted music for this big band, with the drummer a friend of my brother. I got this skiffle group together with the scouts and this drummer invited me to have a go on his kit. It seemed like there were hundreds of drums, a Carlton kit with blue and silver stars all over. I was completely lost. I didn’t know what to hit next!”
He soon got his head around the drums though, and by 1964 had his big break – after a false start.
“At that time I was doing lots of gigs for different people, and one was for this drummer, who was around 60 at the time. He advertised in the Melody Maker, and after one call felt I should ring this guy called Mick Jagger, as his band were about my age. He said he was too old and it wasn’t really his scene. They were set to do a gig at The Marquee.
“They wanted a regular drummer, but I had a blow with them, doing Chuck Berry stuff. I went back and said I’d do the gig but didn’t really want to join. I didn’t know them from Adam, and couldn’t see myself doing it for a living.”
Did that decision not to take up The Rolling Stones’ offer sit uneasily as they quickly made their name?
“Well, yeah, and I soon advertised myself. All the work I had really dried up and I had no one to play with. I felt I’d give it a go and it might just lead to something I liked, and I thought The Stones were my sort of style.
“They were famous by then, but I got this call from Robert Wace, one of The Kinks’ managers, and was summonsed to The Camden Head, Islington. It’s all a bit prosperous around there now, but that pub was a bit down and out then.”
Have you got clear memories of that first Ready Steady Go appearance, when your management hired in some ‘fans’ to go mad about you?
“I haven’t got a clear recollection, but it all happened overnight really. They’d previously made a couple of records, Ray’s You Still Want Me and before that a rhythm and blues version of Long Tall Sally, the one I went on Ready Steady Go doing. And it was certainly more exciting than going to work!”
What were your first impressions of this camp trio – Ray and Dave Davies plus bass player Pete Quaife – you were about to get on board with?
“They struck me as being arty people. I think I said something like, ‘I think I better go back to my girlfriend’ at the end of the audition!”
Ray and Dave Davies and bass player Pete Quaife, who died in 2010, certainly seemed to play up to that ‘kinky’ image.
“Yeah, they weren’t great players, but they were unique. I hadn’t really met anyone like those three!”
Mick laughs and I take the opportunity to get on to the legendary spats between the Davies brothers and himself. They weren’t alone in that though, and Mick recalls friction between The Dave Clark Five and The Hollies on his first package tour.
“Oh yeah! Dave Clark would get half way through his act and the sound and lights would go off, someone cutting the cables.”
And I understand that they never quite proved who it was.
Can you exclusively reveal that now, all these years on?
Mick laughs, but isn’t any more forthcoming.
“They knew who it was!”
You mentioned in that September 1964 NME interview that the big ambition was to go to America to learn about drumming ‘thoroughly’ and meet most of the jazz giants.
“I didn’t know much about everything. It was all in its infancy and all the records you heard, the early rock’n’roll, involved be-bop players anyway.”
But you did get to meet some of your early influences, didn’t you?
“I met Shelly Manne, going to his club. I think he was on the same label. I was told when I was in Los Angeles I should take this note along and meet him, and got to see him play. That was great, and I had a chat. He was a nice bloke.
“I also met Joe Morello from the Dave Brubeck Quartet, and I enjoyed all that, but it was after my fight with Dave (Davies) so it wasn’t really a good atmosphere, I must say. Ray wasn’t very happy either.”
Your other ambition in 1964 was for The Kinks to be recognised in their own right. How soon do you think that happened? Was there a moment when you realised you’d truly made it?
“From the start, playing You Really Got Me. We had a good image and all the fans liked it, even if they did scream their heads off! There was mass hysteria everywhere, so I don’t know if they really listened to what we were doing or not for those first couple of years.”
Is that why – like The Beatles and The Stones – you spent more and more time in the studio? Because that showed from Face to Face and the albums that followed.
“Yeah, although we were always serious about what we were doing, Ray was starting to write prolifically, taking us away from You Really Got Me and All Day and All of the Night.
“They had a great impact, but it got more involved, the lyrics and meaning of the songs more subtle. It took on a different feel. That said, You Really Got Me was different, with Dave’s guitar and all that, but in time Ray’s writing took a turn. He realised he couldn’t stay with one thing for ever, and he found something long-lasting he could write about – those English nostalgic themes the Americans lapped up and really took to.”
However, what was so good about the dynamic also almost tore The Kinks apart, with Mick stuck in the middle of the warring brothers.
“Well, they used me in that sense. Even if it wasn’t intended in the first place, it worked out that way.”
It all famously came to a head in 1965 with fights between Mick and Dave in Taunton (when a row about an earlier stand-off between the brothers ended with a fed-up Mick taking a swing at the fiery guitarist) and the following day in Cardiff (when a still-mad Dave kicked out at Mick’s kit, leading to the drummer smacking him with part of it). So that brings me on to that infamous incident with the hi-hat pedal …
“Oh yeah?” says Mick, ominously wondering what’s coming next.
Word has it that he went in hiding after that, fearing an arrest for assault. Where did he get to?
“Initially to a café down the road, then I got a train home to Molesey. We then got committed to this US tour, the managers getting worried. I met with Dave, had a talk, and we all got back together. They said it’s not the time to get out if you want to, although I wasn’t really interested in carrying on at that point.”
Thankfully he did though, considering the big American tour and all that followed, including their first UK No.1, Sunny Afternoon, knocking The Beatles off the top of the charts. But soon after that there was Pete Quaife’s crash, coming back from a gig at Morecambe Pier.
“We’d all travel in the car and sometimes Pete would go with the roadie in the van. The driver fell asleep and they went into the back of this big truck.”
Thankfully, Pete pulled through, but was replaced for a while by John Dalton, in what proved a long-lasting working relationship with the band’s stand-in bassist. What were Mick’s first impressions of John?
“Well, Foxy Fowler, who worked for our agency, put John our way, and he came over as a regular bloke, really, down to earth, with no hidden agenda.”
Which is perhaps why you’ve lasted so long together.
“Yeah, you need people like that … without any delusions!”
I mentioned the Face to Face album in 1966, and then came the wonderful Something Else (1967), the even better Village Green Preservation Society (1968), and my personal favourite, Arthur (1969), the latter also happening to be Mick’s favourite.
“Yeah, I liked Arthur because it was the first time we did different parts to songs rather than just verse, chorus, middle eight, taking on different structures and rhythms – more interesting. The sound wasn’t as good as it is nowadays, but it suited the times.”
On to Mick’s 1984 departure, not long after Come Dancing was a hit (by which time fellow Kast Off Kinks bandmate Ian Gibbons had been on board for five years), in retrospect it seemed a good time to go (difficult as it must have been for him at the time).
“Yeah, that hit gave us a nice boost, and actually got higher in the charts in America than any other Kinks single.”
I believe your departure became official after a head-to-head with Ray over ‘five pints of strong scrumpy’ in a pub after a gig at the Civic Hall in my hometown, Guildford.
“Well, he doesn’t like rejection … not that it was rejection – I left. Dave and I weren’t getting on, and it was getting on my nerves. Dave obviously wanted someone else. It was usually about money. We’d go to America and do all these big places, and didn’t just share the money out. There were bonuses at the end of the tour, but really in relation with what we’d earned … You never quite knew where you were with it all.”
A Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame induction followed six years later, in 1990 at the Waldorf-Astoria, with lots of famous faces on hand.
“Yeah, that was a bit of a gee-up. I still saw Ray a bit and Dave to a lesser extent. But Pete I hadn’t seen – he took himself away after he left, and lived in Denmark for many years, and Canada.
“There was also Diana Ross and Phil Spector’s band, and we got up and played along with everyone, doing each other’s numbers. There was Stevie Wonder too, with me behind them all, thinking, ‘My singers are doing quite well tonight!”
The Kast Off Kinks play Preston’s Charter Theatre on Thursday, February 11 (doors: 7.30pm and tickets £20/£18 from the box office on 01772 80 44 44).
And for all the other dates lined up for 2016 – starting with Scottish shows in Glenrothes (February 12), Livingston (February 13) and Langholm (February 14) – and the latest news from The Kast Off Kinks, head to their website here.