Tuesday, 2 August 2016

A secret spiritual weekend getaway with Dave Davies of The Kinks

The beautiful brothers with, as someone on YouTube puts it, their 'legendary hair'

I have to concede that I had serious misgivings about the Dave Davies spiritual satsang weekend retreat, particularly as I’d only been a Kinks fan for about two months and had no idea what satsang was. My appreciation of the band had been concertinaed into a tiny time frame. I can testify that you can become a majorly obsessive fan almost instantly, thanks mainly to what's available on YouTube. In fact, I can't imagine why it’s never happened to me before.

Also a little worried that the weekend might be taken over by a ‘guitar bore’, desperate to engage Dave about makes and techniques and whatnot, preventing the rest of us from satisfying our prurient curiosity about his sexual shenanigans, tendency to pick fights and generally outrageous teenage tearaway behaviour.

I certainly didn't have to be warned not to tell anyone about it because, if I had divulged my whimsical plans, my friends and family would probably have had me committed on the spot. I thought they might fret about me being indoctrinated into some bizarre cult and having to undergo months of deprogramming afterwards. I was half-anxious about this myself, an anxiety that wasn't at all allayed by the peculiar payment arrangements, the frankly weird terms and conditions, not to mention the intense secrecy surrounding the whole affair.

But it was a totally surreal and fabulous experience, genuinely the opportunity of a lifetime, although in some respects it bore remarkably little similarity to what had been promised. And the people – I’d reassured myself that the Americans who came over for it must be even crazier than us Brits – were wonderful, refreshingly normal and yet open to everything. Everyone was equally unsure about what they’d committed themselves to and it instilled a great sense of solidarity that sustained us throughout. We were all in this adventure together. And believe me, it was quite a trip.

It’s so hard to reconcile the Dave the Rave of legend with the gentle, emotional soul we met that first day. Mind you, the image of the smiling, affable, angelic youth in promos and TV appearances was totally belied at the time by antics more akin to that of a relentlessly truculent little trollop. I’d excuse it with the fact that a young man’s actions are determined by the limbic system of the brain rather than the more measured prefrontal cortex, except that the Davies brothers were reputed to be punching each other out well into their forties.

And then there was the constant ubiquitous shagging. No wonder he smiled when singing the line in ‘The Village Green Preservation Society’ about God saving virginity. Let’s face it he was doing all he could to eradicate virginity from any village in his vicinity …

But back to the Dave of today … . So generous, warm-hearted and unassuming, he seemed a little abashed and awkward as a group of people who’d adored him for decades gazed at him in mute, stunned devotion. But it was difficult to remain in awe of such a fundamentally down-to-earth (yet head-in-the-clouds) kind of guy. Something about him put you instantly at ease.

He didn't look like he could ever hit anyone and that he might break down in tears if you even suggested it; and was at the time happily matched with Kate (now superseded by new love Rebecca), who did the sterling work of organising the whole shebang.

I listened to his somewhat peripatetic musings on spiritual matters with a cynic’s detachment. I don’t really tend to believe in humans as a species that much. Somehow, during the weekend, Dave synthesises a hotchpotch of different texts and teachings into a belief system based on universal goodwill. He’s incredibly well read and patient when explaining things. And there I was thinking the only Eastern text he might have any familiarity with would be the Kama Sutra. Though I suspect he’s got a pretty good working knowledge of that too.

It seems na├»ve and idealistic but his sincerity is uplifting and inspiring. I've never met someone so completely unguarded. Or someone so charismatic – you can't help being drawn to such a beautiful person and start to trust that maybe the world could change if everyone was a bit more like him. The sceptic inside me begins to falter even though I'm the kind of person who, when everyone else breathes out to expel negative energy, imagines that I’m soaking it all up like some extra-absorbent, suicidal sponge.

Aside from the yoga, prayers for world peace, spiritual enlightenment and so on, we also had the evening concerts. These couldn't have been more intimate or more brilliant. I got extremely hot and thirsty but even if it meant dying of dehydration, I wished these gigs would go on forever.

Beginning with ‘All Day and All of the Night’ and ending with the poignant ‘Get Back in the Line’, Dave and band treated us to a selection of songs from the Kinks’ extensive back catalogue as well as some of his own solo work (though not enough for me) like ‘The Lie’, ‘Death of a Clown’ (naturally), ‘Are You Ready, Girl?’, ‘Fortis Green’, ‘Rock Me, Rock You’, ‘Rock Siva’ and ‘new one’ ‘Remember the Future’. Other highlights included ‘This Man He Weeps Tonight’, ‘Set Me Free’, ‘Strangers’, ‘Too Much on My Mind’,  ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ and of course ‘Flowers in the Rain’. This is such an incredibly sad and beautiful song, its melody steeped in resigned regret, the vocal both heartbroken and heartbreaking, that some of us were in tears. And so was Dave. And it was all over much too soon.

[‘David Watts’ and ‘Sea of Heartbreak’ were on the set-list but not played. Though I think the latter was played on the second night.]

Afterwards, a group of us post-mortem the day at a pub in town where some people play old 78s of Doris Day on a windup gramophone in the corner, all quite pleasantly shell-shocked by the experience.

I have to feel sorry for Ray. If I can miss his brother so badly after just one weekend in his presence, Ray must feel the absence like a huge hole in the middle of his existence.

As I said farewell and thanks and got a last hug from the little brother, I confessed that when I started ‘I had no idea what I was letting myself in for’ and Dave replied with a heartfelt ‘Neither did I!’

It took a giant leap of faith to commit myself to what sounded like it could be a potentially flaky enterprise, after having only been a Kinks aficionado for such a short period – but I would take the leap again in a heartbeat if Dave were always there to catch me.

Next blog (currently here) features more on Dave Davies and my own peripatetic musings on the Kinks. All Kinks bashful blogs are listed here but I'll be transferring them to blogger gradually, where they should be more accessible.

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