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Why The Kinks channelled ‘Englishness’ into their sound

The Kinks‘ reputation as the quintessential English band is no coincidence. Frontman Ray Davies’ astute commentary on English life enabled the group to craft songs that encapsulated both the eccentricity of English culture and the evolving societal dynamics of the nation.

During Davies’ upbringing, the UK experienced a significant period of transformation. Following the aftermath of the Second World War, a prevailing notion arose that innovation became imperative once the nation had stabilised. This sparked a psychological revolution leading to a widespread rejection of Victorian values across the country, and the reverence for churches and the once-prevalent Victorian morality began to diminish during this era.

Simultaneously, London’s Victorian architectural landscape started vanishing, giving way to modernist tower blocks that enveloped the city’s residents in a world of glass and steel. By the late 1940s, scepticism toward Victorian buildings emerged among advocates of the newly established listed buildings programme. Many argued that only the most remarkable structures — those built between 1850 and 1914 — merited preservation from demolition.

Through tracks like ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and ‘Sunny Afternoon’, The Kinks captured the true essence of Englishness, but this is particularly evident in ‘The Village Green Preservation Society’, which encapsulates the UK’s consciousness and embraced themes of nostalgia, social change, and the preservation of traditional English values. These songs capture Davies’ views on modernisation, as above, along with its impact on the fabric of English life and the yearning for simpler times.

The band’s music highlighted the tensions between preserving the old ways and embracing new societal values, focussing on the essence of Englishness amid a changing world. The Kinks’ portrayal of such a concept was multifaceted, reflecting both the pride in tradition and the critique of societal shifts, creating a nuanced picture of England through their music.

However, doing so also provided a level of comfort for Davies. “I was writing English songs right from the start,” Davies told Mojo. “My heroes were Chet Atkins, Big Bill Broonzy…so I wanted to make my own blues and I think I was heading in that direction anyway. But it was the American touring that pulled the plug on everything. Writing songs with English themes became a way of cocooning myself away. Protecting myself.”

He added: “We were due to play Monterey, Woodstock, one of those big festivals, where everyone was emulating our style. The only person who gave us credit for what we did was Jimi Hendrix. He Mitch [Mitchell] and Noel [Redding] all said the greatest band they ever saw was The Kinks. A lot of our peers said we were finished, but we were still making records. You had to tour the States to get on American TV shows. If you didn’t get a foot on that continent you couldn’t get promoted.”

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