One for the road - Dave Davies: “I think the guys who wrote This Is Spinal Tap must have been to a few Kinks concerts”

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(Image: © Al Pereira)

The Kinks guitarist Dave Davies recommends keeping your bandmates close and your audience happy…

What was the first ever gig you played and how did it go?

“I think the first gig I ever did was me and Ray playing in the pub opposite where we lived - Fortis Green, Muswell Hill - in the Clissold Arms. Ray and I were doing just guitar duo stuff like a bit of Ventures and a bit of Chet Atkins, just instrumental stuff, really. It was fun, but it was just a small pub stage. It was pleasant, people watching out of curiosity more than anything.

“I can’t remember what year it was. I was really young - 13, 14. I’d been playing since I was about 10 and our brother-in-law Mike Picker was a really good guitarist and he introduced us to a lot of musicians, like Big Bill Broonzy and Django Reinhardt.”

Describe your current stage rig…

Every musician knows that every stage has got a different sound. But my tip for anyone is get the band close; even if you’re playing a big stage

“Basically, my usual setup is a Boss DD-2, an old Boss chorus from the 1980s, a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier and a 4x12. The electric is a Gibson Nighthawk and I also use a Gibson acoustic because I do an acoustic set within the rock ’n’ roll set.

“It was interesting, because four or five years ago I was looking for a different guitar and I wanted to get back to a more Gibson tone. I met a guy at Gibson in New York and he showed me around the showroom and I picked up various guitars. They gave me a Goldtop - a remake, not an original - and it was okay, but I saw this funny looking guitar, which turned out to be a Nighthawk, in the corner. It kind of called out to me as instruments do sometimes and I picked it up and I loved the weight and the feel. I plugged it in and the pickups screamed. So I integrated it into my rig…”

What’s on your rider?

“A pint of Guinness for after the show. I don’t drink during the show or before, but I like a pint of Guinness afterwards. But you know what riders are like: drinks, tea, coffee, sandwiches and vegetarian knick-knacks, that kind of thing.”

What’s your best tip for getting a good live sound?

“Every musician knows that every stage has got a different sound. But my tip for anyone is get the band close; even if you’re playing a big stage, it’s really good to keep the band close. The amps as close to the drum riser [as possible] because I like the feel of the guys being together. You have to rely on monitors if it’s a big, big show, but that small, tight setup, that’s how I prefer to work.”

(Image: © Steve Hockstein)

What non-musical item couldn’t you do without on tour?

“Notebooks. I carry two or three notebooks around in my computer bag and I have to be able to write things that pop in my head, whether it’s practical things or meetings coming up and stuff.”

What’s your best tip for getting an audience on your side?

“Make ’em laugh! It’s only my experience, everybody’s different, but I tend to like to keep a more bubbly atmosphere at the beginning and try to crack a few stupid jokes, unless I’m doing a serious passage of songs. I like to keep it quite light-hearted. And also I find it helps my concentration; if I try too hard I fuck up. That first 10 minutes is hardest - you’re judging the vibe of the crowd and the room, you’re getting used to the sound - so I like to keep it light.”

What’s the worst journey you’ve ever had either to or from a gig?

“Oh, don’t go there! There’s a lot of them. I think the most memorable, for both wrong and right reasons, was in 1966. England were playing Germany in the World Cup final and we thought, ‘Let’s watch a bit of football…’ because we were in Muswell Hill and thought it couldn’t take that long to get to Exeter. But it was the days before the motorways and so it was more of an epic journey than it later became.

“We were so wrapped up in the game - and it went to extra time and then we had to watch the ceremony, the replays and the interviews. We thought we’d better make a move and we eventually got to Exeter about 11 o’clock and the promoter was pissed off - it was horrible. A day of joy and a day of misery.”

What’s the nearest you’ve come to a Spinal Tap moment on tour?

“Oh, there are too many… It’s like revisiting Spinal Tap on a daily basis. The worst things are like you’re going to do a big solo, you’re primed up for it in front of the crowd and you’re on the edge of the stage, posing to the audience, and the guitar’s totally out of tune. There’s so little you can do - just throw it at the guitar tech and pick up another one. That’s my worst nightmare. I think the guys who wrote [This Is] Spinal Tap must have been to a few Kinks concerts.”

What’s your favourite live album?

“What’s interesting is that I’m not a great fan of live rock music, but I guess [I would choose] any live stuff by The Band. I think One For The Road was one of my favourite Kinks albums - I got a couple of extended solos and the arrangements are different.”

Dave Davies’ new album, Decade, is out now on Red River Entertainment/BFD.

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