These days it’s all too easy to equate Ray Davies with a stereotypical Englishness, the Albion of old maids bicycling to church, and all that other Arcadian claptrap that John Major promoted a couple of parliamentary terms ago. But it does him scant justice as a writer to gift-wrap his recorded legacy in the red, white and blue and then stick it in the “Grandfathers Of Britpop” section of your local record shop.
Maybe this cosy (and conveniently marketable) state of affairs has been allowed to develop because the perennially semi-detached Davies has occasionally been a wayward barometer of his own muse. Indeed, that wry distancing that he frequently adopts as a public persona has always seemed at odds with the clarity and bite of his songwriting. Or maybe it’s because Davies has always made his craft look so deceptively simple. He wasn’t a stream-of-consciousness symbolist like Dylan in his pomp. He wasn’t a zeitgeist diviner like Townshend. He didn’t do yoof anthems or quick-fix platitudes of any kind. And?despite the tendency to lump him in with the angry young playwrights and the kitchen-sink realists?he was never overtly polemical enough or, come to think of it, angry enough to fit in with that kind of company.
If anything, his legacy is Orwellian, not in the modern dystopian sense but in terms of his unaffected humanity, his economy of description, and his singular inability to pen a dull sentence. It would also be easy to see Ray Davies as a 1930s essayist, perpetually worrying about the little man in the era of Big History, meticulously documenting emotional stasis and ennui in the context of societal upheaval. Davies wrote about the other ’60s, the Eng-er-land that didn’t swing, a world where the factory windows and the steam trains hadn’t been cleaned for 20 years, a world where people took pictures of each other “to prove that they really existed”. These are the themes that underpin Village Green Preservation Society. Time has done nothing to diminish their resonance.
Take the crushing d