Wednesday, October 29, 2014

arthur (or the decline and fall of the british empire)

The Kinks got angry and edgy for this satirical conceptual soundtrack to a television play that never happened.  With a string of critically acclaimed but (mostly) commercially unsuccessful albums ('Face To Face', 'Something Else', and 'The Village Green Preservation Society') to their credit, the band was approached in January of 1969 by Granada Television to create a musical with writer Julian Mitchell.  As the project developed, the band was distracted by the final departure of founding bassist Pete Quaife, who was once again replaced by John Dalton.  

Ray Davies went to Los Angeles, California to produce The Turtles' album 'Turtle Soup' with engineer Chuck Britz.   While there, he was able to get the ban lifted that had kept the band from being able to perform in the US for nearly four years.  Back in in the UK, the band began rehearsing at Ray's house in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.  They were simultaneously working on the material for the TV play and for a solo album for Dave Davies.  Recording took place during May of 1969  at Pye Studios in London with Mick Avory on drums and percussion;   John Dalton on bass guitar and background vocals;   Dave Davies on lead guitar, co-lead vocal on "Australia" and "Arthur", lead vocals on his own tracks, and background vocals;   and Ray Davies on lead vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboards (harpsichord and piano), and production.    Lew Warburton did the horn and string arrangements.   

As the album(s) were being mixed, Davies and Mitchell continued writing for the play; while filming continued to be postponed.  This delayed the release of The Kinks album, titled 'Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)'while Dave Davies solo album ('A Hole in the Shoe of...' or 'The Album That Never Was') never saw release.  Dave would later reflect:  "We recorded it very quickly in an eight-track studio in London.   The reason why I didn't want to put it out is because I'd just come off a hit single in England - 'Death of a Clown' - and, while recording the songs, I suddenly realized that I felt I was being rushed throughout all of those songs. I wasn't really that happy, so I just stopped."

'Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)' was finally released in October of 1969 and a tour was scheduled for the album, while the filming for the TV play was finally cancelled in December ostensibly over lack of funds.  The titular Arthur was based on Ray and Dave's brother-in-law Arthur Anning, who had moved with their sister Rose to Australia.  Ray revealed at the time:   "The opera is about the rise and fall of the British Empire, which people tend to associate with me (laughter). You could sum up the British Empire in one song. I haven't written it, but it could be done, a little fifteen minute thing (laughter). But about the opera: I decided to make it about one person, someone who didn't really count, that's all, and mixed it with a few people I knew, put them into one. I told Julian Mitchell, who wrote the script, a story about someone I knew. He liked it and worked on it and it came from there. He was easy to work with...I played "Shangri-La" to somebody - an old friend of mine, and I knew, halfway through it he was embarrassed by it because it was about him, and he realized it, and I can never sort of talk to him again. I wanted him to hear it, and then I realized: there he is.   I'm not laughing at those people in the song at all. They're brainwashed into that, they brainwash themselves. She says, "that's it. I don't want a new dress", not because she really doesn't want one, but because she can't afford it. Their minds are like that: they're happy, really. It becomes a religion to them. The glory of being boring. It's a glory. He shows you his stamp collection. It's a sense of greatness he's got around him that you can't penetrate because you feel you might upset him, he's that aura of stuff.   The chorus of "Shangri-La" is a bit of a chant - like "See My Friends". It's a religious thing. You accept it as your religion because you can't have anything else, whatever you've got anyway is what you accept yourself. You let yourself believe it. No, perhaps not. If you lived here (Kenwood) and you accepted this, and this was as far as you could go, you'd be a lot happier. Well, no, perhaps not. See, I tried living in a big house and I can't. I'm going back to a little house. I don't thing people really want to live in a posh house, as much as a rich person doesn't want to live in a slum. I don't like to say what I've got and be happy with it. I'd wear hobnail boots by my fire rather than slippers. I can't stand slippers because they symbolize giving up to me. But at the same time, I love the people who are like that. But I hate what's handed down when people get into the state where that's all they want. And that can be anybody - toffs; toffs are the world's worst offenders. Top hats and walking sticks. Cary Grant's a toff. David Niven.   It's like the song "Princess Marina". My brother Dave said, "I don't know whether you like these people or you hate them." You don't really hate anybody, do you? You only hate people for an instance. They can't help it. "Princess Marina" starts pretty sad, maybe, then it goes into the bit about - "I haven't got any money or anything", they're having a hard time. And then they sing in the way they did in the music hall, because that's the way they used to express it: "Don't Have Any More, Mrs. Moore." There was a song about poverty. People think I'm taking it out on the ordinary persons. But it's about all people. In fact it's more about nobs and toffs, executives - "Yes sir, no sir. Three bags full, sir." ... Grayness is beauty in boredom. I could have given Arthur a limp, I suppose, made him buy funny books, have a secret life. Then, that isn't the important thing - he'd have had control over his secret life, and he hasn't control over what's happening to him. But he thinks he does....when we play the opera in America, I hope people will accept the opera as a musical thing. There's jamming - we do a lot of that, but people don't think we do, since we don't do it on record. As far as the next thing I'm doing, I'm leaving what I've done. That's why I didn't want pictures taken of me reminiscing. I'm not like that, really. I'm going to try something else next.....someone will get me if I talk about it...Everything has been thrown at me, paperboats float past me, but something more direct might hit me and leave its mark. I think the things I write about are the things I can't fight off. There are a lot of things I say that are really common-place. I can't get rid of them. I go into something one minute, then look at it, then go back into it."


"Some Mother's Son"




"Mr. Churchill Says"

"Young and Innocent Days"

"Nothing to Say"


'Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)'
full album:

All songs written by Ray Davies, except when noted.

Side one
1. "Victoria"   3:40
2. "Yes Sir, No Sir"   3:46
3. "Some Mother's Son"   3:25
4. "Drivin'"   3:21
5. "Brainwashed"   2:34
6. "Australia"   6:46
Side two
1. "Shangri-La"   5:20
2. "Mr. Churchill Says"   4:42
3. "She's Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina"   3:07
4. "Young and Innocent Days"   3:21
5. "Nothing to Say"   3:08
6. "Arthur"   5:27

bonus tracks:  

"Plastic Man" - 3:04
"This Man He Weeps Tonight" - 2:43
"Mindless Child of Motherhood" (Dave Davies) - 3:09
"Creeping Jean" (Dave Davies) - 3:19
"Lincoln County" (Dave Davies) - 3:13
"Hold My Hand" (Dave Davies) - 3:21

Liner Notes:

Arthur? Oh, of course--England and knights and round tables, Excalibur, Camelot, "So all day long the noise of battle roll'd among the mountains by the winter sea." Sorry, no. This is Arthur Morgan, who lives in a London suburb in a house called Shangri-La, with a garden and a car and a wife called Rose and a son called Derek who's married to Liz, and they have these two very nice kids, Terry and Manlyn. Derek and Liz and Terry and Marilyn are emigrating to Australia. Arthur did have another son, called Eddie. He was named for Arthurs brother, who was killed in the battle of the Somme. Arthur's Eddie was killed, too--in Korea. His son, Ronnie, is a student and he thinks the world's got to change one hell of a lot before it's going to be good enough for him. Derek thinks it's changed a bloody sight too much--he can't stick England any more, all these bloody bureaucrats everywhere, bloody hell, he's getting out. Ronnie and Derek don't exactly get on.

Arthur wasn't named for Arthur of Camelot and all that; he was called after Prince Arthur William Patrick Albert, 1st Duke of Connaught and Stratheam and Earl of Sussex, because Arthurs parents knew their place, and children ought to be named in honour of Queen Victona's children, and Prince Arthur, you know, he was her third and married...

Arthur has spent most of his life on his knees, laying carpets. Oh, he had his plans; he was thinking very seriously indeed about setting up on his own, only he hadn't much in the way of savings and there was this Hitler and... it all seemed a bit risky. There were the children to think of, weren't there? Arthur doesn't like risks, never has. He bought a car instead, and took the kids out on Sundays. Things aren't exactly easy now he's retired, but he owns his own house, and most of his car. You've got to be careful. But you don't want to worry too much about the worid, the way Ronnie does, or complain all the tlme like Derek; you're not going to get anywhere like that, you know. You want to take things as they come.

Things have been coming at Arthur all his life.

Arthur's life (and the lives of millions of English people like him) is shown through the songs Ray Davies has written. The Granada TV story in which they're set all takes place on Derek and Liz's last day in England. Nothing happens very much--everyone has Sunday dinner together, then Ronnie turns up and the men go to the pub where Ronnie gets all worked up about The System, while Liz and Rose talk about the past, and then Arthur takes them all to the boat, and they have a picnic on the way, and all the time Arthur's remembering his life and... It's a sad day for Arthur, seeing them off. People haven't been nearly as nice to Arthur as he's been to them, and... what's it all about, then? Is this what he's lived for? He's got the house, hasn't he? And the car? It's been a good life, hasn't it? Well, hasn't it?


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