The Kinks Konk Recording Studio sits on the edge of London in an area hardly recognizable to a city visitor. Located a good 40 minutes from Picadilly Circus by public transportation (i.e., underground and bus), the studio is on an inconspicuous side street up a slight hill from the bus stop, past a cluster of repair shops, and beyond a few small factories thick with blue-collar bustle.
At first, I think that perhaps I got off at the wrong stop. But as I turn the bend, I’m at once relieved to know I’m at the right place after all. I know because of the graffiti that graces the wall of the building in front of me. In runny, spray-painted letters are the words State Of Confusion; to the left of them is written Give The People What They Want. These, of course, are the titles of two of the more recent and more popular Kinks albums. And this studio, Konk, is where they were created. The sight is enough to make any Kinks fan feel warm all over.
I’m supposed to meet drummer Mick Avory here at noon. It’s currently ten minutes past the hour. Despite my tardiness, previous experience tells me I’m probably early. Wrong. Avory, who has also arrived by public transit, is in the recording studio’s waiting room, thumbing through a magazine and sipping a steaming cup of tea. I’m told by the secretary that he’s been there since 11:30.
I introduce myself and apologize for being late. “Oh, it’s no problem really,” says Avory in a soft, friendly voice. “It gave me a chance to settle down and relax before our little chat. So it’s drumming you want to talk about, is it?”
Indeed. Mick Avory has been playing the drums for something like 25 years now. Since 1962, he’s been playing them for the Kinks. Precious few rock bands are still around from those pre-British Invasion days. Somehow though, the Kinks, unlike so many other rock bands from the ’60s, have managed to endure. The Kinks and Mick Avory, you might say, are survivors.
A quiet, sort of unassuming man, Avory is not what you ‘d expect him to be. He certainly doesn’t reflect the aggressive, heavy hitter we first met in the opening salvos of that timeless rocker, “You Really Got Me” way back in 1964. Rather, Avory is soft-spoken, seemingly mild-mannered and very modest when away from his drumkit. There’s also a feeling of content that punctuates his words and facial expressions as we talk. It’s a sense, I think, of knowing where he’s been and what he’s accomplished.
Unlike so many other drummers today, Avory is not a vocalist, a songwriter, or a technician extraordinaire in the studio. He has no pressing ambition to record a solo album and see it climb up the charts. He’s a band player, in the purest sense of the term, a drummer who long ago defined his role in the Kinks and worked to perfect it.
Avory is a traditionalist. As he freely admits, his drum style is just about what it was when the Kinks first began—although much more polished and refined due to all those hours he’s logged behind his kit. His style is simple, sharp, and perhaps most importantly, sensitive to the needs of composer and bandleader Ray Davies’ songs. “I like to do my job, “says Avory with a growing smile. “But I think one first has to know what that job is. If anything, that’s been a key to any success I’ve had as a drummer.”
RS: Even though the Kinks have been together for well over 20 years, the group never quite matched the huge commercial success of say, the Rolling Stones, the other British heavy-weight group formed back in 1962. It’s no secret that a large chunk of the Kinks’s success in the States materialized only in the last five years or so.
MA: Yes, that’s true. We had a period in the late ’60s and ’70s in which nothing really happened for us. But then towards the end of the ’70s and into the ’80s we got back to the roots of the group. We went back to basic rock ‘n’ roll—no brass or anything like that—just the boys in the band. I think that’s what you might say is responsible for our success in the last few years.
RS: But why weren’t the Kinks able to capitalize on such classic rockers as “You Really Got Me” and “All Day And All Of The Night” during the first British Invasion?
MA: The concept albums we recorded had a lot to do with it, I suppose. Also, we’d been banned from playing in America for four years. That didn’t help the group’s ability to sell records, either.
RS: If I remember correctly, wasn’t the problem a union-related one?
MA: Yeah, it was. We had a dispute with the union [American Federation of Musicians]. We did something we shouldn’t have and they banned us from playing in the States for three years, 1965 to 1968, although it was actually four before we went back.
RS: What was it exactly that you did?
MA: Well, it had something to do with TV work we weren’t supposed to do because of a union strike. But we went ahead and did it anyway. At the time, we didn’t real- ize the severity of the situation.
RS: There are only a couple of bands, the Rolling Stones included, that can boast the longevity of the Kinks. What is it that has kept the band together for so long?
MA: One thing has been Ray’s [Davies] prolific writing. Whatever we go into, it’s always a progression in one direction or another. Even when we did the concept albums—The Village Green Preservation Society, and Arthur—this was true. They didn’t attract much wide-spread commercial appeal, but we had a large cult follow- ing because of them. The people who had always been interested in the Kinks became sort of 110% interested in us. Those records, and the other concept albums we did, were fun to do even if they weren’t really successful from a sales standpoint.
Another thing that’s kept the Kinks together is the fact that Ray and Dave are brothers and have kicked around together since school days. So the group has been something like a family business. They’ve been inclined to stick together, I think, because of their family ties. The bond between them is strong in that respect. This, plus the fact that we have our own studio, Konk, allows us to pace ourselves and has really kept the group intact more than anything else, I think.
RS: Was there ever a time when you or other members of the Kinks temporarily lost the interest to go on as the Kinks? Did the group ever come close to folding?
MA: Yeah, there were a few times when the interest dwindled, but then something would happen that would pick us up again. It’s always been like that.
RS: And throughout the high points and the lows, you’ve been the group’s one and only drummer.
MA: That’s right, yes.
RS: Have you ever given a thought or two to playing with another band, or playing a different kind of music?
MA: A couple of times, yeah. Maybe if I could play drums like Billy Cobham, I might have found myself more creatively frustrated than I actually ever was. On occasion, I’ve played little gigs with musicians other than the Kinks or sat in with friends, and it’s been a lot of fun. But it’s always been enough for me, really.
RS: The Kinks have recorded somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 albums in the past 20 years. Looking back, what are the albums that mean the most to you? Which ones do you feel best about in terms of your playing?
MA: I think the first record I really felt good about was Arthur. That was one of the best produced records we did early on, and it had all kinds of interesting tempos and switches and things to play. School- boys In Disgrace is another memorable one in that category. I also had a good time with Sleepwalker. On that record, we got a really heavy, solid sound and it worked extremely well.
RS: Recording all those albums means that you’ve accumulated a lot of time in the studio. What’s been your approach to record- ing? Has it changed over the years?
MA: My approach goes in different phases, actually. Usually we know what we want to do before we go into the studio. But often Ray will come up with something and turn a whole song around right then and there. As for me, fortunately, I’ve had a lot of experience playing with him, so it’s not too difficult to lock into what he wants to do. I strive to get the basic feel and the rhythm right. Once I establish that, then I can learn the rest of the number. We never do all of our arranging before we go in the studio. There may be a collection of ideas concerning the arrangements, but that might be all. Ray usually makes a tape of his ideas, and we listen to that first.
RS: Do you contribute directly to the arrangements of Kinks songs?
MA: Not necessarily, no. The writing of the songs is basically Ray’s department. In the end, he’s got to have what he feels is right. Often, however, I’ll throw out drum ideas. Sometimes they fit, and sometimes they don’t. When they do fit, I feel quite good about them, actually. But everybody seems to write with drum machines these days, don’t they? So that means the song- writers usually have a pretty good idea of what they want to hear from the drummers without any of their input. The nice thing about that is it makes my job easier. I don’t have to search out the proper rhythm all the time.
RS: Ray Davies is such a multi-talented songwriter. His composing range is one of the wildest in all of rock. Has that ever posed a problem for you? Throughout the years, there seems to have been very few musical ideas he’s used twice.
MA: Ray has always let me try whatever I wanted to. But if it doesn’t work out, he’ll simply get rid of it.
RS: Your reputation as a drummer is pretty much as a straight-forward, economical hitter who does what he has to do to get the job done. You’re rarely excessive in any area of your playing. Would you agree with that?
MA: Yes, because the kinds of songs that Ray writes rarely call for me to be a fussy drummer. If I’m too fussy, the rhythm gets awfully cloudy, if you know what I mean. The drums, especially drum fills, should never get in the way of the vocals.
RS: The Kinks have transcended numerous phases and trends in rock. As a drum- mer, do you actively seek to keep up with all that’s new in rock drumming?
MA: It’s funny because the things that I was doing when we first recorded songs like “You Really Got Me” are more what I’m in tune with these days than anything else. Groups now are largely influenced by that era and those types of songs, so all of a sudden, that drum sound is very fashion- able, isn’t it. There haven’t been all that many great advancements without going into jazz rock or-some other related field. What we’ve done is come full circle.
RS: Are you saying that your drum style has remained pretty much the same since the early and mid-’60s?
MA: I think it’s probably gotten even simpler, if anything, as far as notation goes. Since the band has gone back to its roots, there’s really no need for complicated rhythms. Complicated rhythms are nice to be able to do, but I don’t get to use them all that much, except in very special cases. I’ll use them when a part of a song needs a lift of some sort. Otherwise, 1 just stick with a basic, solid beat and fill in around the vocal.
RS: During the first British Invasion of the ’60s, you were considered one of the hard- est hitters in all of rock ‘n’ roll.
MA: Yeah, because I played quite loud for the times. But there were a few other drum- mers around who could play just as loud. I never used to try to play loud deliberately; actually, it used to be the other way around. But I had to play loud, because if I didn’t, no one would have been able to hear me. I really enjoyed playing in small clubs back then, because I could play a lit- tle softer. The thought of playing a stadium or a huge venue horrified me, to be quite frank.
RS: How did you finally overcome that?
MA: Well, it got better because of the improvement in sound systems and monitors. These enabled me to hear myself and everyone else in the band. When I first joined the group, I couldn’t hear anyone when we played. The drums sounded loud to me, but I don’t think they were that loud to the people standing in front of the group.
RS: Who did you follow in situations like that?
MA: Pete Quaife, the bass player. He was the key player for me. I used to speak to other drummers about this problem. They’d always tell me there was no solu- tion to it. It was something you had to get used to.
RS: What were you doing before you joined the Kinks?
MA: I studied with a jazz drummer for a year when I was 16 years old. But they all try to teach you to become part of them- selves, don’t they. I never played jazz, but I learned techniques and the orthodox grip, which isn’t really recommended in rock ‘n’ roll circles.
RS: Do you use the traditional grip today?
MA: No, I think I’ve lost it a bit. It’s some- thing you have to practice and stay in touch with. I’ll use it sometimes when I don’t have to play loud, or if I sit in with a traditional jazz band. Traditional grip has a bit more of a sensitive feel to it. But if I don’t practice it, it feels like wet fish to me.
RS: Did you play with any bands before the Kinks?
MA: Yeah, I played with various local bands. We’d do a lot of Eddie Cochran. But I never really listened to records and got the arrangements down like other drummers. Nor did I understand what was being played on the records. I came up through the skiffle days, which were related to traditional jazz and folk music. I used to listen to Lonnie Donnegan, Johnny Duncan and all those people. The drummers from that era who I listened to the most helped me get an idea of what drumming was all about. I used to do a lot of brush work back then.
RS: Is it true that, for a brief time, you were a member of the Rolling Stones?
MA: I wasn’t exactly a member as such, but around ’62 I used to play with a fellow who played a squeezebox, or accordion, plus vibes and piano. He was young—only about 13 or 14—a child prodigy. His father was a drummer, who used to advertise in Melody Maker, I think it was. Well, one week Mick Jagger contacted him and said, “We need a drummer for a gig at the Marquee.” The boy’s father refused the job, called me up, and said the gig was more in my line. So I phoned Mick, who was an unknown at the time, went to the rehearsal to see what it was all about, and played some. After rehearsal, Mick told me he and the band were looking for a permanent drummer. I told him I ‘d do the gig with the band, but that 1 wasn’t really looking for permanent work.
RS: Why was that?
MA: Well, at the time, I hadn’t made up my mind as to whether or not I wanted to be a professional drummer. People, you know, were advising me against it. But to finish the story, I did another rehearsal with the Stones, although we never did do the gig. That was the last I saw of Mick until I went on the road with the Kinks. But whether or not I would have fit in with the band was something else. I never really got that far to find out.
RS: Did you know Charlie Watts at the time?
MA: No, because I came from southwest London, and he and Mick and the others were London boys, which meant we were quite a ways apart. I remember the group used to play at the Crawdaddy Club before Charlie joined the band.
RS: Were there any drummers who had a profound influence on the development of your drum style back then?
MA: I think Bobby Elliott of the Hollies
was the one drummer I used to admire the most. He had a lot of flair and was one of those guys who became good while he was still very young. He developed quickly and had very good bass drum technique. He also had a nice feel—one that I never heard before. It really suited the Hollies.
RS: But were you influenced by him?
MA: Yeah. I used to talk with him because he could do stuff better than I could. Through talking with other drummers, you pick up ideas and new techniques. That’s how I learned.
RS: Were there any other drummers?
MA: No, because I didn’t really know any- one then. I mean, I knew of Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich—all drummers did—but they were from a different era and a different music. In rock ‘n’ roll, I didn’t really know anyone, to be honest. Much later on, though, I met Billy Cobham, Steve Gadd and Bernard Purdie. They’re all great.
RS: Can you recall your very first drumkit?
MA: I got my very first one when I was with a skiffle group. 1 belonged to a scout troop and some of the fellows formed a skiffle group. That was all very exciting. First I used a drum set on a chair with a scrub brush and a stick—very basic, you might say. [laughs] Then, I got a snare drum on a stand and a homemade cymbal which was attached to the snare. I bought a set of brushes and really got into it. We started doing gigs for ten shillings and really enjoyed it. From them, I gradually pieced a kit together. I think I got a hi-hat next, and a Boy Scout bass drum and bass drum pedal. But I became fed up with that equipment, so I saved up some money and got a proper kit. Again, it was a mixture of drums; most of it consisted of Ajax drums. Then, when I began playing with the Kinks, I got a Rogers kit. Back then, the kits Rogers sold in America were different from the ones sold in England. I had an English kit, but the American drums were much better. The English drums were too light. The rims were about two inches deep, and when you put the skin on, you never hit the skin; you’d hit the rim. Any- way, I kept that kit for a year or so, and then bought a Ludwig kit. That was a good kit. I used that one for a long time. I got a new Ludwig kit in the States, but I had to surrender the old one. I wish I hadn’t because the old one was better. From there I went to Gretsch drums, and from Gretsch, to Sonor. I’m still playing Sonor drums today—at least my stage kit is Sonor. I’m thinking of going back to Ludwig and completing the circle.
RS: What is your Sonor kit made up of?
MA: I carry three rack toms: 9 x 13, 10 x 14, and 12x 15, plus an 18 x 18 floor tom, a 24″ bass drum, an 18″ crash, a 25″ ride and a big China cymbal on the right- hand side of the kit for certain pieces we do. I also have 14″ hi-hats. As for pedals, I’ve been through different ones, but I usu- ally use a Premier pedal. I’ve been through various snares, too. But I’m currently using a Pearl, which sounds good on stage.
RS: I can assume, then, that you use a different kit in the studio?
MA: I’ll use anything in the studio—any- thing that works. Recently I’ve used a Yamaha kit. The snare and the bass drum are the two most important drums for me, so I have to make sure they sound right. In the studio, there are so many different things you can do. I mean, you can make a cardboard box sound good in there.
RS: Recording techniques and drums have gotten so complex in the past five years or so. Do you ever long for the days when recording and playing drums were less complicated, shall we say, than they are today?
MA: Yeah, I do. That’s why I don’t get tied up with gadgets and things the way many other drummers do. I try to keep up with the times; I have a Simmons kit com- ing. That’s something I plan to use in the studio. But when I get it, I wonder how much I’ll really use it. If nothing else, I’ll keep it here in the studio where I can always rent it out or something.
RS: So you don’t use the electronic drum pieces live?
MA: No, not usually. I try to keep every- thing as basic as possible. That’s what the Kinks are known for, anyway. That goes back to what I said before about the group returning to its roots. If I do get tied up with too many gadgets, it might change the sound of the group too much, not to mention the feel. Sometimes we’ll play things and say to ourselves, “That sounds good, but it doesn’t sound like us.” So we have to change it. We have an identity; we can’t move too far away from that.
RS: Let’s talk for a moment about one particular aspect of your drumming, say, your cymbal work, and trace it from your early days with the Kinks to today.
MA: My cymbal work hasn’t changed all that much over the years. I probably, how- ever, play more fours than I used to. I used to play a lot of eights, but I found that it could be quite restricting with what I did with my other limbs. I was tied up concentrating on my right hand, and I was not really slapping it down with my left and pushing the rhythm along. If the song gets beyond a certain tempo, I tend to drop back to a four. Of course, by the end of the day when it’s all mixed in, you can’t tell the difference anyway, can you? When I play in big venues, I naturally tend to simplify things; I go to half tempos and things. I try not to get too carried away up there on stage. Another thing, 1 never used to play a lot of cymbals; I think I played less than most drummers. But recently, I’m playing more cymbals and punctuating on them more now than I ever did.
RS: Back in the early and mid-’60s, were your drums ever miked?
MA: No, we never used to mike back then. I used to play them as they were. Someone else asked me that same question. Now, of course, everything is miked. I have a mic’ inside my bass drum and the front skin is removed. I also put padding in the bass drum and try different mic’ positions until I get a good sound. I also have a mic’ under the snare and one over the top. Depending on where we are, it either works or it doesn’t. Then there’s an individual mic’ for each tom-tom and a little pencil mic’ for the hi-hat.
RS: Has the advent of such thorough miking and the increased efficiency of monitors enabled you to play more softly than you did in the old days?
MA: Not really, because it makes a difference to the feel of the song if you play softly. Your drums have to have bite and a sense of urgency. It’s hard to get that if you play softly. I play loud, almost as if there weren’t any mic’s around.
RS: What would you say are some of your stronger points as a drummer?
MA: One of my strongest points isn’t speed, I can tell you that. Speed doesn’t come naturally to me. I think I have to concentrate and work on speed more than most drummers. What I do have is power. I have strong arms and strong hands, so I have no problem there. That’s probably my strongest area.
RS: How do you feel about touring? Needless to say, you’ve spent many a day on the road. Do you find it tedious to tour at this stage of your career?
MA: I still have to work to get used to sleeping in hotels and that sort of thing, despite the number of years we’ve been touring. Fortunately, we can afford the better lodgings which, of course, makes life on the road a bit easier. I’m never fully relaxed when I’m on tour because I’ve got lots of responsibilities. For instance, I’m constantly repeating to myself, “I mustn’t get ill or too out of it.” I mean, I still have a drink or two and enjoy myself, but only up to a certain point. I don’t stay up all night anymore. If I do, I feel it the next day. I feel inadequate. I guess that’s the right word. As you get older, the road becomes a bit more taxing. Rather than doing long, drawn-out tours, I prefer to go out for two to three weeks and do festivals and that sort of thing. I don’t really enjoy schlep- ping around colleges anymore.
RS: As a drummer, especially one in such a prominent band as the Kinks, you seem to have kept a relatively low profile over the years. Has that been intentional on your part?
MA: I think we’re all pretty private people, actually. When we’re not working, we’re not ones to mix with show biz circles and hang out in clubs. If anything, that’s what keeps us out of the public eye. Even when we’re on tour, we try not to do too many interviews. It gets tiring. I get weary from it all.
RS: Have you ever done any drum clinics?
MA: No, I haven’t.
RS: Do you have a desire to do any?
MA: No, because I always felt those were for the drummers who sit down and really study the drums—people who practice for hours and hours, day after day. I can’t do that. I never could. It probably would make me dissatisfied if I played that much and got that good in terms of technique. I can’t really use it to any advantage. Ray’s not really interested in all that fancy stuff. He wants me to work within the confines of the songs he writes. So I probably would become very frustrated. I try to practice things that are going to be useful to the Kinks.
RS: You sound like a very dedicated band player.
MA: Well, I like to think of myself that way. I believe most musicians like to see themselves that way, although that might not really be the case. People always ask me if I get fed up playing the same songs all these years. In actual fact, I don’t because we’re constantly adding new songs to the repertoire. We’ll always have to play “You Really Got Me,” but we change the arrangement around every so often. A lot of what Ray has written in the last 20 years has been rather complex in terms of tempo. This has helped to keep things interesting. It’s always been a challenge for me to play his songs the way they ought to be played.
RS: A lot of the kids who buy tickets to see the Kinks in concert, or who buy Kinks albums, weren’t even born when “You Really Got Me” hit the charts.
MA: That’s amazing isn’t it? And that wasn’t even the Kinks’s first record.
RS: Was it “Long Tall Sally”?
MA: Yeah, but that was even before my time.
RS: You didn’t play on that song?
MA: No, the group cut the record before I joined.
RS: Who played drums on the song then? MA: Oh, they got some guy who was older than they were and who didn’t want to be in the band. They tried two or three drummers who just wanted to play semi-pro.
RS: You said you turned down the Rolling Stones’s offer to join their band. What made you change your mind and join the Kinks?
MA: I wanted to join a rhythm & blues band, and at the moment, the Kinks was the right one, I suppose. We met up in a pub, and I went for an audition. It seemed to work out at the time, although I don’t know if it really did or not. [laughs] I never found out if I passed the audition.
RS: How much longer do you expect the Kinks to be a full-time working and touring band?
MA: I think the group can go on as long as Ray wants it to go on. The band is wrapped around his songs. As long as his writing continues to go the way it has been going, the group could go on indefinitely.
RS: And how would you feel about that?
MA: I imagine it would be okay. But I don’t know. I could feel differently in a year’s time or two year’s time. I mean, I don’t really want to do it forever.
RS: What would you do if the Kinks did retire? Do you have any other goals or ambitions as a musician?
MA: I don’t know. I’m easily pleased play- ing gigs around London. I’d probably do that. I often ask myself that very same question. I think business interests would occupy most of my time, however. I don’t think, though, that I’d ever give up the drums completely. I’ve got it in my blood, and I’ve been playing for too long just to get up and walk away from my kit for good.
RS: What’s been the thing that you feel the best about when looking back over your career and partnership in the Kinks?
MA: Oh, that I contributed something to a winning formula and that I helped get a lot of people interested in our music. I don’t dwell on that sort of thing, though. I mean, you make a record and you hope it’s a hit, or a hit song comes out of it. That’s what you’re really thinking about. But when I reflect back sometimes, like when someone asks me a question like you just asked me, that’s when I realize these things. It gives me the heart to carry on, I suppose.
When the Kinks arrived in America in November, Bob Henrit was playing drums, rather than Mick. A spokesman for the group said that Mick chose not to do this tour, but that he quite possibly would continue to record with the group.