The terrible show that inspired an iconic The Kinks hit

Embarrassment is a tough pill to swallow when you’re a frontman. The inevitability of delivering a less-than-par performance is, unfortunately, part of the job, but whether or not you go out in front of an audience after the fact is a choice. In the case of Ray Davies and The Kinks, he coped with his mistakes by channelling them into songs.

The Kinks’ concept album from 1968, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, saw the band investing effort into production. However, their confidence in the creative process waned after the commercial failure of their previous release, Wonderboy. The album, upon its release, experienced a lacklustre reception, peaking at number 12 on the UK album charts and failing to secure a spot on the charts in the US.

Davies loosely shaped the album as a series of character studies, drawing inspiration from Dylan Thomas’s 1954 radio drama, Under Milk Wood. Focused on nostalgia, memory, and preservation, the album mirrors Davies’ apprehensions regarding growing modernisation and the encroaching impact of America and Europe on English society.

Factoring in personal anxieties drawn from real experiences, ‘All of My Friends Were There’ follows the story of Davies going on stage at a concert in 1967. The Kinks had committed to playing at the South East R&B Festival at Rectory Field in Blackheath, London. Despite falling ill before the performance, Davies was convinced to go on stage, honouring the contractual agreement.

As he recalled in Andy Miller’s Thirty Three and a Third book about Village Green: “I had lots and lots to drink, and I thought, ‘It doesn’t matter,’” he said. “The curtains opened, and all my friends were there in the front row. It was a terrible night, and I thought I would write a song about it.”

Lyrically, the song navigates the complex nature of regret reflective of the mental state Davies encountered after the unfortunate event. The nature of Davies’ words seems bittersweet, almost as if he feels embarrassed by and appreciative of his friends’ support during such a strange and troubling time.

While The Kinks didn’t succumb to drugs and alcohol to the extent that some other bands did in the 1960s, the song explores the challenges of fame and the unsettling nature of being in the public eye. Ray Davies’ lyrics express a desire for a different time, with lines like, “I wish today could be tomorrow / The night is dark / It just brings sorrow anyway,” which serve as a poignant reminder of the sombre aspects of leading a well-known band.

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