Storytime: Dave Davies Book Signing at Rough Trade East, London

One of the stories I tell over and over again like a broken record is how I went to Pete Townshend’s book signing in Toronto with my friend Zsofia and Pete winked and waved at both of us. I will never forget that and I consider that day to be one of the best days of my life. I look up to Pete Townshend so much and The Who are one of those bands that got me through everything. A decade later, it was take two, but with another musician who inspires me so much:

The Backstory: How I got into The Kinks

The Kinks are another one of those bands that got me through things. I first remember hearing their music in a movie called The Boat That Rocked, also known as Pirate Radio – for the Americans reading this blog. In the intro of that film, the scene is set with people of all walks of life across 1960s London tuning into a pirate radio station that plays rock and roll, all day and all of the night – the appropriate song played in the intro. When I first heard those fuzzy guitar chords, it hit me hard and I was like “where has this been my whole life?”, “who are these guys?”, “whoa there’s more to the 60s than The Beatles”. It blew my mind. I rarely got that feeling when I heard a classic rock song for the first time, so a song has to be really special to have that sort of emotional impact. From there, I dug deeper into The Kinks discography and I liked their music, but I think with with them the music has to be there at the right time in your life for you to truly understand it. Teenage me just liked the proto-punk/garage rock energy, but mid-late 20s me fell in love with the messages in their music and the band’s attitude, both of which resonated more and more with me.

What really drove me down The Kinks rabbit hole and made me fall in love with the band even more was writing the Listen to This, Not That: The Kinks, as part of my album by album discography deep dive series. Originally I had planned on just making them a section of a general British Invasion post, but as I read more and more about them and went through their discography, I was like “No, this wouldn’t do them justice. They deserve their own post.” It is still my favourite post in the series I wrote and I am extremely proud of it. I’m glad I made that decision because their music helped me understand life more and get me through a difficult time.

The more I listened to the lyrics, the more I was like wait, is Ray writing about the present? It’s the same feeling I get when I listen to George Carlin’s comedy or watch old episodes of The Simpsons. The work is evergreen. I never truly grasped how multifaceted The Kinks were until I dove into the discography and saw various themes: pro-LGBT before it was politically convenient, socialism, anti-imperialism, anti-war, anti-consumerism, anti-capitalism, and libertarian. They also were the kind of group to say screw fitting into boxes, we’re going to do our own thing and we don’t care what the man says. Personally, as someone who has some old fashioned tendencies and who loves old things but is still a socialist, I felt seen when I saw Ray had the same sorts of views. In general, The Kinks make misfits and outcasts feel seen.

The Kinks are going to be talked about in the first two chapters of the book I’m working on and I had to do a lot of research for it and of course, what better source than the band members themselves? Both Ray and Dave have written two books about their lives. Through reading Kink (which I have reviewed here), I gained an even bigger appreciation for Dave Davies. A lot of people may just think of The Kinks as Ray’s band and that Ray’s the star of the show, but really watch those videos and read what Dave had to say. Dave certainly got the spotlight a lot back in the day for his flashy dress sense, infectious smile (I really don’t think you can be sad when you see Dave smile), and energetic presence he had on stage. He’s at least got as much charisma as Ray, dare I say even more! Is it really a contest though? Screw it, they were a team and a damn good one at that! There’s really something special about sibling groups.

Prelude: Following in The Kinks footsteps

A lot of classic rock fans dream of following in their favourite band’s footsteps. I hear this all the time from Americans who visit London and Liverpool. And I was that American doing that in London, Liverpool, and Brighton. I think it’s something every classic rock fan has got to do if they have the opportunity. Find the classic rock landmarks and immerse yourself in them, imagine what it would have been like in the 60s. Put on some headphones and walk through these places with the appropriate music that sets the scene. It’s like a religious experience: walking around Brighton while listening to Quadrophenia, listening to The Beatles while walking around Liverpool, and this time for me? Walking around Hampstead Heath while listening to The Village Green Preservation Society. Now that’s what I call Classic Rock Adventurising! As you can remember from my last London trip, I did make it to Muswell Hill and saw the Kinks room at the Clissold Arms. My husband and I were the only ones there and it was awesome! A picture of me there is still my profile pic on Instagram.

On my way to Hampstead Heath, I made my way to Archway Tavern, which is where the Kinks’ Muswell Hillbillies album cover photo was taken. From there, I walked to Hampstead Heath and along the way there are a lot of fancy homes and there’s a graveyard. Kinda gothic.

You may even recognise Parliament Hill, a great viewpoint where you can see the skyline, from Imaginary Man documentary about Ray Davies (it’s a really good watch btw). I went there and while it’s a bit of a walk and Hampstead Heath is easy to get lost in, it’s still relaxing and fun. From there, I went to Kenwood House, which is free to visit and the library room there is painted in the colours of the trans flag. Trans rights! 🏳️‍⚧️

After that I decided since I was in the area to check out the filming location for The Kinks’ Dead End Street music video – shot 15 years before MTV made its debut so it’s a big part of pop music video history. If you’re taking the tube, it’s not far from Kentish Town station. Below is a video I took there. Sorry I didn’t have a Charles Dickenseque outfit and a coffin with me.

All in all, on that day I walked nearly 30,000 steps according to my iPhone. My knees and back were killing me but worth it! My love of classic rock cures any pain I have!

The following day, I went to the Savoy Steps, where the Bob Dylan Subterranean Homesick Blues music video was shot. Easily one of the most iconic music videos ever and since I was walking around the area, might as well make a video there:

It’s All Happening! The Book Signing!

Like at the Pete Townshend book signing, I went to this book signing with a friend. My friend Nallie found out about the book signing when I posted about it on Instagram and we decided to meet up on the day of the event. Since Rough Trade is near Brick Lane, one of the best places to go vintage shopping in London, why not check out some vintage shops together beforehand? I need new to me vintage clothes like I need a hole in the head, I have a huge hoard of stuff, but I couldn’t resist and I was pretty frugal for most of the trip – I didn’t go to expensive restaurants or go to a West End show or anything like that.

Overall, I prefer Brick Lane to Camden for vintage shopping because the prices are lower and the ambiance is much more authentic. It’s not full of typical chain shops and restaurants like Camden is now and it looks way less commercialised. There’s a bunch of market stalls in Brick Lane Vintage Market, a collection of stalls in a basement – many of these stalls have a small curated selection of clothing and accessories and they have larger storefronts elsewhere in London. There are some bargains to be found, you just have to look for them. Vintage shopping is like a treasure hunt. Takes a lot of patience, but once you find gold, it’s worth all the time spent. In the vintage market, I found a real suede Afghan coat from the 70s for £45 and I got it so cheap because the shop were doing a clearance sale. These usually run for anywhere from £150 upwards! So not a bad deal. I have a couple other similar coats, but you can never have too many Afghan coats, in my humble opinion. At a vintage shop called Atika, I got a blue and purple silk scarf and funny enough on the tag was Antalya, Turkey – I was just there a couple months ago! Beautiful place, and not surprising to see that on the tag because Turkey is a hub for clothing manufacturing. Now you might be wondering why I’m buying a suede coat and a silk scarf if I’m a vegan, but I have no problem buying wool, leather, suede, silk, or even fur if it’s secondhand. I mean, you wear clothes more than once, I’d hope! It’s certainly more environmentally friendly than buying brand new plastic/polyester imitations. Plus, these clothes would end up in the landfill otherwise and it’s better to buy used and reduce the demand for new clothes. While I didn’t buy anything in Beyond Retro, I tried on a plaid blazer that looks like something Noddy Holder of Slade would have worn.

And the best vintage find of all? I went to House of Vintage and I decided to walk into the basement and what do I see on the wall? A coveted calico print Gunne Sax dress. I was like “shut the front door!” and was like “I have to try this on”. If you know anything about vintage clothing, you’ll know that Gunne Sax dresses, being in odd sizes, that means it’s juniors sizing and that means the clothes are cut straighter than women’s. If you’re any bit busty, you’re not going to fit. I decided to give it a shot anyway and what do you know? The dress fit! A bit snug in the chest, but not uncomfortably so and it ties in the back so it looks extra flattering on me, and best part: the dress has pockets! And the price was way lower than what I’d find it for on eBay. It shall be mine! And I bought it. I need to do a photoshoot in it sometime.

After we finished shopping, we went to Rough Trade to queue up for Dave Davies, like the fangirls we are. Nallie and I were second and third in the queue. We eagerly waited for over an hour. Suddenly Dave walked by and we screamed and were like omg. And it wasn’t long until the doors opened. Because we got there super early, our punctuality paid off and we got front row seats to the Q&A. Dream come true for me being in the same room as one of my idols and being in the front row. Now I made it a point to dress in an outfit that looks like something Dave wore in the 60s, albeit femmed up – I would have worn trousers but it was too hot for that. The sunglasses are ones just like the ones he wore in the 60s – pre-dating Kurt Cobain by a few decades.

*Correction: the outfit was more 1967, but I was so excited that I got it wrong by one year.

Here’s Dave in the 60s – rate my cosplay!

Anyway, I’m sure Dave noticed my outfit and Nallie’s vintage dress because we were right in the front row and he kept looking at us. During the interview he talked about growing up in post WWII Muswell Hill, his influences, and of course the stroke. He suffered a stroke in 2004 and made a miraculous recovery thanks to the power of art and music. Like Donovan Leitch – who is a polio survivor, Dave has an incredibly inspiring story. Both of them beat the odds, are alive to tell the story, and are an important part of classic rock history.

What was really nice about this book signing compared to the Pete Townshend one was that the Q&A was opened up to the audience at the end. I am someone who has really bad anxiety. I can’t even order a meal at a restaurant without rehearsing it in my head 500 times. I can’t even make a phone call without writing a script. I was sober at the book signing, but somehow I had courage to raise my hand and Dave pointed at me and referred to me as the young lady in the front. The person before me was from The Kinks fan club and shared her story about how when she was a kid in the 70s she met Ray and Dave (omg lucky) and she wasn’t a Kinks fan at the time, but later became a fan and she always wanted to tell Ray and Dave that. Without much thought or practice of what I wanted to say, I just told him why I look up to him. I didn’t record it because of my anxiety and how spur or the moment it was, but I said: As a millennial classic rock fan, I wasn’t lucky enough to see the band back in the day, but I look up to you a lot. I think you’re the most stylish man in rock and roll and you inspire my dress sense and you and the music The Kinks made helped me love and accept myself as a bisexual. I can’t exactly remember what Dave said but I think he was smiling and was like there you are or something like that. I totally felt like a fool, but at least I wasn’t the guy who called Dave “Ray” (same energy as this TOTP moment). Come on! Ray’s the one with the gap tooth. Dave was like I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. I think what would have made the audience Q&A better is if they had a microphone to pass around the audience. I was at a conference once and they had one that was inside a plush cube and the staff threw it around the room. Still, I’m glad I said what I did to my idol and a Kinks fan on Instagram said that she thought Dave liked what I said and that what I said was so wholesome.

Anyway at the end, people applauded, Dave smiled, and gave thumbs up to people around the room and he gave me a thumbs up. Wow! Starstruck! After that, we queued up through the conveyor belt and got our books signed. After that I had a drink and it was back to their airport. We made it on the last train out of London just five seconds before the door closed – talk about Cinderella! Pro-tip: one does not simply try to sleep at Stansted airport. Bad decision. It’s like sleeping at a bus station.

Here’s some photos from the event:

Thoughts on the event and how it was organised:

I think of myself as an honest person who will tell it like it is. Just because I love a musician or band doesn’t mean I’ll say everything is perfect. I’m no ass kisser! Granted, COVID has changed a lot of things and to be quite honest, we’re lucky that classic rockers (and musicians generally speaking) are making appearances and playing concerts while there’s a pandemic. Some of them like Sparks, made it very clear that the meet and greet is dead, can’t play a concert if you’re ill and to be fair to everyone, no meet and greets. Sure, the rock stars are probably all vaccinated/boosted, but they’re still high risk due to age and medical conditions. Classic rockers owe us nothing. They could easily hide away and spend time with their loved ones, and they’re totally entitled to do so. I’m not complaining, just giving feedback on how to better organise events. Granted, that’s not my specialty, but I have a communications degree and who knows who’s reading this? Maybe someone who organises these types of events will be like hey that person makes a good point and listen to my feedback.

Good communication is key to well-run events (and life in general). Don’t take for granted that people should know X or Y. Better to be clear and state the obvious than leave people confused. To be quite honest, the organisers of the event should have done a better job at communicating. I can’t say this was the most organised event I’ve been to. No hate, just being honest. The event started about 30 minutes late and there was no communication about when people can expect it to start – I get that shit happens but be prepared and communicate. I think the event started/ended too late (it ended at like 10 PM) and I wish it was an afternoon thing or early evening thing. The rules should have been clear from the get go and it’s something that could have easily been posted when buying tickets to the event and part of the conditions when you buy a ticket. It’s simple and if people don’t like the rules they can choose not to go. I know that every signing is different – like when I met Temples in Chicago, it was a lot more chill and you could get a photo and multiple items signed if you’d like, and none had to be bought at the store (granted, they’re an indie band rather than an A-lister or someone who was an A-lister in their heyday) – but that’s why you make the rules clear even if you think it’s obvious. Something like this would have made things easier on their end: “1. Only books given to you at the event will be signed – nothing else – autographs will not be personalised due to time constraints, 2. No handshakes/high fives/fist bumps for everyone’s safety, 3. No photos with the musician, 4. No bringing gifts for the musician”. Better to state everything outright so people know what to expect than have people complain and be disappointed.

At the book signing I saw people clearly taking the piss and bringing stacks of records to sign (I got the vibe that some of these people were autograph hounds/eBay flippers and not true fans). I mean you’ve never heard of “puff puff pass”? You’re not the only person there. What I did like better about the book signing Pete Townshend did was that you could buy multiple (I think it was up to 5) copies of the book and have them signed – so that’s great for people who have friends who couldn’t make it (or if you want to sell them on eBay, I suppose – it’s a free country). When I went to Pete Townshend’s book signing a decade ago, the rules were crystal clear when I bought the book at Chapters and got my wristband (the wristbands each had a group number so the queue was not a free-for-all), and they made sure to repeat the rules as people queued up. There was an organised queue to get the book signed and the shop was not understaffed. That’s an example of a well-organised event.

Rough Trade have been doing events like this for a hot minute, this is hardly their first time doing this so I was expecting better organisation and communication, and for the place to not be understaffed – I definitely think the fact it was a bit understaffed added to the disorganisation. Also I don’t know why it was so dark in the record store, that probably made the event a bit less organised and more confusing.

If I were the one organising this, I would have done it this way: each person gets a choice between getting the book given to them or one small item (a record, CD, shirt, concert ticket, magazine, photograph, or fan art) they bring of their choice signed – one per person – and there could be a designated worker taking photos and you hand them your phone and they take a picture of you getting your book/record signed. As for the former, it makes no difference what item is signed. The musician is still signing the same number of items. I think these rules are fair, reasonable, and would make people happy. Just my two cents though!

Stay tuned for the next blog post where I review Living On A Thin Line!

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