The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society
Photographers: John Prosser and Barrie Wentzell
England in 1968 was seemingly on the brink of full-scale social and economic breakdown, what with students sitting in at The University of East Anglia, the pound lurching from disaster to disaster and the tenet of peace and love being on the wane. So what do you do? Ray Davies did the only sensible thing and cloaked The Kinks’ new recording project in a nostalgia so thick you could brush your teeth with it.
A purposeful (and some may say foolhardy) rejection of current trends, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society started life as a possible Ray Davies solo project, but the Kinks hit machine demanded feeding, so the protagonists disappeared into Pye Studio 2 and out came Ray’s imaginary world of “lost friends, draught beer, motorbike riders, wicked witches and flying cats.”
Naturally, the Pye Records art department then went into overdrive, creating a suitably Victoriana spectacular of olde-worlde sepia whimsy, right? Wrong. Well, they had sort of already done that on the previous year’s Something Else; maybe that’s why Village Green ended up with a plainer, more contemporary look? Lovely as the photographs in the artwork are (and they are lovely), they are not particularly representative of the music within.
An early 12-track version of the album was produced with a black and white cover; it is uncertain why this was rejected with the album being expanded to its final 15 tracks.
Both John Prosser and Barrie Wentzell are listed as photographers on the album, although it is unclear who took which of the final pictures. John Prosser was the Pye in-house photographer and also shot covers for The New Chartbusters and Woody Kern; before that his pictures from Yoko Ono’s London exhibition were featured in the first issue of International Times and other of his photographs from ’66 show the contemporary London art scene and the underground movement.
Barrie Wentzell, however, worked for Melody Maker and appears to have been more your man-about-town style of photographer, with subjects including Diana Ross, Jimi Hendrix and the Stones. Wentzell photographed The Kinks a few times, with sessions usually starting in the pub, but on the occasion of August 16, ’68, they started off with tea at Kenwood House before a stroll in the long grass on Hampstead Heath. Interviewed in 2011, Wentzell explains that he didn’t know the session was for an album cover, didn’t get paid and only realised they had used his photo on the back cover when he bought his own copy! In retrospect, he says that “That area of Highgate, Hampstead Heath, looked like… well it was a big village green so it was perfect for that album.”
A very easy-going attitude generally seems to have pervaded that day on the Heath. The band members strolled there wearing whatever they happened to be wearing that day and outtakes see them larking about quite happily in the grass. The final cover image is a fairly tight crop (an even tighter crop of this same photo is used on the inside gatefold, flipped) of them all posing in a line, overlaid with a “ring of light”, which has had me puzzled for months – what exactly is this? The inside of a glass? The gatefold image has also been overlaid with another image, of a military painting? A Knight medal – presumably the George Cross – can be seen between Dave and Mick’s heads, and the overall effect is somewhat hazy.
The back cover is more representative of the feel of the album, being a photo of four tiny Kinks lost in a sea of heathland, and with the Village Green manifesto featured prominently, thus tying the themes of the songs neatly together.
The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society was finally released on November 22, after the initial tracklisting had been changed and Ray’s wish for a double album had been rejected by Pye, by which time the label (and to some extent, the public) had lost interest in both The Kinks and their latest offering. Maybe Pye had spent their whole 1968 budget on Donovan’s very expensive A Gift From A Flower To A Garden box? Released on the same day as The White Album and a contemporary of both Electric Ladyland and Beggars Banquet, and set against the new harder-edged sound, Village Green came across as almost provocatively twee and alas did not bother the hit parade.
The retrospectively eulogistic photo session for the album cover has spawned many outtakes (subsequently appearing on single picture sleeves) and bookends the original line-up of the band, documenting, as Ray says in X-Ray, the end of the band.
However, the resulting artwork suffers somewhat from Pye’s inattention to the project and does not adequately capture the dark desperation at the heart of the album, the uncertainties beneath the nostalgic jollity. Still banned from performing in America, with Ray’s publishing court case continuing and frail state of mind, as well as Pete Quaife leaving, The Kinks had to pick up the pieces and stumble into 1969. What more can we do?
An extract from this was published in Shindig! Magazine #40.