The Kinks – ‘Lazy Old Sun'
Tony Ray Jones – ‘Beachy Head Tripper Boat'
At what point in life does one start to form memories that stick? I have heard people say that they remember things from when they were two years old. These people may be tricking themselves, or they may not. All I can say is that I have no recollection of being two years old. Occasionally I will think it possible but quickly realise that this is simply me animating frozen images in my mother’s photograph albums. I am ambivalent about whether these imagined memories count.
I know for a fact that I did not travel to Beachy Head when I was two (indeed to the best of my knowledge I did not go there until the summer of 2014) yet there is something in this Tony Ray Jones’ photograph that fills me with a delicious melancholic ache. One might argue that all photographs capture fleeting moments, yet this is clearly untrue. Some photographs capture nothing. Some capture everything. These things are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
I think Tony Ray Jones’ photographs capture everything they need to. His images of late 1960s England are enormously evocative both as historical documents and artful observations. They are eloquent compositions that anticipate in many ways Martin Parr’s work some thirty years later, so perhaps it is hardly surprising that Parr selected from them for the ‘Only England’ exhibition in recent years.
In honesty I could simply state that Ray-Jones’ entire body of work from 1967 is my choice for this series entry, yet there is something in his 'Beach Head Tripper Boat’ shot that brings me back to it, time and again, more so than with any of his other images. At times I wonder if part of this appeal is the rather flatness of the shot. There is depth, but not a significant amount. The chap smoking his cigarette and what one assumes is the captain of the boat are one step behind the central focus, with the be-spectacled lady and the obscured gent one step further back. Beyond that is simply the flatness of sea and sky. And that flatness is something that, over time, I have come to realise I rather look for in art. I have no real interest in illusions of depth on two-dimensional planes. Flatness is appealing, surface seductive.
Of course the central figures are beguiling. And, if you will forbid the dreadful pun, they anchor the image. One wonders, of course, what became of them. Lovers for life? A holiday romance? I’m not at all sure it really matters, for the picture manages to make them vitally important and irrelevant in the same breath. For they are every kiss you missed, every embrace that eluded you. They are that girl in the pink dress on the ferry to Tiree when you were 10; they are the boy in the blue shirt on the swings in the park when you were 8.
It is not an intention in this series that each artwork and song should compliment each other in some way, but I rather doubt that any will do so as well as the way in which this photograph nestles up to The Kinks’ 'Lazy Old Sun’. Ray-Jones as the Ray Davies of photography? More preposterous parallels will have been drawn, and I’m sure Ray-Jones himself might have recoiled at the very thought of a connection to Pop culture. If one were being unkind one might even imagine him crying out ‘Judas!’ at the previously mentioned Dylan show. But it’s my party so…
Now it is no secret that The Kinks are one of my favourite recording artists and Ray Davies one of my very favourite song writers. This has been catalogued elsewhere, usually inside words ostensibly about another artist or topic entirely, where a connection to The Kinks just seemed to be so obviously appropriate. Most notably I recall once saying or writing something about there being a shared sense of theme within the songs of Davies and the much-missed Nick Talbot, which led I believe, in part, to Gravenhurst recording that sublime version of ’See My Friends’. Now there are many cover versions of Kinks’ songs that I adore, but that one, for a host of reasons, is one that can make me break down and cry.
What has also been catalogued, I am sure, in various nods and winks, is that my own Kinky adventures surely began after reading Kevin Pearce’s sublime short article in his The Same Sky fanzine at the tail end of the 1980s. My perception of The Kinks was realigned on reading those words, in which, in short, an imagined conversation about starting one’s record collection from scratch would most assuredly involve the purchase of the mighty trilogy of records from 1966’s ‘Face To Face’ to 1968’s ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ by way of 1967’s ‘Something Else’. Three utterly essential LPs in the three years. Plus singles. Astonishing.
My suspicion is that for many people those 1960s records of The Kinks are the start and end point of their journey of exploration, and I admit that it took me some years to fully explore the records of the 1970s and 1980s, certainly post-‘Loa versus Powerman’. When I did they were a revelation, although that is certainly an exaggeration because why should it have been even the mildest of surprises? Choosing a song from The Kinks to illustrate pretty much any year in the 1970s or 1980s would therefore have been no particular challenge at all aside from picking the albums apart to choose just one cut.
In the end though I do inevitably find myself coming back to that ‘60s trilogy. Is it because of familiarity? Is it because these were my first real Kinky encounters during what were, for me, my most impressionable years? (I did not really do 'impressionable youth' – it was more impressionable early adulthood. But that’s another story for another time with another analyst ). Who knows. Who cares. Certainly not you and I do not blame you for that.
Which brings me finally, in this circuitous way (you might even say tortuous, and I would not blame you for that either), to ‘Lazy Old Sun’ from the sublime ’Something Else’ set. From opener ‘David Watts’ to the closing ‘Waterloo Sunset’ it never fails to impress. ‘Lazy Old Sun’ is as sensational as any other track, as onomatopoeic a song as you could wish for. The woozy softly psychedelic glimpse of sunlight glimpsed through vapour trails and barely-there clouds. Squinted and skewered with gin-soaked regrets. Shena Mackay and pink lemonade.
‘Lazy Old Sun’ is languid yet simultaneously wired and anxious. Melancholic resignations melt seamlessly into the blissful release of angelic choirs. Halos on black holes. Wings on a prayer and Sartre on your shoulder. Like Tony-Ray Jones’ photograph it holds both promise and regret in the palm of it’s hand; says everything it needs to say and then leaves us.