If ever there were a band perfectly placed to soundtrack the world of Curious British Telly, it would have to be The Kinks. After all, they sum up everything that Curious British Telly stands for: incredibly British with an idiosyncratic view of the world and, of course, devoted to the wonder of nostalgia.
And that's why I was absolutely thrilled to unearth a Kinks documentary in amongst the enigmatic pile of VHS tapes I recently had donated to me. It dated from December 1995 and only ever received one showing on BBC2, so it was a fortuitous recording and my eternal thanks go out to the original recorder.
I'm Not Like Everybody Else - The World of Ray Davies and The Kinks was directed by the then fledgling documentary maker Vanessa Engle; the documentary had a heavy focus on the "Godfather of British pop music" and featured interviews with members of The Kinks, the band's managers and producers. Uniquely, the documentary featured full studio versions of Kinks songs with newly recorded music videos.
It sounded like a proposition I couldn't resist, so I quickly dusted down my VHS player to discover if I'm Not Like Everybody Else was as an inimitable as the song it was based on.
With the emergence of Britpop in 1993, The Kinks legacy to British music became more and more apparent as the noueveau British pop stars spoke passionately about the influence of The Kinks. The most notable proponent was Damon Albarn (see his 1995 duet with Ray Davies), so, what with Blur's incredible popularity at the time, a whole new generation was discovering The Kinks. I'm Not Like Everybody Else, therefore, arrived at the perfect time.
The Kinks have had a long history and their story has been told countless times before and since, but, whilst there are no shocking revelations contained within I'm Not Like Everybody Else, it's still packed full of first hand accounts from the band to ensure it's not just one giant love in featuring their contemporaries. And it's a documentary which is as reflective and insightful as the band's songs.
Focusing mainly on Ray Davies and his inimitable personality, I'm Not Like Everybody Else is very much in the mould of a Ray Davies character song. Despite revealing that he doesn't really like people to know who he is, he's remarkably open about his flaws. Jokingly, he quips that he can't sing and, with a comic grandeur shot through with knowing arrogance, describes himself as having "the best arse in showbiz" which is "just something that's followed me through life".
More seriously, he goes through the painful memories of suffering a mental breakdown in the mid 60s, an experience he recounts by reading excerpts out of his wife's diary from the time. The overall impression you're left with is that he's highly contemplative, an outlook fuelled by a sense of alienation from the world around him. Certain aspects, however, are somewhat glossed over such as the sibling rivalry with his brother Dave Davies which is put down to differing personalities rather than their "toxic" relationship.
Luckily, the interviews with former band members manage to paint a vivid picture of Ray Davies the man and also ensure that a holistic history of the band is provided. Naturally, being one of the biggest selling bands from Britain, The Kinks have a rich history and their early years are well represented. However, this is at the expense of a look at their later years, but, I guess, there's only so much you can fit into an hour and a bands early years tend to contain all the headlines.
Archive footage of the band's early performances feature heavily, so we get to see the Davies' brothers quite remarkable hairdos in their full sixties glory - sadly Dave Davies haircut in 1995 was a mullet of the highest order, but I guess if anyone can get away with a mullet then it's a veteran rockstar. And, as well as the archive performances, we're also treated to full length renditions of Kinks songs. Sure, the accompanying modern videos are painfully obvious (a couple wandering round Waterloo for Waterloo Sunset), but there's very little that can detract from the timeless beauty of the songs.
We're also treated to footage of Ray Davies staring wistfully at the Thames and referring to that dirty old river as London's heartbeat, but the best is yet to come. As talk turns to The Village Green Preservation Society album, Ray's peculiar brand of Englishness is made visual with the sight of Ray and his pals playing cricket on a village green. However, it's a village green which is so incredibly English that as the glorious sun beats down on it, only the overlooking church and pub cast any shadows. Okay, it's somewhat cliche, but what a magnificently English image - can you see Mumford and Sons doing that?
I'm Not Like Everybody Else may not be the most revelatory music documentary, but this is partly down to the confines of the running time. For a band that had, at the time, formed over 30 years previously, an hour really doesn't have enough time to cram in even half of their history effectively. It's certainly in sharp contrast to The Beatles' Anthology series, but they're one of the few bands on a higher level than The Kinks, so I can't really grouse about that.
However, I'm Not Like Everybody Else provides enough wit and intrigue to mark it out as an essential artifact for anyone interested in the history of British music. And, if like me, you adore The Kinks and have made them part of your life, you'll bloody love it.
* Due to the rigours of music publishing and copyright, the documentary probably wouldn't stay up online for very long, but if you want a copy, just get in touch.