The Kinks' comeback, and what's prompting vintage bands to reunite in the studio or on stage

Lakshmi Govindrajan Javeri

June 27, 2018 18:06:36 IST

Twenty-five years since their last album, one of Britain’s most influential rock bands The Kinks, have announced that they’re back in the studio. The band, known for hits such as 'You Really Got Me', 'This Time Tomorrow' (used famously in Wes Anderson’s Darjeeling Limited soundtrack), 'Waterloo Sunset', 'Lola' among others, confirmed the news in typical Kinks-y style, during a television interview with frontman-keyboardist Ray Davies on 26 June. Davies clarified that the band is officially reuniting, “We’ve been talking about it because I’ve got all these songs that I wrote, then the band — not broke up, we parted company — and I think it’s kind of an appropriate time to do it.”

This follows closely on the heels of the announcement that English-American rock band Foreigner will return for its first ever ticketed reunion concert in August 2018. British-American rock band Fleetwood Mac are set to begin touring in October this year, in what is rumoured to be their farewell tour. Ritchie Blackmore-led Rainbow, the British rock supergroup with the late Ronnie James Dio, has been playing a few shows every year in the recent past. This year — for the first time in two decades — the band has released a new single. Similarly, Swedish sensation and disco era pioneers ABBA released two new singles in April 2018 — after 35 years — as part of a new hologram project to be aired on television later this year. This hologrammic avatar of the band (nicknamed Abbatar) is said to be going on an expensive tour next year.

What makes bands that are way past their prime, come together to produce new work or go on the road with former bandmates with whom they’ve had contentious history? Is it nostalgia, the economics of today’s live music business or creative urges that push vintage rockers back to a gruelling schedule?

It is rumoured that Slash’s very expensive divorce was one of the compelling reasons behind his reunion with former Guns N’ Roses bandmate Axl Rose. The band featuring the classic lineup of Duff McKagan, Axl, and Slash along with new members has been on the appropriately titled Not In This Lifetime… Tour since 2016. Putting decades of differences aside, the band’s reunion has grossed over $480 million till date.

They’re not the only band to overcome tumultuous infighting to collaborate creatively. The Kinks have influenced the likes of The Ramones, The Clash, Van Halen, Pete Townshend (The Who), Brian May (Queen) and even The Beatles. A vital part of the British Invasion of the '60s, the band was crucial in creating new sounds, remaining doggedly British while others were turning to American styles and leaving behind an understated legacy for generations of bands to come. The Kinks gave their final performance in 1996, with Phobia, their last studio album, releasing in 1993. Founding members Dave Davies and Mick Avory’s differences and subsequent violence on stage, had a big role to play in the band being banned in the US while being in the midst of the British Invasion. When Ray Davies confirmed the reunion in the television interview earlier this week, Avory appeared to telephone him on air and give the reunion his approval. Davies was quick to say, “The Kinks are getting back together…in the pub at least,” adding that in characteristic The Kinks manner, the reunion wouldn’t be a well-organised slick one like the Rolling Stones.

(Clockwise from top left) The Kinks, Foreigner, ABBA. Images via Facebook

(Clockwise from top left) The Kinks, Foreigner, ABBA. Images via Facebook

Says Oranjuice Entertainment’s Owen Roncon, whose company organises the Mahindra Blues Festival in Mumbai, “A lot of these musicians took a break when making music was not the same thing as making money. Today there’s a great deal of money in the live music business. Driven by their urge to satiate their creativity, the understanding that nostalgia can be very good for business and the various avenues for making revenue through music today, has inspired a lot of very rock heavyweights to rethink their hiatus.”

Creative differences, one would imagine after being together for decades, would be easier to navigate. It didn’t stop Fleetwood Mac from sacking Lindsey Buckingham and hiring Mike Campbell and Neil Finn in place of her. It’ll be the first time the band will be performing without Lindsey; the lineup will feature Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Mike Campbell and Neil Finn. Stevie Nicks, in an interview with Rolling Stone earlier this year, said, “We’re gonna lock in to the history of Fleetwood Mac, which we were never able to do since 1975, because certain people in the band weren’t really interested in doing that. The fact is there are so many great songs and we have an amazing catalogue of songs, some that we’ve never done. Or songs that we’ve done once or twice in the five million tours we've done since 1975.”

For a while now, Foreigner have been celebrating 40 years of rock by touring the world (they came to India in February 2011), with guitarist Mick Jones, the only original member currently in the lineup and sporadic surprise appearances by former members. The August 2018 concert will see Jones and vocalist Kelly Hansen joined by the current Foreigner lineup as well as original members singer Lou Gramm, guitarist/saxophonist Ian McDonald, bassist Rick Wills, drummer Dennis Elliott, and keyboardist Al Greenwood.

Not everyone believes that nostalgia is enough of a reason to get back in the studio or on stage. In January 2018, Talking Heads’ David Byrne announced his first solo album in 14 years. American Utopia was released in March and was followed by a tour that showcased songs from the album alongside highlights from his Talking Heads and solo career to date. Byrne wears many hats – singer, songwriter, actor, and writer. He is widely respected for pushing the boundaries of music, marrying diverse styles and constantly evolving as a live performer. In a recent interview about the possibility of reuniting the band, he said, “With someone like the Pixies, it’s different – they’re getting the audience now that they deserved ages ago. But with a lot of them, it just seems like you don’t have anything new to say, and you go, ‘Okay, this is just some kind of nostalgia exercise.’ And I’m not interested in that.”

Roncon explains that while concert organisers know what a draw the old classics would be in terms of footfall and subsequent revenue, record labels always hope that the artist has new material to put out. “When an artist puts out new music, he soon starts to tour with the material to promote it. On tour, it becomes vital to play a mix of old and new material. So getting into the studio is an important step towards taking the music on tour. In this age of digital music streaming services, you’d think there are more avenues to rake in the money. Well-produced live shows, even the hologram ones, are very critical to the artist making money.”

Money has not been reason enough for a band like Led Zeppelin. They will be celebrating 50 years of the band’s formation in 2018, although they have been clear about not reuniting since the death of drummer John Bonham — barring the one tribute gig they got together for in 2007. While a reunion concert or new material seems quite unlikely, word has it that a series of gigs featuring other artists playing Zeppelin songs, is being planned by band members Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. The band’s reunion headlining Glastonbury 2019 is a London bookies' favourite today. Though musicians may have different reasons to reunite in the studio or on stage, fans can only hope their musical heroes share their nostalgia while making business decisions.

Updated Date: Jun 27, 2018 18:16 PM