Songplaces

Berkeley Mews, London

Berkeley Mews by The Kinks

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I thought you were an intellect
Now that I reflect, you left me reelin'
You made me drink a toast
And when you finished,
I was lookin' at the ceilin'
The Grazing Goat Hotel, sandwiched between Berkeley Mews and New Quebec Street
As a tiny street in central London, Berkeley Mews is about as difficult to track down as the song “Berkeley Mews” by The Kinks. This elusive song does not even entirely belong to the album it now appears on in later printings, The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society, and did not appear on the original printing of the album when it was released in late 1968. On some reprints it appears on the album, on others it appears on the bonus tracks, and in some it does not appear at all. It’s a tricky little song that never really found a place to belong.

By way of analogy, let’s consider this album (The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society) to be comparable with the famous Hyde Park, near which Berkeley Mews is corporally located. In this case, “Berkeley Mews” is given the same significance as a song in relation to the famous album (#255 on the Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list), as the actual street is leant by its relation to the famous park. To continue the analogy, imagine the following hypothetical scenario between Kinks songwriter Ray Davies, and his lead singer, guitarist, and brother Dave Davies.

“Where did you meet that girl again?” Dave asks.

“Oh, Berkeley Mews,” Ray answers (looking sad, because, as he says in the song, “The flood of tears I’ve wept thinking of you, remind me of that night in Berkeley Mews”).

“Where?” Dave asks, confused.

“Berkeley Mews, you know…? The, well, it’s a mews - that’s sort of like a street. Used to be stables before they converted it into houses, y’know?”

“No, I’ve never heard of it.”

“Oh, well it’s near Hyde Park.”

“Oh! Near Hyde Park. Well I know where that is.”

But Dave still doesn’t really know where or what Berkeley Mews is, and he might never find it. If he was really determined to find it, he might track it down if he looked really hard, and had GoogleMaps. Perhaps I’ve over-stretched this analogy, so I’ll move along.

Unlike the actual Berkeley Mews, “Berkeley Mews” is quite a surprising little song (although calling a Kink’s song “little” may be a moot point, a Kinks song rarely runs over a two and a half minutes. Ray Davies’ great and frequent moments of inspiration were eloquently compact). It is a song with great stylistic variation, from a honky-tonk piano introduction leading straight into a typical rock & roll backbeat for a couple of verses, from there back into a vaudevillian refrain, and finishing with a sultry blues traditional stock-ending. If only the actual street was as varied and interesting. I’m not sure how different it was in 1968, but in 2013, it’s pretty dismal. It’s a narrow back alley, perhaps a hundred meters long, hemmed in by tall grey buildings on either side, almost all of which face away from the poor alley, leaving only their insulting back entrances accessible from Berkeley Mews itself. By day, supply lorries make their deliveries, and at night Berkeley Mews would not be the sort of place one would feel inclined to linger.

In light of this, there are some discrepancies in Ray Davies’ lyrics. For example, “The leaves of brown came falling through the view, in Berkeley Mews I first met you.” Unfortunately, and un-ecologically I might add, Berkeley Mews is, sadly, treeless. It’s all concrete and puddles of oily rainwater from end to end. “I staggered through your chilly dining room, in Berkeley Mews I first met you” is another confusing lyric, because there aren’t any houses on Berkeley Mews. However, in the adjoining Seymour Street, there are some lovely detached four-storey apartment blocks. But they are about as related to Berkeley Mews as Hyde Park is; close, but no cigar.

Only two rational options are left to us. One, we can accept Berkeley Mews as a simple rhyming device used by an excellent wordsmith. Two, we can imagine the following situation:
“What?” asks Dave. “You met this girl in Berkeley Mews.”
“Oh, yeah.” Ray answers, still writing the song down on a napkin with a pencil. “Oh, no. Wait,” he stops writing. “Hold on, it wasn’t in Berkeley Mews. It was near Berkeley Mews.”
“Right you are, then,” Dave nods with a wink. He is noticeably relieved, he knew there was something funny going on but couldn’t put his finger on it.
Ray looks perplexed. “But I’ve almost written the whole song,” he says forlornly. “Shall I rewrite it?”
“Naah, leave it in, mate. Nobody knows where or what Berkeley Mews is anyway, they’ll never tell the difference.”
~ Douglas MacCutcheon

(Thanks to Dappled for the Songplace suggestion)

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