Landmark Kinks album inspires Chris Tullar’s ‘Not Arthur’

WHAT'S IN A NAME: Chris Tullar based his original concept album "Not Arthur" on the song titles from The Kinks' landmark 1969 LP "Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)." The Remantlists present a live premiere of the work at The Grey Eagle on Saturday, July 6. Image courtesy of Tullar

An acclaimed late 1960s concept album provided the inspiration for a local songwriter to conceive, record and stage a concept album all his own. Counterintuitively, Chris Tullar’s Not Arthur bears almost no similarity whatsoever to The Kinks’ 1969 Arthur LP. But that hasn’t stopped him from staging a live premiere of Not Arthur, preceded by a start-to-finish performance of Arthur. The one-night-only concert takes place Saturday, July 6, at The Grey Eagle.

Why The Kinks?

Legendary British rock band The Kinks are revered for their early classics: proto-garage rockers like “All Day and All of the Night” and “You Really Got Me.” Their hits continued into the 1970s (“Lola”) and even the ’80s (“Come Dancing”), and the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Primary songwriter Ray Davies’ lyrics often reflect a distinctly English perspective. Sometimes, even British fans didn’t quite get what Davies was trying to convey. In practical terms, that means that while the group’s seventh studio album, Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), is today held in high esteem among critics, at the time of its release it fared poorly among the record-buying public.

As originally conceived, Arthur was planned as the soundtrack for a TV special that ultimately was never completed nor aired. But Davies wrote more than a dozen songs, and the Kinks’ conceptually oriented Arthur LP arrived in shops in October 1969. One single from the 12-song record, “Victoria,” made it to No. 30 on the U.K. charts but wasn’t even released Stateside.

All of which makes Arthur quite a left-field choice for inspiration for Tullar, leader of progressive pop group Carpal Tullar. He says that the kernel of the idea came two years ago when drummer Courtney Cahill (formerly of Modern Strangers) suggested they work together on a creative project. “I’d never really collaborated before,” he says.

Timeline of a concept

But Tullar agreed, and when Cahill asked him to come up with an idea, he randomly decided to use a classic album as a kind of writing prompt. He recalls thinking, “Let’s take a concept album and just use the song titles to make a new album.” Tullar says that Cahill found a list of the greatest concept albums, including The Who’s Tommy and Quadrophenia, Pink Floyd’s The Wall and others, then simply picked one he hadn’t heard.

“In an age when people can’t even get through a song without skipping to the next one in their playlist, it’s grounding to have something that’s designed to be listened to start to finish,” Tullar says.

And for him, that aesthetic carries over to live performance as well. “I’m not all that interested in going to see bands just play a loose collection of songs; I want it to be more of an experience. I want spectacle,” he says. Those principles would guide the creation of Not Arthur.

The two enlisted guitarist Troy Crosley, Cahill’s former bandmate in Modern Strangers. Crosley brought with him experience staging live shows — he’s a primary mover in the Asheville-based Rocky Horror Music Show.

But almost as soon as writing began, Cahill bowed out. So Tullar and Crosley largely developed the project with drummer Evan Scott. Tullar completed the writing phase of Not Arthur in August 2022, and recording began in 2023. By early June of this year, the sessions were finished — almost.

“Just this morning, I added charango [an Andean stringed instrument] and accordion,” Tullar says with a chuckle. “The album is going to be mastered in a couple of weeks, and we’re still adding, still coming up with ideas.”

Not at all Arthur

Tullar confesses to only a passing familiarity with the album upon which his original concept is built. Moreover, he insisted that his collaborators avoid listening to Arthur during the creation phase. “These guys had never even heard ‘Victoria’ on the radio,” Tullar says.

Using 12 existing song titles (for example, “She’s Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina”) as the basis for an original work is an idiosyncratic approach, but it worked in the case of Not Arthur. Tullar and his writing partners crafted a narrative that’s in the rock opera tradition of fantastical and convoluted, yet entertaining. Tullar used only the song titles to create completely new songs. Neither the music nor the lyrics for Not Arthur quote from The Kinks’ album, nor do they reference The Kinks or their music in any way.

As with any conceptual work, distilling the story down to a paragraph is nearly impossible, but Tullar gives it his best shot. “Our main character, Arthur, is a disgruntled prog-rock deejay who’s been fired,” Tullar explains, noting that the character is “very loosely based” on Asheville deejay Brian Blades. “This obsessed deejay gets inducted into a Cult of the Sacred Sequence. He gets totally brainwashed by an audiotape with this perfect sequence of notes. Arthur eventually gets flown to Australia, where he’s been given a mission to play it at a festival and brainwash everybody.” Arthur has an archnemesis, Mandolina, who herself is a musician. The only way to destroy her is to make the crowd lose interest in her.

“OK, so it is convoluted,” Tullar concludes. “It should be.”

The performing lineup for the Not Arthur premiere includes members of Carpal Tullar, plus Ian Reardon and Chris Carter from Alarm Clock Conspiracy, Andrew Thelston and the Ska City horn section. As the musicians began preparing the stage show, they decided that for its debut, the performance would be music only. No libretto, no narration, no actors. “But I would really like Not Arthur to eventually get to a point where it becomes a real stage show,” Tullar says.

Not Arthur will initially be available exclusively in digital form. “It’d be nice to have a physical format, too,” Tullar muses, pausing to think on it. “I could put it on a flash drive,” he announces. “Somebody give me $5.”

With the show date looming, Tullar knew he had to come up with a name for the group that would perform Arthur and Not Arthur. “I thought about calling us The Dismantlists because we’re dismantling something that exists,” he says. “But then I thought, ‘Remantlists,’ because we’re making something else.”

WHO: The Remantlists performing The Kinks’ Arthur and debuting Not Arthur
WHERE: The Grey Eagle, 185 Clingman Ave.,
WHEN: Saturday, July 6, 8 p.m. $15


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About Bill Kopp
Author, music journalist, historian, collector, and musician. His first book, "Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon," published by Rowman & Littlefield, is available now. Follow me @the_musoscribe

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2 thoughts on “Landmark Kinks album inspires Chris Tullar’s ‘Not Arthur’

  1. Brian Blades

    Great article. I was honored to get to play a small part on this project. I hope Asheville rallies behind the
    great musical concept! Brian Blades

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