Monday, 20 December 2010
RAY DAVIES at the ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL
Ray Davies, we are told, can be a cantankerous, contrary old sod so it’s best to approach these things with an open mind. With little idea what to expect beyond the Crouch End Festival Choir are involved I wondered whether Ray might “treat” us to a bunch of Christmas hymns or plug his new duets album by dragging out special guests to massacre “Lola”. I wasn’t expecting two sets crammed with classics performed acoustically, with a small band, and finally with a massive choir (well, I predicted that last part).
He started the first set accompanied by Bill Shanly and they transformed the vast hall into a warm informal get-together in a pub back room. Early Kinks punker “I Need You” was given a thoughtful new arrangement with neat interplay between the two guitarists, whilst more familiar big hits were casually tossed off with Ray in a chatty mood and keen to get the crowd singing along. With his music hall grounding and it being pantomime season I’ll let it pass but I’m never keen on audience participation. It makes me cringe. I want to hear you sing Ray, not these people looking like they’re sat in front of the telly. Do I ask you to come and polish my lathe?
One chap from the back bellowed for “Harry Rag” and was rewarded with a quick off-the-cuff version. If I could've picked one wild-card number to hear it would've been that, so thanks to them both. Another lesser-spotter Kinks moment came with a lovely folksy “Nothin’ In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ About My Baby”. His small band emerged (they weren’t dwarves) during “Where Have All The Good Times Gone?” and kept things nice and simple before going into the interval with a thumping “20th Century Man”. Ray spent much of the time sat on a stall as his sparrow legs are so skinny they can’t support the weight when a guitar is hung around his neck.
That set had started with a song I didn’t recognize but was then - to the best of my memory - followed by I Need You, Apeman, Autumn Almanac, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, After The Fall, Nothin’ In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ About That Girl, Well Respected Man, Dead End Street, Where Have All The Good Times Gone?, Vietnam Cowboys, Harry Rag, In A Moment, Tired Of Waiting, a bit of Victoria and the opening passage from X-Ray, and 20th Century Man.
When asked recently about a Kinks reunion Dave Davies said “I think the music is so beautiful it shouldn’t be tainted. It would be a shame. You don’t need to see silly old men in wheelchairs singing ‘You Really Got Me.’” An admirable stance but I wonder what he would’ve made of said song performed by brother Ray and a 50 strong choir during the second set. It was bizarre to see rows of well-to-do ladies and gents putting down their knitting and pipes to sing one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most primitive, guttural blasts from a music sheet. Not how I’d choose my music yet it gave an added dimension and though visually odd and sometimes distracting it was undoubtably effective on “See My Friends” and the selection from Village Green Preservation Society. If I wanted to hear them as per the records I could've stayed at home. There can be a fine line between adapting songs and ruining them but they were always on the right side.
As the dirty old river rolled in front of the Royal Festival Hall and millions of people swarmed like flies around Waterloo underground to the rear, “Waterloo Sunset” was especially emotive and although Ray didn’t mention it I couldn’t have been the only one to think then of Pete Quaife. Rest his soul.
So there you have it. No Santa hats, no Paloma Faith, just a thoroughly enjoyable selection of songs with glorious Kinks numbers easily rubbing shoulders with newer material. In a weekend when Davies wasn’t the only national treasure to perform in London (Paul who?), he was the only one who could top that earlier set with Celluloid Heroes, Victoria, Shangri-La, Imaginary Man, Village Green, Johnny Thunder, Village Green Preservation Society, Working Man’s Café, Sunny Afternoon, See My Friends, You Really Got Me, Postcards From London, Waterloo Sunset, Days, and All Day and All of the Night.