A sunny summer evening in Hyde Park watching Ray Davies play a free gig and treat thousands of Londoners to 90 minutes of The Kinks’ greatest hits. As Friday nights go, it takes some beating.
I wouldn’t wish appendicitis on anyone, not even Elton John, but that was the circumstance which forced Sir Elton to cancel his headline appearance here and turned this gig into a massive free event with tickets available on a first-come basis.
Elvis Costello did an enjoyable turn playing a hit-friendly festival style set including a cover of “Purple Rain” which raised a few eyebrows but it was Ray who made the headline slot his own. Unlike some recent occasions there was no vocal choir, just a straight forward no frills basic rock and roll band behind him. Think of a big Kinks song from the 60s and he probably played it, only occasionally dipping out of that decade for the lovely “Celluloid Heroes”, “20th Century Man”, the jaunty “Come Dancing” and, I’m reliably informed, something from Sleepwalker.
I’m no fan of huge open air gigs but this had a nice relaxed village green atmosphere about it (decent and plentiful toilets, no long queues for beers, easy to wander reasonably near the stage, okay sound, lack of idiots) and despite my general aversion to audience participation hearing thousands sing along to “Sunny Afternoon” as the sun began to set was actually a heart-warming moment.
Ray’s voice is that of a 69 year old man but his vocals have never been the key to his songs so when he alternates verses in “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” between camp North London accent and his tribute to Johnny Cash it matters little, the song remains. Looking at the hugely diverse audience it became apparent how much these songs are woven into the fabric of our culture. I don’t mean our culture, but the general one of the country. Everyone knows these songs, penned by the gent with the oversized shirt collection and crooked teeth; some have taken on a personal meaning to many and the way he sung the opening verses to "Days" brought a lump to my throat.
The night ended with the air filled with the sound of everyone chanting the name of a hulking, champagne quaffing, Soho transvestite. Ray Davies, in London, in the summertime, telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty. God save the Village Green.