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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
 
RAY DAVIES AND HIS BAND
Shepherds Bush Empire, London, February 11th 2006
Not that he knows it, but Ray Davies and I go back to the late winter of 1965. He was playing in a band called the Kinks, and I was in the audience at a recording of a famous British TV music show, Thank Your Lucky Stars, watching them perform ‘Till the end of the day’. My Mum and Dad were less than impressed by this gang of leather-jacketed leering louts, preferring instead the vocal charms of their favourite valley-boy Tom Jones, singing ‘Thunderball’. We met Tom afterwards – he’d returned to the studio rather than run the gauntlet of over-excited knicker throwing Brummies (no Mum, I don’t mean you), but I never saw Ray again ‘till the other night. We’re both a bit older – but I have to say that Ray exudes a youthful charm and enthusiasm for what he’s doing, even if his songs reflect a somewhat world-weary melancholy. And given the way he jumps, writhes and dances round the stage you would never think he was only recently seriously ill having been shot in the leg in New Orleans.
He says he’s delighted to be here, this most vaudevillian of performers on one of London’s last remaining great music-hall stages, and the almost permanent grin on that long Joker meets Robert de Niro face suggests he’s telling the truth.

Gordon Brown
It seems to be an odd coincidence, sitting here, sipping at over-iced cool beer, and listening to Davies singing tales of drunkenness and cruelty, so soon after our evening with Billy Bragg. For here are two songwriters apparently obsessed with national identity, Englishness, Britishness, or whatever. But while Bragg’s world is a romantic fairytale of make believe gardeners growing vegetables together in the cause of solidarity, Davies sings of a world we seem to have lost, but can somehow all fondly remember – village greens, dance halls, tea and cakes, football matches, Blackpool Beach and steam trains. Oddly I can’t help thinking that British Chancellor and Prime Minister to be, Gordon Brown, famous socialist thinker and decent historian that he is, the latest politician to urge that we all fly the Union Jack in our gardens, would somehow prefer Davies’s world to Bragg’s. But I didn’t see him in the audience. What I did see was a hugely diverse audience – from granny (90 plus I reckoned) to grandchild – all having a whale of a time.
I can’t quite remember when the singing started. Probably not during ‘I’m not like everybody else’, the pointed starter to the evening. But Ray had certainly got his choir in action by song number two, ‘Where have all the good times gone’, and called upon it at will throughout the evening. Actually I don’t think he could stop it, and although I don’t know where they came from, it was just like we all had the words inside us somewhere, just waiting to come out. I’ve never heard such a joyous racket in the Bush. Why I’m sure we were singing ‘Dead end street’ so loud that even the bloke selling the Big Issue outside could hear us.
It was a great set – a bit of a teaser really. Very old songs at the start, then recent, like ‘London song’, “which has got a new meaning since what happened last July”. ‘Twentieth century man’, the pretty ‘Oklahoma USA’ (written, Ray told us in one of his many digressions, about his sister’s love affair with the cinema, which in turn was the start of his love affair with the United States), a selection from Village Green Preservation Society – “the most unsuccessful album of all time” said Davies, but now of course regarded as his Kinks masterpiece – an impromptu snatch from Harry Rag (Serge – it’s Cockney rhyming slang) and ‘Sunny Afternoon’ (more raucous singing). Then the difficult bit – the new songs – the reason for the gig – the new songs from Ray Davies’s new album, astonishingly his first official solo offering, Other people’s lives. It’s the part when we’re supposed to shuffle our feet, look at our shoes in embarrassment, nip out to the bar or the gents, and generally hope that it finishes soon, very soon.
But not tonight. We get five cracking tunes – ‘Next door neighbour’ (“about the people I grew up with”) ‘Creatures of little faith’ (“people in relationships never trust each other”), ‘After the fall’, ‘The tourist’ (with pleasing musical references to ‘See my friends’) and ‘Stand up comic’ – the latter not being sung by Davies, but by his alter ego, who according to an interview I read somewhere is called Max, and from what I could see is obviously something of a troublesome yet loveable, rough diamond, cockney ‘Jack the lad’. These are all powerful songs, addressing themes often found in Davies’s work, but with, it seemed to me, a slightly harder, perhaps more jaded edge.
That was certainly true of ‘Tourist’, a very cynical appraisal of Brits (and perhaps everyone) abroad. I kicked myself that I didn’t buy a copy of this new album from the merchandise store – it’s not released yet – but when it is I urge you to give it a listen. You can download ‘Tourist’ now from a number of sites.
And then it’s back to the hits – ‘Long way from home’ ‘Tired of waiting for you’, ‘Set me free’ and ‘Days’. Davies told us how record companies hated the Kinks rasping guitar sound – Dave Davies playing through a very small amplifier and speaker – “sounds like a barking dog” said one – and to demonstrate he then barked the introduction to ‘All day and all of the night’ – “woof woof, woof woof, woof woof woof woof” – go on, try it ! The first encore is ‘You really got me’ with a nice slow introduction while Davies told the story of how the song was written (“we thought we were an R&B band” he laughed) and the timeless ‘Waterloo sunset’, followed by a final encore of ‘Lola’. Davies is happy and relaxed – he even has time to say some nice things about recently ill brother Dave with whom he has famously feuded over the years. He talks to his audience like an old friend, and as you would expect is candid and honest. He’s also passionate about his work, new and old. “I’m proud of these songs” he tells us, “that’s why I play them, because I like them”. Quite right too. It’s hard to think of Punk Rock or Brit Pop without Ray Davies, and it’s absolutely clear that unlike almost everybody else from his era, he hasn’t finished yet. - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)

Max, Ray Davies' alter ego



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