British Blues – Events – Gigs – Ray Davies

Ray Davies at the Royal Festival Hall, London, 16th May 2003

The coming of Ray Davies to the Royal Festival Hall created quite a buzz for yours truly. I would not describe myself as a dedicated follower but certainly a fan of The Kinks. Way, way back in the mists of time (Issue 4 of ‘TFTW’) we here at the ‘Tales From The Woods’ editorial board were campaigning for knighthoods for both Lonnie Donegan and Ray Davies for their contributions to contemporary British music. Sadly, Lonnie passed last year without ever receiving his. So come on Blair, how about it? You’re supposed to be a rock fan and play guitar. Sending troops to illegally occupy a foreign land clinging to the coat-tails of another country’s army is not the way we do things here, so what a great way to make amends by giving credit to a man who writes and sings, celebrating the quirkiness  (good, bad or indifferent) of our way of life. 

I wandered into the rapidly filling auditorium some fifteen minutes before show time to what would prove to be a virtually full house. Ray’s heroes’ and influences’ records were playing over the sound system; Chuck Berry, Big Bill Broonzy, interspersed with a crackling old music hall tune. At 8 o’clock, virtually to the second (British Rail time), Ray strode out on stage, acoustic guitar in hand, a roar of approval greeting him as the house lights dimmed. 

Ray sat down, straight into an acoustic and solo version of ‘Dedicated Followers Of Fashion’. ‘Autumn Almanac’ and ‘Well Respected Man’ followed in quick succession before introducing to the stage an Australian guitar picker whose name was certainly new to me, Mark Jones, who brought some very intricate patterns to the proceedings, introducing a new song ‘This Is Where I Belong’. I loved it – stock-in-trade Davies’ sense of irony, sentimental without being gushing, quirky sense of humour. 

Jonathan Richman has recently recorded a track on an album over in the States in which homage is paid, by a variety of guests, to the songwriter from Muswell Hill. From the album Ray chose a song that had been recorded by a girl jazz singer whose name I did not catch. I have no idea where in the back catalogue ‘No Return’ came from bit I thought it was bloody awful! Far too clever for its own good, lacking all the ingredients I just described in a Ray Davies song. ‘Lazy Sunday Afternoon’ brought yells of recognition before airing another new song ‘After The Fall’.  

Ray and Mark Jones plugged in, bass guitarist and drummer strode out and a huge cheer greeted the start of the electric show with the familiar sounds from The Kinks’ hit making glory days ‘Victoria’. He could have simply coasted out the first half by keeping to the well-trodden hits but chose to debut a handful of new songs. I enjoyed ‘Our Times Together’, ‘Creatures Of Little Faith’ and ‘Morning After’ but the one that did it for me was ‘Stand Up Comic’. Described by Ray as dedicated to the debasing of modern culture where everything is dragged down to the lowest possible common denominator; the stand up comic says “Bollocks” and everyone laughs; the stand up comic bends over and farts and everyone laughs. Got no disagreement from me there, folks.  

Back on familiar ground with the wonderfully catchy London working class tale ‘Dead End Street’ and then a little chat followed about how the album ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ was not a success sales-wise when first issued but years later is looked upon as a cult piece. So okay, I know I’m biased but I reckon that ‘God Bless Mrs Mop And All The Little Shops’ from the title track has got to be one of the classic lines in all British rock music history. From the said album came ‘Picture Book’, ‘Animal Farm’, ‘Big Sky’ and the touching ‘Walter’, a tale by all accounts of a boy from his schooldays, a sensitive loner who was best mates with Ray for a while, both being outsiders. Once The Kinks hit big, Ray lost touch and the song reflects what may or may not have become of Walter.  

The second half opened with yet another new song, the self explanatory ‘London’, heading out into Kinks hit territory with ‘Twentieth Century Man’, ‘Tired Of Waiting For You’ and ‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone’. A surprise certainly when original Kinks drummer Mick Avery took over the drum kit for a run through of ‘Well Respected Man’. Okay, so second time tonight but good to hear it with a band. South London born Mick, who now lives in peaceful retirement in Antigua, looked good – obviously the temperate climate works wonders (as no doubt does the money). Avery stood near the left wing waving his drumsticks above his head, receiving a standing ovation from the hard core Kinkies amongst the audience.  

Back to the very early days next for ‘Set Me Free’, ‘All Day And All Of The Night’ and of course ‘You Really Got Me’ (I am sure the soundman cranked the levels for this one – it was loud!) followed by the more sedate and lesser known ‘Old Records’. The aforementioned Jonathan Richman’s favourite Davies composition, ‘Stop Your Sobbin’, which he recorded for the Davies tribute album was heard for the first time live by yours truly from the mouth of its creator. Just a bar of intro of ‘Lola’ was required to bring the entire house to its feet virtually singing the words out of Ray’s mouth and there was no better way to celebrate ‘Waterloo Sunset’ than in a theatre on the banks of the River Thames at … errr, well… Waterloo.  

Despite being on stage for almost three hours apart from a twenty-minute interval, near deafening applause brought Ray back for two encores. The song that many of you who know me well will know is close to my heart, the wonderful ‘(Thank You For) The Days’ for the first encore, the second being a reading of the lesser known ‘Low Budget’.

Well, what else can I say? It was brilliant. Total knockout.


Keith Woods


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