December 12, 1995

Ray Davies

Filed under: Archive,Music


Her Majesty’s

Murray Bramwell

Just when you thought nostalgia isn’t what it used to be- along comes Ray Davies. Except that this one-Kink show, which has been touring the known world since its acclaimed debut at the Edinburgh Festival, is much more than a greatest hits fest. Drawing from Davies’s recent “unauthorised autobiography”, X-Ray, the two hour show is an intelligent, wonderfully wry mix of music and memoir.

Raymond Douglas Davies is the exceptionally talented leader of an exceptional band. When the Kinks first released You Really Got Me, the blend of brother, Dave Davies’s gutsy guitar and Ray’s nasally-challenged vocals equalled instant hit. And defined mod style.

While much is made of the Beatles and Stones, it is the Kinks who are the godfathers of English pop, influencing everyone from contemporaries, like the Who and Small Faces, to Eighties groups like XTC and Madness. And now, more than thirty years after their foppish looks and sly social criticism made the Kinks so singular, they receive open homage from bands like Oasis and Damon Albarn’s London band, Blur.

Onstage, Davies is full of beans. Notoriously reclusive and ambivalent about his pop success, the current project has clearly energised him. The success of X-Ray is surely part of the reason. In a genre dominated by lumpy ghostwriting, Davies has written a highly imaginative exploration of memory and the curious relation between past and present. Framed as an interview in the 21st century the book precisely, sometimes harrowingly, recalls the experience of success at twenty, the rapacity of the music industry and the anxieties of talent.

Alternating between cut-down, semi-acoustic performances of the songs, accompanied by guitarist Peter Mathison, and readings from X-Ray, Davies gives a potted history of his life in art. Opening with Dedicated Follower of Fashion and Sunny Afternoon, his vocals are initially ricketty but he has the audience, some of them Muswell Hillbillies themselves, singing lyrics now permanently embedded in the DNA of most forty-fivesomethings.

Davies has written many great songs and familiar as they are, performed in his keening, expressive style, they are still fresh- Autumn Almanac, Tired of Waiting, Set Me Free and See My Friends. There are new songs as well- 20th Century Man, variation on his ubiquitous Village Green theme, and The London Song, a celebration of the villages of Hampstead, Highgate and Muswell Hill.

Some of the new songs are as much elaborations of the readings as discrete works. Americana (Big Fat Cowboy) for instance, garnished with some tasty electrics from Mathison, is an extended talking blues about the Kinks in the new world. But To the Bone and She Was Really Animal are A-grade Ray. As are, we are powerfully reminded, the inimitable Lola and the lambent Waterloo Sunset.

Selecting the gentler sections from his often ascerbic book, Davies closes with an account of a meeting with his father at Streatham Ice Rink where the Kinks had just performed their Number One Hit- You Really Got Me. And he sings Days. Thank you for the days. Make that -thank you for the Davies.

The Australian , December 12, 1995 . p.12

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