Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Ray Davies Rocks the Hop Farm Festival, 2012

I don’t understand festivals. I like variety but don’t see why someone who can appreciate the extraordinary talent of Ray Davies or the consummate professionalism of Billy Ocean (he’s like an injection of serotonin, his joy is contagious) should have any time for something so bland and uninvolving as Gomez, apologies to their fans, a band who obviously believe their own press releases, urging the people sitting or lying down to get up, begging them to, because why should they bother if we don't, etc., telling us to put our backs into it (hmm – we are here to relax and enjoy ourselves, mate – go polish your Mercury Prize – it seems that anyone can win an award these days and no one ever advises the recipients that ‘Success walks hand in hand with failure’) but who remain pub-standard in my opinion, only singled out here as an example of other bands scheduled for the main stage who aren’t in the same league as Ray and Billy. However, they did get their fans to choose which songs they should play. Not a bad idea in these interactive times.

Mary Epworth, who began the proceedings, was much better than some of the acts that followed – heartfelt singing, a pretty voice, good songs and great hair. Self-deprecating and sweet. Liked ‘Black Doe’ although this video is not really representative of how she comes across live. She’s not as generic-looking as that.

Still not really sure why a former prog rocker (and let’s face it, on this showing, we can dispense with the ‘former’ – it seems you can take the boy out of Genesis but …), Peter Gabriel, gets to headline over Ray Davies whose body of work’s quality far outstrips his but perhaps it was the spectacle of the light show that swung it. Ray doesn’t need a light show – his performance is brilliant enough, blazing bright for some songs, occasionally dazzling but leaving us basking in a warm glow.

Looking more robust than he did during the ‘Come Dancing’ show (perhaps it was just the suit), he’s energetic as soon as he reaches the stage and easily establishes a rapport with the crowd. Years of stagecraft I suppose. 

I Need You
A strange choice to start with, a fairly standard pop song, delivered with verve. Perhaps it’s directed at someone watching? Other songs showcase this era of the Kinks better. Would love to hear him resurrect ‘This Strange Effect’, ‘Tell Me Now So I’ll Know’ or ‘All Night Stand’ instead. As Mrs Doyle (from Father Ted) might say ‘Go on, go on, go on, go on, go on’. But I recall RD saying, ‘I don’t have to do anything’ when asked about pleasing fans live so I’ll shut up now. With a canon of work that huge, it’s always going to be hard to whittle the list down for one gig. 

Where Have All the Good Times Gone?
The extremely cheerful melody and the vitality of the rhythm temper this complaint about the present and paean to the past. Always a winner live. Dave usually plays it too.
‘Well, once we had an easy ride and always felt the same/Time was on my side and I had everything to gain/Let it be like yesterday/Please let me have happy days’
Ray was all of 21 when he wrote this in 1965. And I thought I was prematurely nostalgic! Mind you, I did get there at 11.

Great as ever but it's not the same without Dave’s guitar intro (above) (not in the original song but now very familiar from the live versions on YouTube and repopularised by The Sopranos) although Bill Shanley’s playing compensates some. The audience doesn’t know this song so the reaction is more muted but I would have been crazy if he hadn’t played it.

Sunny Afternoon
Which it is by the time Ray comes on, helped by Billy Ocean’s own little bit of sunlight.  Although encouraged to sing 'part' of this, the festival-goers want to hear their own voices and probably imagine they’re incredibly knowledgeable when they remember the verses and insist on shouting these out too. Thanks, guys. Less really is more.

Come Dancing
Jaunty but not as convincing as it was on stage in Stratford.

Semi-gratuitous but so what?
Brief Dave interlude. You know me, I can't talk about Ray without mentioning Dave. Or vice versa. And it seems Ray is the same. Plus it's time for me to weigh in on something Bashful has mentioned in another blog.
Although Ray dedicates songs to Dave and asks the audience to applaud him (which we would do anyway), I venture to say that there is absolutely no chance of a Kinks reunion as long as Ray continues to add (as Bashful hears, not me, me naively believing that for once Ray would do the better thing – see ‘Come Dancing’ blog) ‘Dave “Death of a Clown” Davies’. Why must he try to reduce Dave’s talent down to this song as if it were the only one he’d ever written, the only one we could have heard about, making him sound like a one-hit wonder, refusing to acknowledge not only Dave’s contributions on songs credited to Ray but also the Kinks songs he wrote, such as the anthemic ‘Strangers’, the effervescently enthusiastic ‘Love Me till the Sun Shines’ and ‘Wait till the Summer Comes Along’ (even sad, Dave sounds happy), the popular live staple ‘Living on a Thin Line’, or the early unparalleled ‘This Man He Weeps Tonight’ and ‘Mindless Child of Motherhood’, let alone any of Dave’s varied and inspiring solo material (‘The Lie’, 'Rock Me, Rock You’, ‘Flowers in the Rain’) , which he’ll probably affect not to have listened to? That was a long sentence, sorry. Ok, he wasn’t as prolific as you, Ray, but his talent extends beyond ‘Death of a Clown’, memorable as it is. He’s integral to the sound of the Kinks, from the guitar riff on ‘You Really Got Me’, to his distinctive vocals on ‘Come On Now’ or ‘Sleepless Night’, to the phenomenal virtuosity of his guitar skills live on tracks like ‘Yo Yo’, ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ (see above) and ‘Wish I Could Fly Like Superman’ (see 3.40-4.50), where his guitar masterclass fleshes out an ordinary pop song, investing it with authentic rock kudos. Whether it's meant as a joke or a taunt, it's simply unnecessary and implies that whatever Ray says about Dave's talent, he doesn't rate him as he should. It’s always a back-handed compliment with Ray; he gives with the right and takes back with the left and with such sleight (or in this case ‘slight’) of hand too.

To finally hear Ray (now 68) sing this brought tears to my eyes. I felt the same way I did when I heard Dave sing ‘Flowers in the Rain’ live. My heart was full. Wish the crowd had confined themselves to just singing the ‘Shalalas’ and not the verses though.

Dedicated Follower of Fashion
Cue more singalong from over-excited crowd.
These songs still sound amazing each time you hear them, and somehow reassuring, like returning to your hometown after a trip, their familiarity is comforting.

Dead-End Street (but not all of it, he only ventures halfway down the street, Dave got further at Satsang II).Would have loved to hear it all.

Till the End of the Day
What can I say? This is a recipe for instant happiness. So joyful. I’ve taken to playing it in the car whenever we set off somewhere. It really lifts the mood.

Tiny bit of Victoria
Why not more?

Twentieth Century Man
Ray quick-wittedly points out that he's a century out of date. I bet that’s why he played it.

Then the holy triumvirate, with the inevitable audience participation.
Can't listen to this without seeing YouTube footage of the brothers when young and it saddens me that I never knew them like this. Don’t get me wrong – I think they’ve aged well but still, Dave’s cheeks were so chubby, his hair so glossy and Ray sang it so vehemently. They looked like they were having fun. Now, to a certain extent, it’s got a classic status, which in some ways, decreases its value. It was ahead of its game idea-wise but now it’s just a fun song in the same way that Ray has turned, despite himself, into an elder statesman of rock, the well-respected man although no doubt still a rebel at heart.

‘Thank you for the days/Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me/I'm thinking of the days/I won't forget a single day, believe me.’
Ideal sentiments for a festival but Ray sings
‘I wish today could be tomorrow/The night is dark/It just brings sorrow, let it wait.’
with a touch more feeling. It's a cheerful lament, a subtle blend of nostalgia, gratitude, forgiveness and hope.

You Really Got Me
The first hit and the perfect finale. Instantly recognisable even to the most uninformed among us. It's simply part of history. Leaves everyone wanting more but why is it that acts at festivals never do encores?

We were the wrong side of the stage and Ray only came over to us once, to perform a sexy little shimmy, tease that he is. (It sounds incongruous but Ray can pull it off as he and Dave do retain a certain sex appeal). He looked really well – it’s a shame that my best view of him was on the big screen. It was annoying that the people who’d shouldered their way to the front were a tad clueless: ‘So – was Ray Davies in the Kinks then?’ and ‘I think I know two Kinks songs’.

The set was totally apt for a festival crowd: all the hits. As I’ve booked tickets to three shows on the September/October tour, I hope that we’ll get to hear these and tons more from Ray’s inexhaustible catalogue. The only songs missing that would have fitted in really well, bridging the early Beatlesesque tracks with the later more considered, lyrically sophisticated ones, were perhaps ‘Apeman’, ‘Well-Respected Man’ or ‘Picture Book’.

But I wish Ray would do away with the constant ‘Way-oh, waaay-oh’ calls, expecting a response. Once for old times’ sake would be good. Also that the crowd would sing along when requested but not otherwise. I didn’t come to hear shouted, out-of-tune versions of these great songs; if I had, I would have gone to a Kinks karaoke night, if there were such a thing. I came to hear Ray’s delightfully idiosyncratic voice sing his delightfully idiosyncratic lyrics. I realise it must be gratifying, even moving, to hear a few hundred people sing your words back at you, but a little restraint on the part of the audience would not have gone amiss.

I wish both Dave and Ray would play more of their solo material live. I love the Kinks and I know that everyone wants to hear those songs but they’ve both been busy since they split up 16 years ago. So why not ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ and ‘Vietnam Cowboys’, ‘Better Things’ and ‘A Better Thing’; ‘The Moneyground’ and ‘Let It Be Written’? I would kill to hear him perform 'Holiday' or 'Yo-Yo' though.

Other acts I enjoyed:
Billy Ocean
God, he looks and sounds great although there’s no good footage from the festival. ‘Red Light Spells Danger’ is a highlight, such urgency, such atmosphere, and I’d completely forgotten ‘Love Really Hurts without You’, so even a couple of rather lame ballads and ‘Lover Boy’ can't diminish my enjoyment. Energy and commitment personified.

Mary Epworth ‘Long Gone’

Dog Is Dead ‘Two Devils’

Although I’m not a lover of festivals – I’d rather sit in a tearoom than a bar tent and I prefer to be far from the madding crowd, especially in the countryside – I’ve got to say that the Hop Farm is very well organised and user-friendly. There’s a courtesy shuttle bus from the local railway station – it’s not their fault that this happens to be in the middle of nowhere. There’s little queuing at any of the facilities and refreshments are reasonably priced. Drinking water is available from taps. The line-up is eclectic so there should be something to please everyone. Can't believe though that I managed to miss (the) Eagles here last year.


  1. Well done - great piece here! Thanks...

  2. Thanks! Are you guys going to see Ray in Autumn?