Monday, 22 October 2012

Ray Davies Live 2012: The Canterbury Tale

Canterbury and Croydon shows are missing from this flyer
So, for those unable to make it to a solo Ray show, here’s one he made earlier. Spoiler alert for those yet to attend one. I went to four (which I thought excessive until I met fans who were doing many more). They were all similar and all different, the shows not the fans – no, actually both were.

The duo Dead Flamingoes (James Walbourne and Kami Thompson) open most nights. James Walbourne is in the Pretenders line-up, with Ray’s ex, Chrissie Hynde so perhaps that’s how they connected.

I’m not sure that this name is right for them. It makes them sound more like a comedy double act than anything with serious intent. I wonder if it were adopted as a joke. I suppose Dying Flamingoes would be worse. It certainly doesn’t do their country-style songs, lovely harmonies, passionate and intricate guitar work justice. I particularly like the song they tend to start with, ‘Bonnie Portmore’; it reminds me of early Fleet Foxes. Having listened to some tracks on the net, I can report that the DFs sound better live: louder, more committed.

James Walbourne wrestles his guitar, with a pained expression, for all the world as if it’s a recalcitrant cat which has decided it no longer wants to be picked up and is doing everything it can, including scratching, to escape his arms. It takes all his effort to contain it. But he sure can play that cat.

At Nottingham, he appeared alone. I was disappointed that he didn’t introduce himself as ‘a Dead Flamingo’.

This review will be too long if I include all the shows we saw so I’ll start with the first one we went to, also the first of the tour, and see how I go.

Ray Davies and Band at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury 30 September 2012
Here (and later at the Royal Albert Hall), there were some slow handclaps when Ray failed to materialise exactly on schedule, a few more elderly audience members possibly being better accustomed to the rigid timetabling of the residential care home than the vagaries and unpredictability of a rock concert. No, seriously, they weren't that old, just a bit impatient.

Ray’s entrance follows a particularly annoying piece of frantic music with revved-up trumpet blasts on the otherwise dreary warm-up tape (which actually makes me want to blow my brains out on fifth hearing at Canterbury, and so enter the territory of a Kami Thompson song about suicide, ‘Hold Your Fire’).

After the applause has died down, he says ‘That’s alright for Bill but what about me?’, initiating a second burst.

The shows follow a standard format, with variations on a theme, according to audience input and how Ray’s feeling. Usually Ray performs some songs unplugged, with Bill Shanley before the rest of the band make their appearance.
Nobody dances or even gets up and I start to feel like a volatile patient in a hospital ward, strapped to the bed, who keeps trying to rise, except the restraints are regrettably self-imposed. Why do I do this to myself?

By the second show, I’m able to recognise most songs by Ray’s introductions.

Ray starts with:
This Is Where I Belong (The line ‘Tell me now if you want me here to stay’ warrants crowd confirmation, but at many of these shows, this is only realised by the front two rows so that intimate connection isn’t made. It's a beautiful song, sensitively performed.)

Audience participation is de rigueur on the choruses of the next two numbers, reconfigured as vaudeville turns here:
Autumn Almanac (‘Roast beef on Sundays/Alright’ usually accompanied by a line such as ‘I take it you’re all meat eaters then?’, the response in Croydon prompting him to alter it to ‘Nut roast on Sundays’)

Dedicated Follower of Fashion (Introduced as an old English folk song, occasionally sung in the style of Johnny Cash, along with the reminder that ‘That’s dedicated, not medicated’.)
Admittedly, some Kinks songs Ray always treated as singalongs – see these 1973 performances of ‘Dedicated’ and ‘Lola' – and the audience was often slow to pull its weight. I really don’t mind it on the choruses but sometimes, given a little encouragement, it gets out of hand and you can imagine yourself at some kind of old-style Cockney ‘knees-up’. Plus Ray’s in fine voice and I would rather hear him.

In a Moment (Introduced as a new song for all the insomniacs out there and I say again, 2007 is not new, honey, when you have an album in the pipeline, still lovely though. Ray mentions that the album, Working Man’s Café, was recorded in Nashville. I wish he would play more of his solo material live – The Real World, Vietnam Cowboys, so many of these songs deserve attention. Dave mixes it up more at his Satsang shows but then he’s assured of a receptive group of people who don't only know the Kinks 60s and 70s hits – I’m afraid that Ray has made the right assessment of the majority of the people here tonight.)

See My Friends (Ray’s ‘gay’ song. Still defeats me as to why when he’s written many ‘gayer’ ones.)

The Kinks as the audience remembers them
Sunny Afternoon (Ray claims he wrote this as a joke. Cue more singalong and Ray gets to say the line that he’s been using since the early 70s, ‘If you don't know it, learn it’.)

Dead End Street (The band come on and join in during this and sound pretty excellent and things start to get rowdy for the next three songs.)

Time to introduce the band who are absolutely excellent. Both Dave and Ray are adept at choosing people to accompany them. We have Bill Shanley on lead guitar, former Kink Ian Gibbons on keyboards (and accordion), Richard Nolan on bass and
Damon Wilson on drums.

Till the End of the Day (Still sounds so vital.)

Where Have All the Good Times Gone? (A crowd pleaser whether with Dave, Ray or the Kast-offs.)

I'm Not Like Everybody Else (Expected more reaction from the crowd but this song doesn’t have the same resonance with UK audiences as it does in the US where it was featured in The Sopranos and found a new lease of life live.)

Waterloo Sunset at Marlowe Theatre

Waterloo Sunset (A request from the stands that Ray immediately obliges unlike any of mine.) (Describing this as a secret song that he didn’t want to share, it doesn’t seem to matter where he plays it, in front of how many people, the Olympics closing ceremony, for instance, it always retains a certain atmosphere of intimacy. Invoking us to do the ‘shalalas’ makes us feel part of something great, this triumphant paean to London. He usually follows the lines ‘As long as they gaze on Waterloo sunset/They are in paradise’ with ‘And so am I’ and somehow manages to sound completely sincere each time and his voice is perfect, delicate, evocative.)

Lola era Ray
Too Much on My Mind (On a par with Dave’s version at Satsang.)

Mentions his See My Friends collaboration, ‘managing other people’s egos’, etc. when introducing the next song and meeting a pretty blonde in cowboy boots, Lucinda Williams, who chose to cover it.

A Long Way from Home (points out that this was directed at Dave, a way of saying ‘Why don’t you just fuck off?’ at which point I call out ‘He loves you too’ but he doesn’t hear me – probably just as well. The lyrics and melody capture Ray’s wistful regret.)

Lola (Bill Shanley reproduces Dave’s guitar riff. The crowd oblige with backing vocals.)

It would be impossible to reflect the sheer diversity of the Kinks output in one show plus we would need more instruments so Ray chooses to showcase a couple of albums here: Muswell Hillbillies and Sleepwalker. These slightly lesser-known songs are a little taster of what’s out there. He could choose two different albums each night and I would still want more.

So James Walbourne (also from Muswell Hill, accompanies Ray for:
Muswell Hillbilly

Oklahoma USA at Marlowe Theatre

Oklahoma USA (Great to hear both of these, one jaunty, Ray’s voice way more tuneful than it is on the rather flat, whiny LP version, the guitars ramping it up into a good ole country romp, the other a beautifully plangent ballad about how going to ‘the pictures’ allowed Ray’s sister Rose to escape the drudgery of factory life. Music helped the Davies boys evade a similar fate.)

Misfits (I wasn’t expecting Ray to play this and find it really moving.)

Full Moon (Complete with howls from Ray and enthused reception from the Americans at least.) 

Come Dancing (Ray describes his sisters' sorties to the Palais and claims one would return and tell him ‘I came dancing tonight, Ray’.) 

You Really Got Me (Ray talks about the blues genesis of the song and wanting to be Johnny Lee Hooker, a difficult aspiration for a ‘honky’ from North London, then has Ian plink the notes on the piano as Ray himself did for Dave. I imagine this to be a little like the scene in ‘Close Encounters’ when they play pipe tones to try to communicate with the spacecraft – Ray strikes them on the old upright in the famous front room, then when Dave plays them on the guitar, it’s the moment when the spacecraft repeats the notes at a deafening volume, blowing the glass in the window. An understanding, an accord, a momentous breakthrough. Ray says something like ‘and Dave picked up his guitar and played the Kinks into rock and roll history’.)

All Day and All of the Night (Let’s rearrange those chords again and have another hit. Mission accomplished.) 

Low Budget (A new one to many here tonight but a staple of the Kinks live shows since the late 70s as in this 79 version in which Dave lets rip on the guitar. And who can fail to be entertained by Ray’s lyrics: ‘Even my trousers are giving me pain/They were reduced in a sale so I shouldn't complain/ They squeeze me so tight so I can't take no more/They're a size 28 but I take 34’. I love these lines as it always gives Ray a chance to flaunt his arse. Let's face it, any excuse. But if you’ve got it …. And we all join in on: ‘At least my hair is all mine/My teeth are my own/But everything else is on permanent loan’ – well, not all but we devotees in the front.)

Before he leaves us, Ray comes to shake hands with some of us in the front row. I resist the temptation to pull him off the stage for a hug.

Tired of Waiting for You or Tired of You Waiting for Me …
Hung around fruitlessly at the Stage Door afterwards but feeling like a predator lying in wait for prey made me uncomfortable, as if I were about to ambush him, especially when I learned that Ray had managed to avoid us. It wasn’t that hard – we’re pretty pathetic predators. It was like sending a couple of rabbits to capture a lion. That’s what happens when you pit amateurs against experts. This whole fan thing is so weird. Now, having read that he gets tired of seeing the same old people, I’m anxious not to become one of them although I expect there’s something reassuring when you look out from the stage and spot some familiar faces.

See Our Friends
Ray has described his songs as his friends and what we discovered when we saw the those original BBC4 programmes on the Kinks, Ray and Dave, about a year ago, is what some of the Canterbury crowd find out tonight, that they’re our friends too (or at least nodding acquaintances that we’ve always wanted to know better), that we’ve assimilated them in the collective unconscious, they’re part of our history, and though dressed in different clothes, they’re instantly familiar and it warms our hearts to see/hear them again.

So all in all an exciting show. Ray’s energy is astonishing. I can't understand why reviewers complain about him still doing scissor jumps or leaps. God, do everything you can until you can no longer do it. I won't sum up yet as I have three gigs to go … it’ll be a marathon rather than a sprint.

[All 2012 images and video are mine.]


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