Saturday, 3 November 2012

Ray Davies: 'It's really been quite a trip': Life on the Road 2012

In a Moment at the Fairfield Halls

Is this really it?/Is this the final station?/It's really been quite a trip (Imaginary Man)
So, Ray's UK tour is over, the dates have had him zigzagging all over the country, back and forth, coming back to the London area three separate times. I would be exhausted but Ray seems to thrive on this frantic schedule and have boundless energy and adrenalin. 

And still all the critics keep saying/Are they still around?/When are they gonna stop? (The Road)
I’ve been moved to respond to some reviews of Ray’s gigs because it seems that we’re being infiltrated by incredibly shallow people who want us to follow some code of what is/isn’t appropriate, some kind of Style Stasi. And isn’t this the exact antithesis of what the Kinks and Ray were always about? These criticisms often relate to age and often to fashion, something I consider the biggest waste of time ever. Wear whatever suits you and what you’re comfortable in. For a non-Kinks-related example, when the Olympics were on, I read a whole article in a daily paper bemoaning the fact that gymnasts still thought it was ok to wear scrunchies, which went out with the 80s. Let’s not concentrate on their extraordinary talent or ability, let’s worry about what they put their hair up with. Could it be any more fatuous? 

Underneath this crude exterior/She knows I got something superior (Hidden Quality)
Apparently when you get to your late 60s, it’s unseemly to wear trainers or do star/scissor jumps on stage. You should really mellow out and sit on a stool and wear a cardigan. Well Ray Davies does all of the above (except he saves the cardigan till later). Some people break the mould. I’m the same although my experience has led me to believe that I’m a lot less like everybody else than everybody else is. I’ve done some pretty strange things in my time (exorcised a TV cabinet, made an in-flight announcement on an aeroplane, been stranded in New Jersey with only one odd shoe and $13.50) and have failed to do many things my contemporaries have, such as acquire a taste for red wine or even beer, start to hold dinner parties, care about home décor and cooking. Not yet domesticated. I still dance although no longer a teenager. Actually teenagers are way too cool to dance, unless it’s affected with extreme irony.

Ray's response to the critics: 
But I won't give it up/As long as I can make the bread/When I do, I shall stop/Close my eyes and go to bed. (All Night Stand)
From a blog review:‘His white trainers suggest that he isn’t the Dedicated Follower of Fashion he once was.’
This rather misses the whole point of the song. Ray wasn’t the dedicated follower of fashion – he was affectionately taking the piss out of him (and possibly brother Dave although both have worn some outlandish but still appealing ensembles in their time, Ray’s outfit in this version of Skin and Bone a case in point). In fact, Dedicated started out as a riposte to a designer who criticised Ray’s flares. As usual, he answered with a song.

Spotlight: Oklahoma USA
She walks to work but she's still in a daze/She's Rita Hayworth or Doris Day/And Errol Flynn's gonna take her away. 
The story behind this song, described in my last blog reminds me of my Mum. I think she believed that one day a great romance would find her, à la Some Enchanted Evening, that she would catch the eye of Rossano Brazzi across a crowded room. And I can't be the only person who watches a movie and walks out of the theatre imagining for a few minutes that I look like one of the protagonists. I used to be a great proponent of escapism, a devotee, fantasy has reality beat every time but now I wonder if cinema in the old days was ‘the opium of the masses’, how it unwittingly kept everyone in a drudge-like job in their Dead End Street.

Royal Albert Hall 4 October 2012
Bashful has blogged on this so I haven’t much to add. When we get up to dance, no one stops us but when people move to the front, the security men are determined to make them sit down again, courteously tapping people on the shoulder one by one; they win a few skirmishes but they don’t ultimately win the war. Great sound at the concert. I’ve only been to the RAH once before, when we bought our Dad and a friend tickets to see the Moody Blues and we were so high up and over to the side that it actually gave you vertigo to look down and we couldn’t see all of the stage. This time we're in the second row right at the front.

Extras: Paul Weller joins Ray for Waterloo Sunset, which seems to be in the wrong key for him. Starts off shaky but sounds better by the end. I never noticed that his voice is a little like Grant Hart’s before. Ray plays Twentieth-century Man and includes Days in the encore so we can't complain. The same T-shirts as at Canterbury cost £5 more. How’s that for London weighting?

Ray at Fairfield Halls
Fairfield Halls, Croydon 10 October 2012
Here, after we’ve navigated the urban wasteland (well it wasn’t but I like that term), crossed the tram tracks, and traversed the car-park and met some fans in the bar, we discover that there’s a long queue to get in to see the support act. I start to worry that there’s going to be airport-type security checks and that my camera and water bottle will be confiscated. My camera is large and professional-looking (unlike me) but no more powerful than that on most people’s cell phones. I couldn’t tape a whole song even if I wanted to because the files are too huge to upload anywhere. However, my fears are unwarranted; the delay was due to a late sound-check.

James and Kami seem very relaxed tonight. They’ve got married (to each other) since we last saw them. But at the next gig, he’s by himself … Hope Kami's not honeymooning alone.

Decide to risk the paper plates but stage is too far to spontaneously throw them on during the performance so I neatly place them around where I assume Ray will be (by the cup of tea or voice-saving concoction in the cup-holder on the mike stand – does everything have cup-holders these days? Perhaps we should genetically engineer children to come with them? How handy would that be?) The security man wanders past twice to check what I’ve done but decides they pose no viable threat. He must think I’m simply some harmless nutter who randomly dispenses disposable picnic-ware at rock gigs. Perhaps he thinks I’ll be back later with sandwiches.

Ray at Fairfield Halls
So the gig proceeds much as Canterbury and the RAH except that we get up to dance, and the people in the front row (friends from the Kinkdom), arise too. They move to the front of the stage. This precipitates our ungainly scramble over the seats in front to join them.

Special treats: Ray opts to play Apeman, which he says he might not have played live since the last time he played Croydon. Croydon does tend to bring out the Neanderthal in all of us. When in Rome … only kidding, guys. So infectious and I was really longing to hear it. We also get Tired of Waiting for You, which he didn’t play at the first two shows we went to and the whole of ‘Victoria’ instead of just a snippet. Excellent.

No scissor jumps tonight – just upward leaps, legs together. Hope Ray hasn’t given himself a groin strain.

More enthusiastic but unfortunately also more out-of-key and out-of-time singing here than anywhere else so far. One lady doesn’t know the words so just about picks up the lyric at the end of each line and I hear the last word repeated a beat after in a flat echo.

Ray at Nottingham
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham 14 October 2012
Our non-Kinks friends seem a little frightened of meeting our Kinks friends for some reason. Have we made them sound like raving lunatics? I don't think so. And one of the non-Kinks ones collects Action Men and is in the process of swapping some hands for some feet in the post. Miniature body parts in little plastic bags. Who has the most to fear?

Undeterred, I recycle the paper plates (surely Ray would approve) and add another one, hoping to hear Celluloid Heroes as it has surfaced at other shows. We get I Need You instead. Does Ray look at my request and think ‘Hmm. What can I play that’s the total opposite of that?’ 

Let's sing it loud with feeling/Come on, one more time (One More Time)
By the time Ray reaches Nottingham, his voice is a little hoarse and there are a couple of slightly off-key notes right at the start but he’s able to compensate by altering the key or taking the pitch down or just changing the phrasing so a long note becomes a short one, or simply encouraging the crowd to sing all of the chorus, etc. A master at work.

Misfits at Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury 
Now you're lost in the crowd/Yet, still go your own way

Ray mentions that Mick was a boy scout and still has his uniform. Mick wasn’t a boy scout; he was a sea scout. I love the way Ray’s always slightly misinformed. I get the idea that he’s deliberately imprecise about things, or rather precise in his errors (like in ‘X-Ray’ when he insists that Dave was caught in flagrante by his headmaster rather than the truant officer) because he perceives his alterations strengthen the story or make the joke funnier. Weirdly, tonight he misses out You Really Got Me. Plus there's the mystery of the reappearing lisp.

So to summarise, we did get variations in the set over the course of the tour. Some nights Ray played Celluloid Heroes but I never got to hear it. This and other songs that were played at some shows but not all, were Tired of Waiting for You, Too Much on My Mind, Victoria, Apeman, Full Moon, Misfits, I Need You, Twentieth-century Man.

I think it’s curious which Kinks songs Dave and Ray opt to play – some are the same, especially the early ones. Dave tends to leave out Waterloo Sunset, Autumn Almanac and Lola. Ray doesn’t play any Dave songs though I’m sure he could do a creditable version of Strangers or even Living on a Thin Line, which Dave originally wrote for him. Neither plays Well Respected Man. Dave will do Get Back in the Line but Ray won't.

Although both have assembled great musicians to back them, who know the catalogue really well, there isn’t that sense that anything might happen, that I think people experienced at a Kinks gig. Of course this could be good or bad but always memorable I'm sure. Dave says in Kinkdom K/Come:
‘Ray and I were magicians without realising it’ that they could look at each other on stage and ‘the whole atmosphere will change’. You can see this in some YouTube clips. They play off each other, wind each other up, piss each other off and spur each other on. Ray admited at the recent Radio 4 Mastertapes recording that he would deliberately antagonise Dave and then Dave would play something exceptional, on stage and in the studio.

He also talked about how the Kinks were like family (one of them was of course), how they had one another’s backs. It reminds me of my family when we were growing up. We would argue with each other a lot, maybe appear to hate one another but when it came down to it, it was always us against the world.

I suppose what I’m saying is that the ideal, if we assume that Ray and Dave playing together is far less likely than Bobby and JR ever seeing eye to eye (maybe scratch that analogy after this week's episode of Dallas), would be to see one play one night and one the next. Dave is much more likely to deviate from the list than Ray is, attempting a song without rehearsal, without remembering the lyrics, so there’s still an element of surprise.

[All 2012 images and video are mine.]

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