"A Bit Late"

Five Nights with Ray Davies in London

by Carey Fleiner

Ray Davies in London, Foto: Ellie Wilde 'Sorry I'm a bit late -- I was held up' So went Ray Davies' nightly cheeky apology, with variations, whilst he was artist in residence for five shows at the UCL Bloomsbury, London.

Much wit was in evidence over his tenure at the University of London -- for example, during his acoustic interlude, (accompanied only by his lead guitarist Mark Johns), he remarked, on sitting down, 'This is the adult part of the show…that is if I ever grow up.' One night his audio equipment died after the second chord of the opener 'I'm not Like Everybody Else,' and he noted, 'I'm such a rock star, I don't even have to turn on my own amp!' as the crew sorted things out. During 'David Watts', he paused after singing, 'And I have never met the Queen,' to exclaim, 'Actually, I have!' And of course he had to take the piss out of his brother, dedicating one of several shows to him, and remarking, 'This show is for my baby brother,' then adding with glee, 'He's finally gone home!'

So Mr Davies was in fine form -- thin but lithe, strong singing voice touched with a bit of hoarseness from a cold. He was extremely proud of his new (to him) blue Stratocaster, and treated the audience the first night to his Buddy Holly impression. He went through several clothing changes each show, during the Friday night moaned a bit about how everything he had to wear was Chelsea colours.

The shows themselves followed fairly much the same pattern: The show kicked off with a hard edged arrangement of 'I'm Not Like Everybody Else,' followed by a rocking version of 'The Hard Way.' A mix of (mostly) old and new, hard rockers and thoughtful ballads ( 'After the Fall', 'Creatures of Little Faith').

The first half of the show was broken into two parts, a mix of well arranged songs, some old, some new, all polished, jazzy arrangements, and an acoustic set what included a medley from 'a successful flop', Village Green -- noted Mr Davies wryly, that such failures were diplomatically known as ' cult classics.' And he threatened to torture the audience with nothing but B-sides and bonus tracks for the remainder of the evening.

The second half of the show, after a short interval, rocked harder, and included more of the 'oldies' -- in introducing a medley that included 'Where have all the Good Times Gone' and 'Tired of Waiting.' Mr Davies noted, 'These are the songs you came to hear…and if you don't know them, why in the hell are you here?'

There were a number of more recent songs to be included in the eventual (elusive?) long-anticipated solo album, included the lively 'Stand Up Comic' which Mr Davies performed as his cockney alter ego Jack the Lad. Recorded originally as a big band number with Jools Holland's orchestra, the concert version of 'Yours Truly, Confused, N10' rocked here -- this was a song he said he wrote originally for his daughter's punk rock band, but that she turned it down as being too controversial.

Treats on other nights included 'Sweet Lady Genevieve,' 'Big Sky,' 'Get Back in Line,' and 'David Watts.'

Ray Davies in Liverpool, 24.9.2004, Foto: Ellie WildeAlthough this was not as chatty as the Storyteller tour, Mr Davies provided some stories and spoken interludes -- his affection for American bluesman Bill Broonzey for example -- and showed his flair for the dramatic with his quiet description of how the Kinks were rejected by all of the music companies in Great Britain. He mentioned specifically one hurtful letter what described the sound of the younger Mr Davies' guitar not dissimilar to 'a barking dog' -- then crashing at once, of course, into the loud growl of 'All Day and All of the Night' (complete with Mr Davies barking along with the famous chord progression). And a lovely bluesy lead up to the creation of 'You Really Got Me,' the charming story of its creation in his mum's front room, and its finalisation in the studio when, turning his back to the rest of the group, Mr Dave Davies with his guitar 'played himself and the Kinks into rock and roll history.'

Mixed in were the inevitable sing-a-longs, 'Autumn Almanac,' 'Sunny Afternoon,' and the final encore song 'Lola' (when not 'Low Budget'), audience pleasers, to be sure -- the Bloomsbury holds about 550 people, and I daresay most were singing along -- the Saturday night crowd at least positively bellowing. Perhaps it was cos of a strong 4-0 Arsenal win over Charlton; Mr Davies was certainly well pleased at the result, especially as the earlier audiences showed a bit of reserve chiming in.

Fantastic sound system and light show complemented the show; Asgard and the Bloomsbury's technicians and crew, all of whom were quite gracious in their assistance for the writing of this review, are to be commended. The backing band were brilliant; guitarist Mark Johns, whilst well-accomplished guitarist, lacks the lovely, insane raw power of Mr Dave Davies' lead guitar; the bassist Dick Nolan resounding; and the drummer Toby Baron made the most of what appeared a rather small drum kit for the amount of sound he got out of it!

All five shows were sold out -- there were touts everywhere trying to buy tickets off patrons and sell them to the hopefuls queued up from the till and out the door down the street, all hoping for no-shows…I saw two guys get up and leave about half way through the first set; they appeared to be absolutely puzzled. Perhaps they'd had tickets for The Lion King and had got lost. Who knows. But it was obviously not what they were expecting. Pity as the audience were rather lively, especially the Friday and moreso the Saturday night crowd (when Mr Paul Weller was in attendance.)

Overall quite lovely -- Mr Davies seemed satisfied: after singing, in 'Waterloo Sunset', the final 'they are in paradise' he quietly added, 'And so am I'.

With thanks to Joan & Sid from the Bloomsbury and Chris from Asgard for their kindness and assistance.

Guardian review
Daily Telegraph review
Independent review
whykinks: pictures from Oslo (you can also search for more on that site)

text: Carey Fleiner (October 04)
photos: Ellie Wilde