Ray Davies at the Royal Festival Hall

The Kinks have provided the soundtrack to my life in England. Starting with ‘Plastic Man’ and ‘Autumn Almanac’ in the West Midlands, to my very own ‘Dead End Street’ in that shabby, semi-legal flat-share in Shepherd’s Bush. Not much has changed in the Kingdom over the last 50 years it seems, as Ray Davies’ social commentary is as poignant and relevant as it ever was.

Musically, I live in the past. If you look through my collection, you’ll be pushed to find any records post 75, save a few White Stripes and Regina Spektor LPs. I therefore don’t really expect to be able to see the music I love played live. However, thanks to an incredible stroke of luck, I was offered a free to ticket to go see Ray Davies play at the Royal Festival Hall yesterday.

It was my very first seated concert (whoever came up with that idea?!) – a really strange experience if you’re used to leaving gigs with tired feet and bruised shoulders from either trying to squeeze through to the front row or from jumping about in a (be it a girlie and half hearted) mosh-pit. Then I looked around and noticed that the audience consisted largely of wealthy, conservative looking middle-class. Irony? Mmm! Were they perhaps going to rattle their jewellery to “There’s a crack up in the ceiling and the kitchen sink is leaking”? Oh well, perhaps they’ve all been there somewhere down the line.

As Ray took to the stage and started to play a stripped down acoustic set, accompanied by only one other lead guitar player, all observations were forgotten, as was class-consciousness. The sound was great and his performance flawless. The First Kinks song of the set was “Ape Man” and although this certainly does not count to one of my favourites, I actually started to tear up. As I said, I just never expected to hear those song played live and it was incredibly moving. It was also heart warming to hear the entire hall singing lines back to the performer in unison (that’s something that would never happen in Germany – at least it wouldn’t sound as good!) He soon played pretty much all my favourite songs (still can’t believe he actually played ‘Autumn Almanac’ – hurray!) as well as an array of compositions I’d never heard before – and I loved them all. You rarely see a show where you’re captivated for its entirety, but this was one of those shows.

Halfway through the set the band joined him and when they struck the first chords of “You really got me” I just couldn’t sit on seat 9, row H any longer and I wasn’t the only one. A few seconds later I was right at the front of the stage, jumping about like it was 1966 with Ray Davies about a meter away from me! I joined him on harmonies on his three-song encore (Waterloo sunset, Thank you for the days and Lola) – don’t think he heard me, but hey, sounded good to me!

He played for two hours straight and I left inspired and exhilarated. There’s something about the way he treats words and how he constructs lyrics that I can really relate to as a songwriter. He has a unique outsider perspective, which I feel I understand and I loved listening to his in between song banter just as much as his playing. You leave the show thinking “What a nice, genuine guy” and also in awe of his incredible repertoire – he could have easily played another 30mins of hits without waning in enthusiasm or energy for even a second – a true performer. Ray, thank you for the days!

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