Ray Davies, Kenwood House, London
Ray of sunshine on wet home turf
Tuesday 30 June 2009
First time I've played Kenwood ... at least legally," joked the 65-year-old Ray Davies before launching into "Sunny Afternoon". Please don't mock us, Ray. It's bucketing down. It pelted down, in fact, for the entirety of this open-air picnic concert on these stately grounds. A small hardy band of souls stood near the stage, huddled together, swaying, some even dancing underneath their waterproof ponchos, cagoules and brollies (the on-site umbrella/hat stall did a roaring trade), slugging down expensive bubbly, paying homage to the founding father of Britpop. Others sat rigid, grimly determined in their red-and-white-striped deckchairs. It's a very stoical, very British scene for a very British artist. And thankfully, the Kinks' frontman has the material and chutzpah to get us through. The Sixties survivor is good company – a dry wit in a wet climate – and he's looking sharp and sprightly too, ditching, thank goodness, the mullet that made him resemble Chris De Burgh's long-lost brother. His leg, which took a bullet from a mugger in New Orleans in 2004, also looks to be in good working order. He even carried out a little jig to prove it.
The Muswell Hill-born singer performed in his beloved North London accompanied by the 65-strong Crouch End Festival Choir, who sang with him with some success at the 2007 Electric Proms and have joined him on his latest release The Kinks Choral Collection, featuring 15 new renditions of Kinks' gems. It's debatable, though, how much the choir – who ostensibly seemed to provide just an awful lot of Enya-style "oohs" and aahs" – actually brought to the party on majestic proto-punk nuggets such as "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night". Davies's tight band and the wondrous fuzzy guitar sound are really more than enough. The chorus should make more sense on the sumptuous, melancholic ("Every day I look at the world from my window") vignette "Waterloo Sunset" (the best song about London ever made), but the overall effect is still not as powerful as the simple duet he performed with Damon Albarn on the long-dead TV show The White Room back in 1995. "Waterloo Sunset" doesn't require a big production; stripped down, two guitars and Davies and Albarn's cracked voices worked just fine. There's a real danger of everything going a bit James Last by adding a choir, and the cheese factor (Davies occasionally insisted on a hammy singalong) teetered towards Stilton levels at times. It didn't topple. The music's too good.
The choir worked better with the material from The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, the 1968 oddity which Davies revisited generously here. The 1968 album, which wistfully embraces English rural life, bombed on its release, but has since become a cult record ("If at first you flop, have faith it'll become a cult," Davies explained to us drily). The title track, which features as the theme music on Jennifer Saunders' sweetly anarchic sitcom Jam and Jerusalem, works well in this sodden field, the choir lamenting with Davies, "God save little shops, china cups and virginity". "Do You Remember Walter?" and "Picture Book" are also enriched by the choir, the patter of the rain and the odd clap of thunder. However, these charming laments don't match the heavy hitters, the songs that make The Kinks one of the most rightly revered bands that these shores have ever produced. And thankfully Davies gave us the lot, from the gorgeous "Days", to the thunderous "You Really Got Me", the poignant "See My Friends" to the hugely droll and sublime "Lola". In the pelting rain, by the end, everyone stood, soaked through, saluting the Kinks and yelling "Well I'm not the world's most masculine man/But I know what I am and I'm glad I'm a man". You wouldn't see many fans braving the elements and dancing in the rain to the bitter end. They're dedicated followers of Davies. And so am I.
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