Review: Nostalgia is never enough

Ray Davies, The Storyteller; Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

It is probably to do with a concert he cancelled at the Southport Floral Hall in the early 70s, when I was still sufficiently in awe of heroes from the previous decade to be devastated by his non-appearance, but the post-Kinks Ray Davies has always been something of a disappointment. And sad to say, The Storyteller continues that tradition.

Originating as a promo for his book X-Ray ("a strange and unauthorised autobiography", as he tells us, twice), the show - part readings, part songs (with the assistance of guitarist Peter Matheson) - goes up to the recording of the first hit, "You Really Got Me", and is laced with quintessential Davies themes - class and Englishness. But the whole never quite gels enough to inspire.

It was clear at the beginning that, consummate rock performer though Davies is, he has not quite got the measure of the audience in this format. "Pinball Wizard!" someone shouted as he strapped on his guitar. Not a bad little joke about getting his 60s pop icons mixed up, but Davies asked sourly, "Have we got the retards in?" What the heckle deserved was an inclusive joke, not a put-down.

The structure provides a handy way round the "they only want to hear the oldies" dilemma - telling the story of at least part of his life means that he has to play the hits; it would be odd not to. So songs like "Victoria" and "Dead End Street" were covered well, while "See My Friends", some of it rendered partly in the minor key, became a powerful lament for his sister, who died young. But the quality of the newer, explicitly autobiographical material suffered by comparison. His way with words seems to have vanished, leaving in its place the clunking syntax of inferior 60s protest songs, the overstuffed lines of the local English teacher who's always fancied himself as a bit of a songwriter. The list of names in "London Song", for example, which is probably supposed to sound comparable to the likes of REM's "The End of the world as we know it", sounded instead like a drunken rocker falling down the stairs.

The narrative element never quite hits the spot either. Though Davies' account of north London working class life after the war is diverting, it's never richly layered enough to be anything more than that. Davies is no Muswell Hill Steven Berkoff. And while his songs, which pinned down the essence of the 1960s better than most, were given terrifically muscular readings, nostalgia was the emotion most powerfully evoked by "The Storyteller" - which isn't really enough.

When it came to the account of "You Really Got Me", the climax of the show, the disparity between past and present became most painful. Davies gave an account of how his brother, Dave, "played himself into rock and roll history" as he spat out that immortal raspberry of a guitar solo, and it was inevitably an anticlimax when Ray Davies and Matheson went into a 12-bar blues version, which was gutsy enough but without the adrenaline edge. It needed that big noise, yet to play it on tape over the PA would have been an admission of faded powers. Which, in a way, would have been a suitable judgement on the evening.

Chris Maume

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

    £40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

    Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

    £26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

    £17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

    Day In a Page

    Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

    ‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

    Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

    ... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
    12 best olive oils

    Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

    Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
    Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

    Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

    There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?