thu 19/09/2019

Ray Davies, Hammersmith Apollo | reviews, news & interviews

Ray Davies, Hammersmith Apollo

Ray Davies, Hammersmith Apollo

Ray Davies replaces Kinks with Crouch End Festival Chorus

The Chorus didn’t actually appear until the set’s second half. Things began with Davies, acoustic guitar in hand, and more than ably assisted by Bill Shanley on honeyed Gibson semi-acoustic. “You Really Got Me” was driven and full-powered, “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” got a verse rendered in the manner of Johnny Cash, and “Autumn Almanac” was jauntily swing-along.

Well, the man must know what he’s doing

All this time, Ray was perched on a stool like a folkie, which could have been to take the strain off his leg after the New Orleans shooting a few years back; except that he romped round the stage like a grooved-up whippet once the rest of his band join him. They added punch to “Dead End Street”, which this year has a stinging new relevance – “We both want to work so hard/But we can’t/Get a chance...” “The Morphine Song”, an almost cajun Southern lullaby, was a diary of his time in a charity hospital after the shooting - memories clearly relentlessly bitter.

The first part of the set wound up with an ear-bleedingly loud “Til the End of the Day”. As Davies stood there, pipe-cleaner skinny, argumentative, looking for a minute about 25, you could see would-be Kinks and Blurs in the audience grin and start to headbang. There followed a 15-minute break, during which you wondered why anyone would tamper too severely with this stuff. Well, the man must know what he’s doing.

So the Chorus took to the stage, joined by Ray, who had changed into a sharp suit for the occasion. The opener was “Shangri-La”, always a bit of a downer and, as the ladies and gentlemen started to sing with all the presence of formally dressed extras from Wings of Desire, it was briefly discombobulating.

new-choralBut then things clicked miraculously into place. “See My Friends” becomes an eerie, a capella incantation with a sonorous tribal undertone, stripped down and heart-burstingly beautiful. The hair stood up on your neck. “Days” was even more astonishing. Davies’s voice, slowed and against nothing but acoustic guitar, was meditative; then the Chorus eased in, with a sweeping, poignant elegance. You realised how many of these songs are really elegies; the arrangement suits them and gives them grace.

“You Really Got Me” should maybe have been spared. A couple of major guitar riffs were transposed for choir - not all of them, because that would have been insane, but enough to give us kitsch just on the edge of Spinal Tap. Davies, Shanley and the bassist weighed in, urging the thing forward with heavy rock guitar, but there was a lingering sense of trying to hurry a reluctant reindeer through deep snow.

That was the sole low point in a potentially risky evening that had Davies onstage for three high-octane hours. Amid a batch of stormers, including a rabid “All Day and All of the Night”, a trio of sweeter songs stood out, each one an eccentric’s homage to a sometimes eccentric home. Schmaltziest was “Postcard from London”, the Christmas single with which the album has been re-released. On record it’s a duet with Davies’s one-time partner Chrissie Hynde, whose disaffected vocal makes it clear she couldn’t give a toss about his memories of a snowy day in Hampstead. Onstage, Davies had emotion enough for both of them, and his happiness rang out like a bell. Next was “Victoria”, always a knees-up – only now it blossomed into a down-home gospel stomp, complete with boogie-woogie piano and goofy call and response (“from Canadah! To In-diah!”).

But the evening’s most charmed moment was the Village Green medley. There’s a painting by William Blake on the new album’s cover (pictured) - another Londoner who felt England was part of his soul. Blake and Davies seem to stand together, looking over the hills and rooftops, finding something there to comfort, energise, worry about or laugh at. And so the ladies of the Chorus yodelled like the Women’s Institute, and Davies did his London twang, and everyone looked jubilant. “We are the Village Green Preservation Society/God save Donald Duck, vaudeville and variety/We are the Desperate Dan appreciation society/God save strawberry jam, and all the different varieties...” You could almost see William Blake dancing.

More information about Ray Davies on his official website. Buy The Kinks Choral Collection.

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