‘The day he played at the Albert Hall’: the illustrious venue.

In town for the Ray Davies gig at the Royal Albert Hall one sunny early October afternoon, first impressions of the pub we’re in are not that good when our cups of tea are presented to us in that inchoate fashion characteristic of the US of A. Teabags in saucers next to cups of slightly hot water. They don’t want to brew and I don’t blame them and by the time they do attain a drinkable strength they’re tepid at best.[1] We’d joined some other RD fans who leave almost immediately in search of sustenance.[2]

But after these inauspicious beginnings and as the evening progressed, I ended up being offered a joint, told I was beautiful, bought a drink by a stranger and having someone flash their cock at me. All before 7 pm. It seemed to be rapidly turning into one of those interesting nights when literally anything could happen.

‘It’s time to get back out on the road’: a setlist from Canterbury, 30 September 2012.

A friendly but indubitably stoned individual who insists that he knows me from somewhere asks if I want his number. When I just laugh, he warns me as he goes out the door, in a goodnaturedly threatening way, ‘You know you’re going to see me again.’ Somehow I don’t doubt it for one moment.

At the venue, ever so slightly depressed purist folk duo Dead Flamingoes have the unenviable task of warm-up act. I hadn’t been that struck on them at Canterbury but they have grown on me and I quite enjoy tonight’s set. Comprising James Walbourne and Kami Thompson, daughter of Richard, I already knew they weren’t going to be a barrel of laughs, but their voices blend beautifully as their songs tell sad stories. He has a troubled face and wild curly hair while she is a willowy blonde whose clear-skinned beauty is often counterpoised by a slightly stern expression, as if worried we’re not taking her seriously enough. Resembling a pair of attractive student teachers recovering from a particularly harrowing day in the trenches, their harmonies are beguiling and they seem to be in tune with each other in more than just a musical sense.

They get a polite but rather bewildered reception for such cheerful ditties as ‘Hold Your Fire’, which visualises alternative scenarios for a domestic murder-suicide, with lines like ‘Here’s your brains on my kitchen wall’, its chorus somehow strangely uplifting despite the grisly subject matter, ‘Drugs and Money’, ‘Younger’ and the toe-tapping country of the last number ‘Habit’. Another thing in their favour was that they knew not to outstay their welcome, vacating the stage after a mere half hour or so.

‘You got me in the habit’: by the time we get to Croydon I’m a fan.

Except the forty-minute hiatus before Ray graces the stage is filled with this awful intro tape, reportedly the same at all his gigs. On an endless loop, it boasts a selection of dreary tracks and it’s like being trapped in Ray’s audio version of Groundhog Day. The downbeat ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’ and ‘Magic Moments’ are interspersed with the slightly livelier ‘Maybelline’ and ‘Memphis Tennessee’ but by the time the relentlessly perky ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’ comes on for the third occasion I personally nearly put my head through the speaker in front of me on Sunday night. Luckily, the tape is played a bit more quietly on Thursday so didn’t have quite the same detrimental effect on my sanity. Perhaps he knows that by the time we’ve endured multiple listens to this selection we’ll be so desperate to see him we’ll react like he’s the second coming.

On both occasions the audience start up an impatient slow handclap. I get anxious – why do they want to antagonise him? He’s such a diva – what if he strops off?

In Kent I’d been disappointed to see Ray wearing proper shoes. In all the stage footage on youtube he sports white sneakers or trainers, as he did at the Barbican and the Hop Farm. They look so right on him. I didn’t want him to have become all respectable and dress like some old lounge crooner.

‘But I’m livin’ the life that I chose’: Ray (courtesy of secret squirrel).

The acoustic set on each occasion starts off mellow, with the sweet, understated melancholy of ‘This Is Where I Belong’. The line ‘Tell me now if you want me here to stay’ never fails to generate a touchingly resounding chorus of affirmatives from the audience. Just in time for Ray to point out, ‘It don’t matter ‘cause I’ll stay here anyway.’ I love this as a statement for the gig and for his career. There’s gas in his tank and he’s still got a way to go.

He first changes from a white shirt into a black one and then, thankfully, dons white trainers for the second part of the band set. It’s as if he’s turning back into the boy rocker he still is at heart. As if rejuvenated by his footwear, he starts leaping about like a frisky lamb.

The set at the Albert Hall differs only slightly from the one at the Marlowe the previous Sunday. He adds a snatch of ‘Victoria’ and all of ‘Twentieth-century Man’ but leaves out ‘Long Way from Home’[3] and ‘Too Much on My Mind’, maybe to match the nature of each audience. The Canterbury set had been a little subdued and the more reflective songs suited that ambience well. The RAH lot are rowdier and Ray probably judges more likely to want to rock out. In London Ray reads out a sentence or two from his cryptic autobiography X-Ray (calling it something like ‘the tormented rantings of a sex-crazed rock’n’roller’); responds to a request for ‘Days’ with an a capella version segueing into a band one; and invites Paul Weller on stage to duet on ‘Waterloo Sunset’.

He only dips into his solo material once, for the poignant ‘In a Moment’, and I can kind of see why as the reception in Kent was decidedly lukewarm.[4] For every one of us who knows it all by heart and is longing to hear it, there’s probably someone else in the room who’s only familiar with ‘Waterloo Sunset’, ‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘Lola’.

It’s very hard to stay in your seat for songs like ‘Sunny Afternoon’ and ‘Dead End Street’ but even more of a struggle when ‘Muswell Hillbilly’[5] starts off. It seems like no one else wants to dance. The version of ‘Misfits’ is particularly special, tender and beautiful.

‘You say your image is new, but it looks well tested’: Ray at Manchester.

Ray starts off with ‘I’ve done it with Damon Albarn, I’ve done it with Paul Weller’ and just before adding Jackson Browne to his list, remarks that he sounds like a groupie bragging about her rockstar conquests. Instead of recalling the people who’ve joined him for versions of ‘Waterloo Sunset’.

The encores are a lot of fun and some people in the Marlowe Theatre have even got off their arses by now. On Thursday, there’s anarchy in the Albert Hall with people up and dancing from about halfway through, despite the best efforts of the spoilsport staff constantly tapping them on the shoulders to ask them to sit down.

‘Low Budget’ and Ray is shimmying and exposing his waist to ‘They’re a size 28 but I take 34’. Looks like they fit pretty good to me.  Unfortunately, the awful tape comes back on and as you leave, instead of singing some seminal Kinks anthem, you find yourself whistling the infuriatingly catchy yet still somehow dirge-like ‘Magic Moments’.

‘I’m going to take my final bow’: Ray in 1973.

More to come on Fairfield Halls, Croydon gig (where Ray has trainers on from the word go but maybe only in order to make a quick getaway) and next stop Nottingham, where I really need to hear ‘Celluloid Heroes’, which has been played at some gigs.

I’m now convinced that Ray can’t actually say brother Dave Davies’s name without adding ‘Death of a Clown’ to the middle of it. Why can’t he just be nice for once?

Lyrics as usual from kindakinks.net.

[1] As Ray says re. ‘Working Man’s Cafe’, ‘It’s a song that was inspired partly by being abroad and not finding anywhere to have a decent cup of tea. And then I came back to England for a while and there’s nowhere to have a decent cup of tea really.’

[2] Or to get away from us, who knows? We can have that effect on people.

[3] This was prefaced by some facetious remarks about songs inspired by Dave, such as ‘Why Don’t You Fuck Off and Go Home?’ and ‘Don’t Run Away with My Chick’.

[4] He could play every song off Working Man’s Cafe, as far as I’m concerned – it’s a brilliant album.

[5] The last part of a section of what Ray calls ‘little-known album tracks’, for which James Walbourne joins the band on stage.


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