Monday, March 3. Not the usual way to start a week. More’s the shame. This post takes it for granted that: i). The Stables in MK is a great little venue, and ii). you have a fair idea of what Ray Davies has achieved down all the days, and furthermore – iii). a few other things.
Neat lively and lyrical short support set from The Rails. The Rails are James Walbourne (“a teenage prodigy” it says here on their Facebook page, though he’s older than that now) and Kami Thompson (yes, a relation). In as much as Fairport Convention were the British The Band – not that that is meant to diminish their achievement in any way – I’d venture by the same token The Rails are shaping up to become the British Gillian Welch and David Rawlings in the near future. James has the guitar chops in abundance and he contributed greatly to the main show when called upon, which was, lucky for us, a lot of the time.
Ray came on, initially with just regular guitar accompanist Bill Shanley; both were stationed well back from the front of the stage. He told us tonight was “an experiment”. The evening still involved more music than anything else, of course, but, as per earlier Storyteller/X-Ray tours, it was punctuated with a number of recitations from his new book Americana: The Kinks, the road and the perfect riff (reviewed earlier here on Lillabullero) and this time around, to add further spice, some rough-cut ‘home’ videos illustrating various aspects of the book, during which they left the stage (and a few members of the audience went to the toilet). There were some new songs – hurrah! – the lyrics, or at least fragments thereof, had first been seen tantalizingly in the pages of Americana; there were some lesser known songs from his and The Kinks‘ back catalogue; and a fair sprinkling of the usual crowd favourites, mostly at the start and end, some given the by now traditional singalong treatment.
It was a great evening. Fears that Ray’s voice was on its way out were soon allayed and he was in comfortable good form with the banter, mentioning Arsenal a couple of times. I thought the format worked well. Never mind that the idea of the ‘experiment’ was probably designed on an artistic level, to set up a few theatrical ‘moments’, given that Ray Davies is 70 this year I’d say he deserves a chance to recharge his batteries during proceedings, to preserve the voice, and while anecdotage from the queue in the toilets revealed a little disquiet from the odd attendee moaning about the videos (they might have been better off at a Kast Off Kinks gig), I found them absorbing, though I’d have to grant that is more likely the case more for fans of a certain ilk carrying a fair bit of pre-knowledge.
What struck me after the event was the realisation of just how much of an ensemble performance the outstanding moments were, with James Walbourne there on stage with Ray and the ever-present Bill. An exquisite ensemble with the added bonus of including writer Ray Davies on lead vocals – always in charge, of course – but in the actual performance functioning as one of the trio, enjoying himself immensely and in awe of the instrumental prowess going on either side of him. Quite literally no backing band this, lined up as they were across the stage, though their back-up vocals added another dimension when called upon. Not that Ray Davies is a slouch as a guitarist himself, but the three-pronged acoustic attack, when in place, was a thing of many-shaded wonder to behold: exciting, inventive, powerful, beautiful.
Bill Shanley‘s jazzy embellishments have been a delightful part of Ray’s subtle reshaping of his old songs for a while now, but the addition of the folkier Walbourne to this show gave us a perfect British take on the music known vaguely as Americana. The workouts on Dead End Street and The Getaway were outstanding. Who needs bass and drums? Seriously: if you can be a part of music-making this good, why would you want to go back to being in a rock and roll band? I see absolutely no musical point in a Kinks reformation in this 50th anniversary year of You really got me – if there’s any validity it can only be as a one-off symbolic gesture. Even if that record still sounds as fresh now – despite its use in a hundred adverts – as it did then back then.
Just a few other random afterthoughts:
Strange that of the Kinks albums with the most relevance to the theme – the English Americana of the ’50s & ’60s mind – the great Muswell Hillbillies – they only played Twentieth Century Man (with updated date line) and nothing from the Arista albums, from Sleepwalker on, with which The Kinks conquered the States, and which take up a fair amount of time in the book. But I look forward to Ray’s next album, intrigued whether he uses the arrangements on display here. I’ve heard that beat before (or whatever the official title is) sounds particularly potent. One of the video sequences reminded me what an under-rated song – though there are many of those in Ray’s canon – the actual song Storyteller is.