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HMV Hammersmith Apollo, 19 December 2009

While many of his sixties contemporaries - Paul McCartney, the Stones, the Who, Eric Clapton - continue to be high grossing live acts, Ray Davies has steered a far lower profile. He was one of the legends of rock’n’roll I thought I should catch before it was too late and I got an opportunity to do so at a relatively small venue and a modest ticket price compared to the above mentioned acts.

The set began with about 40 minutes of just him and guitarist Bill Shanley playing an acoustic set, opening with You Really Got Me, for which this was an unlikely format, and a mixture of solo and Kinks (including Apeman, surely risqué in these politically correct times) material. This really came alive when he reeled off a series of classic hits from the sixties- Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Autumn Almanac, Sunny Afternoon and Dead End Street, showing off some of his most finely observed lyrics, not to mention getting the crowd to sing along.

Ray and Bill were then joined by a full band, including ex-Kinks keyboardist Ian Gibbons and an Australian drummer trying too hard to be Keith Moon, for some solo numbers including After the Fall (dedicated to Tiger Woods) and Vietnam Cowboys and rocking out like a garage band with the likes of Till the end of the Day, Where have all the Good Times Gone and 20th Century Man.

After the interval the band re-emerged supported by the 50 plus strong Crouch End Festival chorus. Normally I would run a mile from choral music, and so probably did not enjoy it as much as the first set, but it was interesting to observe how the possibilities of a choir were fused with a band to present a fresh twist on the songs.

You Really Got me was again played with an interesting arrangement while See My Friend was delivered acapella by Ray and the choir- though at other times they seemed a bit superfluous. The centrepiece of this section was a suite of six songs from the ‘Village Preservation Society’ album, while a new songs Postcards from London also impressed, but for me the highlight was Celluloid Heroes, with some of the most cleverly crafted lyrics ever, before the classic Waterloo Sunset brought the set to a close.

During the first encore Days, the crowd finally got to their feet, staying there for a rocked up All Day and All of the Night. Ray was then tempted back for a final run through of Lola (or ‘that faggot song’ as he said while satirising Southern rednecks), although this was one rendition that did seem to lack the charm of the originals.

He referred humorously to his stabbing in New Orleans a few years ago, recounting the story of his hospital treatment in Morphine Song, and near the end of the show saying that he would keep going until someone shot him, and that even when they did he still came back! However the thought kept recurring to me- why on earth did this most quintessential of Englishmen, with his stoicism and wry self-deprecating humour, choose to live in the Deep South in the first place?

This was a late contender for gig of the year. It even led me to think it was time one of Britain’s greatest ever songwriters and national treasures follows Sir Paul, Sir Mick and Sir Elton in being made a knight of the realm.

Review by Andy Nathan

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