TALES OF DRUNKENESS AND CRUELTY
A beautiful, some might say barmy evening in late July. Not a cloud in the sky, the occasional whiff of burger fat dripping onto the white coals of a barbecue.
Myself, the good lady wife and a mate of ours are off to see a genuine living legend and frontman of one of the true, great Mod bands of the Sixties, Ray Davies of The Kinks.
I am one of many that rate him as the greatest English songwriter of all time. While all the great bands of the sixties drew inspiration from American rock & roll and blues as did The Kinks, they never really sounded that comfortable playing it.
To me, The Kinks’ versions of rock & roll standards such as ‘Long Tall Sally’ and ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ don’t have the raw, Little Richard whoops that The Beatles affected or the swampy blues twang of The Stones trying to sound like Muddy Waters. When they did do such songs, Ray Davies and The Kinks sounded, well, awfully British.
They gradually moved away from trying to sound like their heroes and began to carve a uniquely English sound onto vinyl.
The concert was at the very un-rock & roll setting of Claremont Landscape Gardens in Esher. A picturesque oasis with a grass covered amphitheatre looking down onto the stage which backed onto a huge lake. It is doubtless a beautiful setting for watching a gig but I couldn’t help thinking we were in for an evening with Michael Ball.
We spotted the beer tent stage left and picked our way through middle class families sitting on tartan rugs and picnic tables, tucking into paper plates full of fine cheeses and pate and sipping chilled chablis, little pinkies cocked skywards. Jolly shouts of “Bunty! pass Mummy the camembert would you, sweetie?” rang through the warm evening.
Maybe I’m being a bit harsh and l have to admit, the missus took a blanket for us to sit on. When in Rome.
We finally pitched up next to the beer tent. Pint of Murphys. Lovely.
A DJ was playing some sixties R&B which started the feet tapping involuntarily.
It was great to see such a mix of age groups, young kids were skipping about trying to avoid the older grizzled Faces. Peacocks screamed from the landscaped gardens to the right of the stage.
We took to our blanket. Then a voice boomed over the PA, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to the support act tonight, David Soul!”
We all looked at each other in disbelief then back at the stage. My mate started to sing ‘Don’t give up on us baby.” To our relief his name must have been David Saul or David Seoul because it wasn’t the golden haired, self confessed ex-alcoholic and alleged wife-beater that graced the stage but a small geezer with a huge acoustic guitar and a bass player in a floppy beanie hat. They also had a violin player.
What followed was about 45 minutes of forgettable MOR cack and a couple more pints of Murphys.
At one point Mr Sole or whatever his name was paid tribute to the headline act, “I would just like to say what a thrill and honour it is to be supporting Ray Davies here at Claremont! He is THE MAN!” “Anyway, here is another song that sounds just like the last! THANGYOU!”
Again I’m being a tad harsh. Although I wasn’t into David Shoal or whoever he was, I can appreciate what it takes to craft a 3 minute pop song, get a group of geezers together, rehearsed and onstage to play them. It just that some are better than others at it. Peter Andre for a start.
Anyway, in the lull before Ray I decided to check out the toilets. Turn right at the barbecue tent and follow the path through the rhodedendrons. Cant miss ‘em.
Now I’m no John Peel, I’ve never been to Glastonbury or Reading or V2000 and something but I’m sure you will not find a better khazi to park a buttock than at Claremont. Clean, pleasantly fragrant and with complimentary loo roll. Lovely.
I make my way back to our patch and we watch as more and more people make their way to the front of the stage while the backline is changed over. It is then that we spot a curious site. A middle aged, comfortably proportioned lady with a pair of luminous deely boppers on her head obliviously bouncing around at the front of the stage. Heaven knows what the stock broker belt massive make of this but she seems happy enough until we spot her later on in the evening with a slight stagger and deely boppers all skewiff. Too much Bolly darling?
Who’s this walking up the hill towards the beer tent? Why it’s none other than Esher’s second most famous resident ex DJ, Dave ‘The Kid’ Jenson. Not sure if Tarrant was lurking about. He was probably up to his welly tops in chub on some private stretch of the River Mole.
Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome onstage, RAY DAVIES!
The Man! as David Sold or whatever his name was put it, ambles up to the mike, acoustic guitar slung round his neck. He appears to be much taller than photographs would lead you to believe and I don’t see too much of a limp after he got shot in the leg in the States earlier in the year. But it is him and the heart beats a little faster in anticipation.
Unfortunately the Murphys has the effect of making me forget his opening number. I think it may have been ‘Autumn Almanac’ but ‘Dead End Street’ ‘ Where Have All The Good Times Gone?’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’ and a fantastic version of the slightly creepy ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ all spill from the stage and mingle with the fine cuban cigar smoke of Surrey’s elite.
Halfway through this part of the set, Ray says something which gets me thinking. “Let’s get this over and done with!” He says into the mike before launching into ‘Days’. Strange.
Is he sick of wheeling out his back catalogue? Does he just want to crack on with his solo material? Or worse still, start reciting poetry as I’ve heard he’s done in the past.
But no fear, he was probably just having a laugh because by now the full band are up and running behind him as they crank through more vintage Kinks.
Ray is in great voice, effortlessly leaping from a throaty blues howl to the perfect pronounciation of the English gent on ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’. The band are as tight as two coats of paint and the sound for the most part is very good.
He takes great delight in telling us that original Kinks drummer Mick Avory was going to make a guest appearance but got pissed on the local golf course. I don’t know whether this is true but he keeps mentioning it between numbers.
Then comes his solo material and there is an almost audible sigh from the crowd up front.
Glowsticks that were held jubilantly aloft heads start to fall by the sides. Unfortunately the majority are here for The Kinks numbers. Time for more Murphys I think. Your round? lovely! And I treat myself to another visit to the bogs.
Back in time for more Kinks numbers. Ray starts telling the story of how he was sitting in the front room of the Davies family home in Muswell Hill all those years ago, having a bit of tinker on the piano singing a lyric. “Girl, you really got me now…” Brother Dave comes in and asks what he’s playing, picks up his guitar and plugs it into his amp with the slashed speaker cone which gives the riff its distinctive spiky buzz. A timeless classic is born.
‘You Really Got Me’ is one of those rare songs that no matter how many times you’ve heard it, still manages to raise the hairs on the back of the neck when it comes on the radio. Heavily influenced by The Kingsmen’s Louie Louie, it’s simplicity is its beauty.
Can you imagine what it must have felt like for a spotty herbert in 1964 to be listening to The Simon Dee show on the wireless; “At number two that was The Honeycombs with Have I the right, and we have a brand new number one, Yes it’s those loveable hairy Kinks from Muswell Hill with You really got me!” And this fucking electrical storm comes crashing through the transistor.
You crank it up. The old man looks up from his newspaper, shakes his head and goes back to the crossword. Even the dog jumps up from its basket, farts and exits the room.
“That’s for Dave! Where are ya Dave?!” shouts Ray at the end of the song. This turns out to be quite poignant as I heard that unfortunately Dave Davies had suffered a stroke a few weeks prior to the gig while doing the rounds promoting his latest album, Bug. Apparently he was in a lift with his son at the BBC after an interview when he collapsed. His family had decided to keep it quiet until recently.
The end is nigh as Ray and the band rattle through the last couple of numbers of the night, my Kinks favourite, Lola being one of them.
Then it’s “THANKYOU!” and the greatest English songwriter of all time leaves the stage.
No room for an encore as the sky lights up with an impressive firework display and the DJ spins
a classic rock and roll tune. All inhibitions have been doused with Murphys so fuck it, I decide to
duck-walk down the hill, Chuck Berry style.
All very funny and idiotic but I misjudge the steep incline and soon I’m haring down, dodging people here and there until a woman doesn’t see me and walks right infront of me.
I manage to grab her mid-collision and hold her up. “Sorry! are you OK?” I enquire, relieved that we both managed to stay upright but she’s not a happy bunny. “You bloody idiot! You knocked the glasses from my face!” she hisses while crouched over and combing the grass. Luckily we found them. I muttered another apology and sheepishly made me way back to the safe haven of our blanket.
So that was Ray Davies. A true legend in a truly beautiful setting.