Paul Broome Ray Davies' gig review (Wiz courtesy.)

The crowd filling the Symphony Hall is one of the most eclectic I've seen for a while - old mods decked out in their finest blazers, young kids, people in ball gowns - a random selection box all looking forward to the same thing, some quality entertainment from one of the Nation's greatest.

My own love of The Kinks goes back to my tenth birthday, and one of the first albums I owned (Spotlight on the Kinks Vol.1) and has continued to this day (one of the few consistent quantities as I made my journey through various different musical styles and genres).

The current tour is in support of his 2009 release, The Kinks Choral Collection, on which he has re-visioned a fine selection of (mostly) Kinks tracks with support from the Crouch End Festival Chorus. Before getting to the live versions of those tracks with the choir though, he kicks proceedings off on acoustic guitar by performing a selection of classics. He gets the crowd singing along from the off with a medley of 'You Really Got Me' and 'I Need You', and 'Ape Man' (a track which he mentions is almost more pertinent now than when he first wrote it) keeps things rolling.

He performs the second half of 'Dedicated Follower of Fashion' in the style of Johnny Cash, and the impersonation is quite astounding (and works surprisingly well!)

Although seated for much of this first section, he's still an extremely animated guy - exhalting the crowd into communal singing and much hand-clapping. The rest of his band join him on stage halfway through a rendition of 'Dead End Street' - the full sound kicking the crowd's enjoyment and reactions to a new height. After telling a comical version of the events that led to him being shot while living in New Orleans in 2004, he performs a couple of excellent tracks from his under-rated recent album Working Man's Cafe - 'Morphine Song' and 'Vietnam Cowboys' (which includes a great partial rendition of 'Apache').

The fact that the crowd here tonight has chosen an evening of Ray Davies over the X Factor final isn't lost on him either, he mentions (during one of the many times that he pays respect to his brother Dave) that The Kinks were turned down by every record label in town because "the singer was too ugly" and Dave's guitar sounded like "a barking dog". "See Simon Cowell was even in charge back then", he dead pans before continuing with a crowd-pleasing "but he can fuck off!".

An extremely energetic rendition of 'All Day and All of the Night' - with Ray practically pogoing around the stage with his Strat with the energy of someone half his 65 years - brings the first half of the show to an end, and he throws his guitar down onto the stage (slightly upset with some element of the sound, good to see he still has the passion to get riled at his age!)

The Crouch End Festival Chorus files onto stage for the second half of the show, again with additional support from Ray's band - and I'm tickled pink when they begin with a rendition of my all-time favourite Kinks track, 'Shangri-La'. It's no exaggeration to say that there were shivers running down my spine for this one, the choir sounds incredible - this is no gimmick, these tracks really work with this accompaniment.

The version of 'See My Friends' - performed just with Ray and the backing of the choir, no instrumentation - drives this home even more. It is spellbinding. There's a great selection of tracks from The Village Green Preservation Society (now regarded as The Kinks defining album, at the time a commercial and critical failure): 'Village Green', 'Picture Book', 'Big Sky', 'Do You Remember Walter', 'Johnny Thunder' and the title track all reminding us what a classic piece of work that album really is (as if we needed reminding!). The set ends with a couple of classic 'yearners': 'Celluloid Heroes' and first dance favourite 'Waterloo Sunset'.

To say the applause was tumultuous would come close to capturing the reception, and the two encores of 'Days' and another version of 'All Day and All of the Night' (this time with the choir) go a long way to ensuring that everyone goes home happy. Although, of course, with a back catalogue as strong as his there's always going to be something missing from every gig!

While it's generally true that people are either Beatles or Rolling Stones fans, but rarely both, love of the music of The Kinks is a far more universal thing. The songs of Ray Davies document slices of British life, in a unique way, keeping them close to most of our hearts (and if not our hearts, then at least bouncing around our heads).

Ray Davies is a songwriter of unrivalled genius, and a consummate performer - he has more than played his part in shaping the world of music, and especially the world of rock (I still consider 'You Really Got Me' as being the first heavy metal single) - and tonight's show was a pleasure to behold.

Set List:

(First Set) You Really Got Me + I Need You (Medley) / Ape Man / In A Moment / A Dedicated Follower of Fashion / Autumn Almanac / A Long Way From Home / Sunny Afternoon / Dead End Street / Morphine Song / Vietnam Cowboys / Til the End of the Day / All Day and All of the Night

(Second Set, with Choir) Shangri-La / Victoria / Working Man's Cafe / See My Friends / You Really Got Me / Village Green / Picture Book / Big Sky / Do You Remember Walter / Johnny Thunder / The Village Green Preservation Society / A Postcard From London / Celluloid Heroes / Waterloo Sunset / (encore) Days / All Day and All of the Night

Paul Broome
for Midlands Rocks

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