Ray Davies: Birmingham Symphony Hall – live review

Ray Davies
Saturday October 13th
Birmingham Symphony Hall

Amidst an extensive tour, Ray Davies’ Birmingham stopover managed to impress and entertain, despite a late start. Dave Jennings gives us the full story.

There can’t be too many national treasures who are subjected to the slow handclap for perceived tardiness on stage, yet are still able to hold the audience in their palm for ninety blissful minutes and  leave them baying for more. However, in his own words, Ray Davies is ’ not like everybody else’ and striding onto the stage a good 25 minutes after the house announcer told us the show was about to start, he simply spread his arms and said ‘that’s a great welcome for Bill [Shanly, his excellent guitarist] but what about me?’ If anyone truly thought a slow handclap would bother a man who for nearly 50 of the most creative years in rock history has turned contrariness into an art-form whilst simultaneously inspiring and infuriating those closest to him, they were sadly mistaken. Despite any other creative baggage he may carry, on-stage Ray Davies is truly at home and proceeds to lead his audience through some of the finest moments in rock history.

Kicking off with just Bill on stage, ‘the Modfather’s Godfather’ launched into the traditional opener of ‘This is where I belong’, followed by the lyrical gyrations of ‘Autumn Almanac ‘and ‘dedicated Follower of Fashion’ it was clear this would be an evening of familiar hits, and there’s certainly plenty of them to choose from.  Always worth hearing are the stories that accompany  these songs like the bewilderment of the other Kinks on hearing ‘See My Friends’ for the first time’, apparently was something like ‘We love it, but haven’t got a clue what you’re going on about’. Whilst Ray is undoubtedly a master of his craft, the arrival on stage of the rest of his band during the still hugely relevant lament that is ‘Dead End Street’, added the depth to the sound that is so essential to so many  of these songs.

Shortly after this, Ray left the stage for the first of several changes of clothing before returning for ‘Victoria’ and then the epic ‘20th Century Man’ where, as usual, he reads the intro from X-Ray, his autobiography that perfectly showcases his life-long hatred of bureaucracy and people dressed in grey, as well as delivering biting satire on the age in which the song was written, ‘the wonderful world of technology/ napalm, hydrogen bomb, biological warfare’. Those who are searching for the roots of punk could do worse than examine the career of Ray Davies and work back from there. More Kinks classics follow in ‘Til the end of the day’ and ‘Where have all the good times gone?’ before a breathless  version of ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ is followed by ‘Waterloo Sunset’ as it was first played for Dave Davies’s approval, the ex-Kink guitarist and younger sibling of Ray was name-checked several times to the approval of the audience. The theme of his family, which runs through the Davies song-book,  was evident in several songs here tonight, most touchingly on’ Oklahoma USA’  about the escapist dreams of his sister Rosie and ‘A long Way From Home’ written for brother Dave in 1970 at the end of a decade of hell-raising behaviour. Bringing the set to a close with a shout of ‘rock and roll will never die’, ‘All Day and All of the Night’ displays all the energy that is still part of the Davies DNA.

Returning for an encore of ‘Days’ quietly dedicated to Pete Quaife followed by ‘Come Dancing’ for his sister Rene who’s tragic story inspired the song, Ray had them literally dancing in the aisles despite the best efforts of overly officious security to stop it. Following the traditional handshakes with the crowd at the end, Ray decided spontaneously to bring back his band and do’ Lola’ which was to bring the show to an end. Leaving the stage to shouts for more, he had clearly decided that tonight there would be no performance of ‘You’ve Really Got Me’. We were promised a return next year with a new album and, if that proves to be the case, it should be a date for the diary. You should always try to see a legend, they’re not making many more of them.

All words by Dave Jennings. You can read more from Dave HERE.

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  1. […] the great ability to not only write words, but tell a story. Up there with great musical poets like Ray Davies, he not only makes catchy songs but enthrals you with a tale. Sometimes, bringing tears of sorrow, […]

  2. A little late to comment but I don’t agree that he held the audience in his palm. It was unacceptable to keep us waiting for 25 minutes and I don’t think he ever fully recovered from that.


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