The grandmaster of English songwriting, Ray Davies returns to a sell out Liverpool Philharmonic, Getintothis’ David Charters revels in his timeless catalogue and his golden future.
He’s 68 now, this wry poet of the greasy spoon caff as well as the more genteel seaside café, where toasted current buns accompany the pots of tea.
On rainy days, he has written of an England that we understand while always remaining mysterious himself.
But he stood in pride on those pipe-cleaner legs of his and then looked out to us from a stage of noble tradition. Before him the packed audience rose as one, from the pouting girls to the bus-pass pensioners – and then Ray Davies heard them sing his song back to him, as though it was the National Anthem.
And perhaps there is a special quality in Days that enables its deeply personal sentiment to embrace a more general sense of remembrance. In those moments, Ray felt the pulse of an audience that was full of affection, roaring and sentimental in turn, in tune with the switching moods of a wonderful programme, during which he referred many times, and with true warmth, to the Kinks and brother Dave.
Of course, to many of us he will be forever Ray of the Kinks, though his new band is very fine with former Kink Ian Gibbons on keyboards.
The evening began with a set from James Walbourne, who has seen some life – a bejeaned guitarist in the grand old style, plenty of passion with adroit and robust playing and bluesy singing, rarely soothed by a lozenge.
Ray opened aptly enough with a song about belonging, before stepping into his Autumn Almanac of mustard coloured leaves, football, roast beef, holiday resorts and the haunting call of childhood streets.
The songs flowed from an almost endless catalogue – Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Dead End Street, Till the End of the Day, Tired of Waiting, Sunny Afternoon, Where Have All the Good Times Gone?, 20th Century Man, Victoria, I’m Not Like Everybody Else (the Kinks’ own anthem).
Maybe there were moments when Ray scraped a little on the higher notes, but his voice these days has great depth.
Waterloo Sunset, routinely described as his love song to London, since its triumphant moment in the Closing ceremony of the Olympic Games, was greeted with rapture. “It belongs to you,” he told the audience. Indeed it did. That is the measure of Ray’s songs. They have entered the folk memory of the nation.
The distillation of emotion on his song of loss, See My Friend, was peerless and ended in a solo from his guitarist Bill Shanley in homage to the playing of John Martyn and Davy Graham.
Walbourne returned to the stage for a version of Muswell Hillbilly, in recognition of the area where he, as well as the Davies brothers, grew up. And, from the same period in Ray’s career, there was Oklahoma USA, dedicated to his sister Rosie, who sat in the picture palaces dreaming of the stars she would never meet.
all Day and All of the Night was played and sung with great gusto by Ray, the band and the audience And You Really Got Me was unleashed as Ray’s second encore, drowning out the creak of knee-joint as almost everyone bopped or at least clapped.
The man himself, though, can still do those scissor kicks. Yes, Ray Davies is 68 now, but he has a golden future.
Picture by David Munn.