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Ray Davies – Royal Festival Hall (Live Review)

It’s amazing. The Kinks ‘You Really Got Me’ is 50 years old this year.

Dave Davies seminal riff, credited with kick starting the sound that transform into Metal as we know it is 50 years fresh.

After 50 years of constant writing and touring Ray Davies (lead singer and lyricist for The Kinks) has fully cemented himself as both one of Britain’s greatest songwriters and a National Icon.

September 9th saw Mr. Davies play a packed out show at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s Southbank. The concert billed as a celebration of the song that made Davies and The Kink famous world-wide.

The event kicked off with support act Lucas & King, who quietly stepped out on to the stage and nervously admitted to usually play on pubs and clubs before some un-helpful prat shouted “get on with it”. They did. And they played a gorgeous acoustic set that shut all the support act chatterers up. If you enjoy you’re acoustic folk mellow, look out for them.

With spring in his step the veteran did not look his 70 years as the band teased the opening chords of the song of the evening they segued into a barnstorming one-two of ‘I Need You’ and ‘Where Have All the Good Times Gone’. Quickly followed up by a slowed down version of ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’, keeping to an arrangement closer to the version found on ‘To the Bone’, used to bold effect in The Sopranos.

It seems a night to celebrate not just the song ‘You Really Got Me’ but The Kinks greatest hits in general as the band bash out short and sharp versions of ‘Sunny Afternoon’, ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ and ‘Dead End Street’. By this point in the show Davies began to actively engage the audience in the songs, easily getting calls and responses for each track. It’s entirely probably that all he could do is just stand onstage playing guitar and the entire hall would have happily sung his own songs back to him. He’s also showcasing his storyteller skills between songs, cheekily introducing ‘Dedicated…’ as an old English folk song he rejuvenated.

The next trio of songs see the band stripped right back to an almost acoustic set. A slow paced rendition of ‘Victoria’ gives the song an urgency and importance to the song it followed by the ‘Muswell Hillbilly’ classic ‘20th Century Man’. The personal stand out of the evening for me comes next with a heart breaking performance of ‘Misfits’ – the un-often played title track from the 1978 album. It was one of fantastic moments that rarely happens at a sit down show like this where I completely forgot where I was and was taken back to the summer when I had the song on repeat on my generic mp3 player, walking Midland country lanes.

A brief monologue followed where our host teased some new works from his new book of writing. Explaining how his next song was partly inspired by his upstairs neighbours footsteps on the ceiling before treating the crowd to two new songs that we’ll call ‘I Heard That Beat Before’ and ‘Rock n’ Roll Cowboys’.

A heavy sounding ‘Til the End of the Day’ brings us from “the future, back into the past”. It’s worth a mention that since his ‘See My Friends’ album a few years ago the band seem to be playing the songs with a heavy bass and growling guitar. Lending the older songs a welcome contemporary vibe. A trimmed down but riotous version of ‘Come Dancing’ introduces a bit of theatrics with a disco ball and dreamy ‘A Long Way From Home’ (written for and dedicated to his brother Dave) leads into the evenings climax.

‘All Day and All of the Night’ gets people out of their chairs and down to the front of the stage. Our host relishing in bouncing from one side of the stage to the other, a bluesy ‘Low Budget’ segues into a reprise of ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’. The set ends on a triumphant final with ‘Celluloid Heroes’ – the best Davies composition you probably always forget about. Finishing with ‘Days’ there doesn’t seem to be anyone in the room not singing along.

When you add up all  the songs together you do begin to realize just how many classic songs Davies has written over the years and that’s not including some of the greats not performed; ‘Set Me Free’, ‘Autumn Almanac’, ‘See My Friend’, ‘The Village Green Preservation Society’. In fact one day it would be incredible to see a show made up of the great album tracks ‘Rainy Day in June’, ‘ Two Sisters’, ‘Big Sky’, ‘Some Mother’s Son’, ‘Genevieve’, ‘Living on a Thin Line’, the list is endless.

After a brief break of what consisted of Mr. Davies and the band walking off the stage and promptly back on the group engaged in a short blues jam as the singer described the writing process that would create ‘You Really Got Me’. A slow build on the piano keys, signaled in that familiar riff, Davies explained how Dave ran in the room where he was writing exclaiming “what the fuck was that?” and with that the ensemble burst into a ruckus version of the track. Even after 50 years and having heard it perhaps a thousand times it’s still impossible not to nod your head, sing-a-long and just enjoy one of the greatest pop/rock songs ever written.

Hearing ‘Waterloo Sunset’ sung around will always be a special event and a faithful version of the song reminds us all, lest we forget, what a truly lovely song it is – and I mean that in the strongest, loveliest way. Who cannot like that song? Who would not love it being sung to them by its creator?

A grand old sing-a-long of perennial party favourite Lola caps off the evening. Ray Davies is in as fine a form as he has ever been, if not better, no longer wearing some songs like an albatross who has fully embraced all his songs, their reputation and their appeal. As he himself mentions halfway through the show “the songs will always stay young”, from the sound to the music played there is no age to any of these songs whether they were written 50 years ago or in 2014.