tue 23/07/2024

Ray Davies, Royal Festival Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Ray Davies, Royal Festival Hall

Ray Davies, Royal Festival Hall

Massed choir, orchestra and immortal pop: the last night of Meltdown

Ray Davies: The Puck of Muswell Hill closes MeltdownImages by Mark Mawston

Tickets were like gold dust for this one and the stage was lit as if some of that dust had been sprinkled on the Festival Hall in a midsummer dream of a concert. The massed ranks of the Crouch End Festival Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra and a backing rock band magicked up on the Southbank to pay handsome tribute to the presiding Puck and genius loci Raymond Douglas Davies, alumnus of the William Grimshaw Secondary Modern School, in the manor of Muswell Hill.

As the last night of the Meltdown series, curated by Davies, was it all hopelessly OTT? Short answer: yes. But it was also glorious.

As the last night of the Meltdown series, curated by Davies, was it all hopelessly OTT? Short answer: yes. But it was also glorious.

You could use your critical arsenal to pick holes in elements of it or, on the other hand, you could just surrender and like Terry and Julie “cross over the river” and “as long as they gaze on Waterloo Sunset/ They are in paradise”.

Meltdown11RayFinaleWe already knew that Ray Davies is one of a handful of British pop-songwriting geniuses, with only Paul McCartney as a living peer. Most of his immortal 17 hits were performed with some new arrangements and, listening to all of them in one go, it’s clear, even shocking, how innovative many of them were.

His first hit with The Kinks in 1964, “You Really Got Me”, in two intense minutes prefigured heavy metal and punk (aided by brother Dave slashing a speaker cone with a razor to distort the guitar sound). He was exploring sexual ambiguity in “Lola” years before David Bowie and decades before Blur and Lady Gaga - “it’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world – except for Lola” - and with other gem-like hit singles such as “Sunny Afternoon” he invented a new kind of English pop lyricism: “My girlfriend's gone off with my car/ And gone back to her ma and pa/ Telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty”. Last night the song seemed bang up to credit-crunch date as if we had been dropped into an episode from a contemporary novel. Possibly by Alan Hollinghurst. And the entire audience knew - including, I was surprised to find, me - a good chunk of the words, joining with the hundreds of singers of the Crouch End Choir in a communal celebratory singalong.

kinksThe evening’s entire first half was dedicated to performing an orchestrated version of The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society, Davies’s paean to a lost Albion, the closest thing in pop to William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience. The whole evening piled up nostalgia upon nostalgia, as the songs were already nostalgic when written and now summon a time “when the world was young” (The Kinks, pictured above).

They also summon a time when members of the audience were young; you could see on intent faces memories of childhood surfacing. For the song "Monica", I recalled a crush I had aged seven on a girl called Monica, who was 15 (and going out with a 25-year-old: I had no chance - Mocky Phillips, I hope you are alive, and thriving). The Arcadian spirit was broken only for “People Take Pictures of Each Other”: cutely we were allowed to do just that. For the rest of the concert, we were asked to keep our smartphones in our pockets.

The second half brought the hits, plus one or two newer numbers, like “Imaginary Man”, or not-quite-hits like “Celluloid Heroes”. Its reference to “stars in every house/ Stars in every street” reminded us that one of the most powerful legacies of the Sixties was a democratic shift, at least to some extent, to a less class-ridden world, helping to unleash so much energy in pop culture at the time, where working-class heroes like Davies became the Pied Pipers of a new world.


There were moments where, with the orchestra and choir, it felt like being stuffed with rich chocolates - even more than at the Hammersmith Apollo concert of a couple of years ago. In general, the arrangements worked, and the show climaxed with a series of blazing classics such as “Waterloo Sunset” (and there we were in Waterloo watching the sunset in the interval). Kirsty MacColl’s voice is more suited to “Days”, and she had a bigger hit with it, but what a perfect song of gratitude and loss (on my shortlist for top funeral songs) and how poignantly epic with the choir.

Then it was rocking out with “All Day and All of the Night”, the choir and orchestra departed and Davies encored with his last big hit, the Mavericks-like “Come Dancing”; this time nostalgia was for the Fifties and nights at the local Palais de Danse. A couple of Kinks-by-numbers songs, “Hard Way” and “Low Budget”, finished the encore. Davies still in remarkable voice and full of energy, despite his 67 years.

Then it was all back to Muswell Hill for a knees-up at Ray's place.

Watch video of "Sunny Afternoon"
The whole evening piled up nostalgia upon nostalgia, as the songs were already nostalgic when written

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I hate to be picky but it's Crouch End Festival Chorus, not "Choir". It's a very common change to the name but it's nice to be credited correctly. Also, David Temple, the conductor did an amazing job of marshalling such disparate forces to produce a solid musical backing that carried Ray and the audience along "aparrently" effortlessly. We had a total ball!

Sorry about that - it's changed, sure I read "Choir" somewhere. Incidentally, one of the curious things is that Ray still lives about a mile from where he was born and the Chorus come from the same neighbourhood - he said one of the things he liked was working with singers from the same area.....who were the sort of people he wrote songs about. The singing was fabulous. Ps there's a good YouTube of Ray and the Chorus at last year's Glastonbury doing "Days".

I was brought up less than a mile away from Muswell Hill and now live a few doors down from where Ray was born and sing in CEFC. Although I was a little too young to remember the Kinks hits first time round, I find that as I sing them now, almost every line resonates with my memories of growing up in North London. It's amazing to feel I have actually lived a little piece of cultural history. And as Johnny says, it's such good fun.

Having first seen the Kinks in 1967 and a few times after that I was taken with the fantastic rendition of Kinks songs at Glastonbury. Therefore I couldnt miss "Meltdown". I was so looking forward to the concert but worried it wouldnt be as good as it was on tv from Glastonbury. I should not have feared it was a sensationally evening and worth every penny. Thanks Ray you are a unigue talent Ron Hedley, Tylers Green

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