Tuesday 24 October 2017

Oh, yes, we are dedicated followers of Ray Davies

One of the most memorable moments of the closing ceremony of the London Olympics was when a black cab drove into the centre of the stadium in Hackney to deposit Ray Davies centre-stage.

The 68-year-old ex-Kinks singer hopped out of the totemic taxi to sing his former band's signature tune 'Waterloo Sunset', his wide-eyed hymn to his hometown that chimed perfectly with the celebration of the glorious sporting pageant that had made the Big Smoke swing again after the trauma of last year's riots. As an ode to the halcyon days of Swinging London in the '60s it is unsurpassed, and is unsurprisingly the title of the new Kinks greatest hits album.

Rock historians often declare 'You Really Got Me' to be the first single to feature distorted guitars, paving the way for heavy metal, punk and later grunge. A favourite at indie discos and music bars, this paean to sexual desire still sounds fresh out of the bottle -- even though it was originally released nearly 50 years ago (1964).

And the gender-bending 'Lola' was like the English cousin of Lou Reed's 'Walk On The Wild Side', even if it was supposedly inspired by a wild night in a French nightclub. The common theme running through all these is an ear for melody that rivals even Lennon and McCartney in their pomp.

Even a song like 'Victoria' could survive Mark E Smith's nasal gnarl and give The Fall their biggest ever chart hit in the 1980s. "I was born, lucky me, in the land that I love," is a line that in Smith's hands sounded as heartfelt as Johnny Rotten's love letter to the queen.

Indeed, it's often the sign of a great songwriter when their work can be interpreted by a diverse bunch of artists from different eras -- the bittersweet 'Days', for instance, provided rich pickings artistically for both a folk balladeer like Luke Kelly and pop queen Kirsty MacColl. Davies sang an unforgettable acapella version of the song during the encore of his last Dublin show in 2010 at the Grand Canal Theatre.

The story goes that an Irish Independent journalist related a tale to Davies backstage before the gig that a taxi driver he had met was in the audience hoping to hear the song in honour of his late wife, who had loved 'Days' all her life. One can only imagine the reaction of the face of the taxi driver when Davies dedicated the song to him and his dear departed.

Happily, the well-respected man from Muswell Hill is due back on a Dublin stage tomorrow when he plays The O2.

No stranger to this country, Davies was once married to a Cork woman, Pat Crosbie, a ballerina whose family is well known in the People's Republic as the owners of the Examiner newspaper group.

Davies has been known to play gigs in villages such as Kinsale that would traditionally be bypassed by other international acts of his stature.

Married three times in total, Davies also had a relationship with Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde in the 1980s, and they had a daughter, Natalie, together.

A measure of the high regard in which he's held by his peers is the glittering galaxy of stars who collaborated with him on his 2010 album See My Friends, in which Davies re-recorded his hits alongside Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Lucinda Williams, Black Francis and our own Gary Lightbody.

Davies and his band were also the inspiration for Irish author Keith Cullen's searing novel The Village Green -- named for the seminal 1968 album The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, their nostalgic musical ode to ye olde England. The Kinks serve as the ever-present soundtrack to Cullen's tale of an unhappy marriage set in London.

Of course, no discussion of the place of Ray Davies and the Kinks in popular culture would be complete without acknowledging the creative input of Ray's brother Dave, one of the most exciting guitarists of his generation. The pair famously fought with each other with such intensity it made the squabbling of the Gallagher siblings seem like a silly sissy spat. But it all helped make Ray's 1995 autobiography X-Ray a great read.

The death of Kinks bassist Pete Quaife a few years ago scuppered any chance of a reunion but the next best thing is seeing Ray Davies tear through his songbook at The O2.

Waterloo Sunset: The Best of The Kinks is out now. Ray Davies plays The O2, Dublin, tomorrow.

nkelly@independent.ie

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