RAY DAVIES: Looking forward to Kenwood
PUBLISHED: 12:19 26 June 2009 | UPDATED: 16:17 07 September 2010
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RAY DAVIES is one of the most enduring music stars ever to emerge on either side of the Atlantic and his early songs mark him out as the godfather of rock n pop. And on Saturday June 27, lead singer and songwriter of The Kinks will play the opening night
RAY DAVIES is one of the most enduring music stars ever to emerge on either side of the Atlantic and his early songs mark him out as the godfather of rock'n'pop.
And on Saturday June 27, lead singer and songwriter of The Kinks will play the opening night of this year's Kenwood Concerts - marking his debut at the Hampstead Heath series.
While fans will be familiar with classic 1960s tunes such as You Really Got Me and Waterloo Sunset, they might not be so familiar with Davies's new choral sound.
Released on Monday, his latest album, The Kinks Choral Collection, features Davies' intriguing collaboration with the Crouch End Festival Chorus, led by David Temple.
"I'm going to start with a small set with my regular band and then I'm doing a longer one with the Festival Chorus with songs from the new album," he explains.
"I haven't played at Kenwood before - at least not legally - so I'm really looking forward to it.
"There are a lot of new songs, too. One of the surprises is a song called See My Friends, which was a top 10 hit. I did it a cappella with the choir."
The seeds of this experimental collaboration were sown 10 years ago when he was commissioned to write a piece for the Norwich Festival using an 80-strong choir and the Britten Sinfonia.
"I met some of the choir there and I've stayed in touch over the years. I played at the Electric Proms at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, which is where I met up with David Temple," he says.
It seems strange to think of putting instruments and voices normally found in classical music to these old 60s numbers - some of which are incredibly simple in terms of structure and sound. But Davies says it made him rediscover the songs.
"With a song like You Really Got Me, when we did it back in the 60s we just had the sound we wanted for the band and we recorded it and that was that.
"With the choir, I wanted to stretch the music more - stretch the arrangement to accommodate the choir.
"It starts very eerie and ends up very triumphant. It blew me away when we recorded it at Konk Studios. The first time I heard it after recording, it knocked me off my chair.
"It goes into a very delicate section - we do a few songs a cappella - and then it builds to not loud exactly but definitely triumphant."
Among the classic hits that have had the choral treatment
and which will be performed at Kenwood are You Really Got Me, Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, the Village Green Preservation Society and Waterloo Sunset.
Davies says that the latter works extremely well and will likely be a high point of the show.
One of the notable things about Davies's career is the number of other bands which have been propelled to success by singing his songs.
Guitar metal band Van Halen shot to fame after covering You Really Got Me. The Jam's cover of David Watts proved a breakthrough for them and the Pretenders' rendition of Stop Your Sobbing became one of their signature tunes.
"Songs like Lola and You Really Got Me are easy to cover. My songs have launched the careers of three big bands.
"But the thing that really interests me is when people try the less well known songs and add something of their own to the arrangement.
"That's what makes me think, 'Yes, they're really doing something creative here.'
"Stop Your Sobbing by the Pretenders was a good cover - they discovered some musical nuances in it."
He was born in Muswell Hill to Fred and Annie Davies on June 21 1944 - their seventh child and their first boy.
In 1957, his big sister Rene bought him his first guitar, setting in motion his journey toward stardom.
After taking guitar lessons from his brother-in-law Mike Piker, he began performing his first shows with his younger brother Dave, who would later play with him in The Kinks.
His school mate Rod Stewart briefly rehearsed with the band on vocals but left to join the Moontrekkers.
In 1964, the single You Really Got Me was released and went to number one in the UK charts and number seven in the United States.
The success of their follow-up single All Day And All Of The Night put the band firmly on the map.
Their guitar sound pioneered the use of 'power chords' - basic, strong-sounding chords that use only the root note and the fifth note of the scale, meaning that they are neither minor nor major chords.
The band's style was copied by countless garage bands around the world and ultimately laid the groundwork for punk and heavy metal.
Asked whether he thought at the time his songs would be big hits that would stand the test of time, Davies says that with a few of them, yes, he did.
"But for the most part, we just wanted to get a record out and we were pleased that they became hits and, in many cases, number ones," he says.
"Saying that, I had no idea Waterloo Sunset would be as durable as it has been. It's amazing to think I'm still playing it today at a concert like Kenwood.
"I do still enjoy playing live. Every time I play the songs, I put myself in the mindset I had back when I wrote it."
Mindset is important in his songs and, in many cases, he has clearly got into character for the part. David Watts, for example, expresses the hurt feelings of a plain schoolboy who envies the social privileges enjoyed by a charismatic upper-class student.
"I say sometimes that I don't write the songs," he says. "The songs write me. It's a bit like being a character actor."
Asked if he has any favourite characters from his songs, he picks one from a record called Totally Down.
"I was having dinner in a cafe recently just down the road and I started singing this song.
"I thought, 'What's that?', and I realised it was a song I'd started to write in 1972. It's actually quite upbeat but it starts off with a guy who's really down."
For a man who performs and writes music as prodigiously as Davies - he has released four solo albums, most recently Working Man's Cafe in 2007 - he does his best to ease his mind by concentrating on something else.
"I try to relax as best as possible, I love sport," he says. "I love football and I'm an Arsenal fan. I love athletics and I'm really looking forward to Wimbledon this year."
The commercial success he has enjoyed has afforded him the opportunity to live pretty much anywhere he has wanted, including choice properties in New York, the south of England and in Ireland. But he has ultimately chosen to settle back in the area he calls home, the place where he grew up.
"I live in the Muswell Hill, Highgate village area - I can hear the Kenwood Concerts from my house," he says. "There's just something about the light and the sensibility of north London that appeals to me.
"The Heath and Kenwood are wonderful and the way we are surrounded by great beautiful natural open land is just fantastic.
"It's great, apart from the drafts when it gets cold. I'm sure that, when it gets cold in north London, it's because the wind is blowing in straight from Siberia - we catch it because we're on the top of the hill."
o Ray Davies and the Crouch End Festival Chorus are performing at the Kenwood Picnic Concert on Saturday June 27 at 7.30pm. Tickets from £27.50. To book, visit www.picnicconcerts.com.