Ray Davies gets a little help from his friends for festival
Ray Davies talks about curating this year’s Meltdown festival
�Success has taken Ray Davies all over the world, yet he always ends up not far from Muswell Hill. “I always gravitate to where I grew up. I think it is because of the light. In Hampstead, Highgate and Muswell Hill the light is different because of the hills. As a painter it is a great place to be,” says the musician. “Britain has always stuck with me. There’s something special about this country that draws me back.”
This gravitational pull back to the corner of the country where he was born in 1944, along with the label of ‘ultimate Britishness’ that many attribute to Davies, seems to be at the centre of his being.
It is also the reason that the organisers of the Meltdown festival selected him as this year’s curator – to select a dream team line up of artists that he has collected as favourites, and set them to the timeline of the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain in the iconic Southbank location.
Although he doubts his assumed position as a British institution, Davies is happy to take up the role, drafting in neighbours and Monty Python actors Terry Jones and Michael Palin to appear on the programme alongside a myriad of other acts. “Both of them live in the area and as Pythons are very British too – I thought they’d be a good choice,” Davies says.
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“I called Terry and we had a lunch and I asked him if he wanted to do something and he agreed – the other side of the coin is that I asked the Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans to come and do something too, and they agreed.”
Davies is notorious for keeping it local, not only through references to the area where he lives being laced into songs like Muswell Hillbilly, but also through his involvement with the Crouch End Festival Choir who, last year, he performed with at Glastonbury Festival.
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“The choir are quite big stars themselves,” protests Davies at the suggestion of locality based favouritism. “But that community spirit is something I’m really interested in. Most of the people that sing in the choir are from the area and singing is a good way to bring people together.”
The Kinks man is so inspired that he is planning to start a community radio station for the area. “I think local newspapers are great and they serve the community but we also really need a radio station. We have so many wonderful people and musicians and great events happening. I’m working on setting one up in the future,” says the 66-year-old.
The radio station, which Davies expects will be set up in his studios in Hornsey, will have to be put on the back burner as he finishes a book that he started last year, before illness forced him to cancel a US tour. That, along with the festival, which will culminate in him performing the Village Green album in its entirety and recording four new tracks with band The Leisure Society, is on the ever expanding Ray Davies to-do list.
The list is, of course, a product of the sum of his prolificacy and a ‘‘feet on the ground’’ mentality that a few spurn and a few more adore. It is unclear whether Davies is aware of the scope of his influence but he certainly enjoys collaborating, having made ‘Me and My Friends’ last year, which included work with other musical big hitters like Bruce Springsteen as well as smaller acts.
“I was surprised when I worked with Mumford and Sons and Bruce Springsteen that they picked tracks out that had not seen the light of day since they appeared as album tracks. Now after recording them again I include them in my show.” he says.
Davies’ bill is full of friends and he seems quietly content with the acts he has drafted in to play, but admits the festival is a down to earth version of a somewhat unrealistic bill in his imagination.
“I wanted Charlie Buckowski, the beat poet, to play alongside John Cooper Clarke. I also wanted a showing of the Napoleon film by Abel Gance, accompanied by an orchestra doing Carmine Coppola’s composition for the remake of the film. Some of these things are just too big to organise,” he says with a deep breath.
In curating, Davies has shown an appreciation for things that many would see as beyond his immediate interests. He disagrees: “I think if I had a business card it would say Ray Davies: creative person,” he says. “Of course I am a musician but I am a writer and an artist too.”
In quite a British way, he also feels that he is only as good (or bad – as he adds) as the last song he has written. “The best song I wrote is the last song I wrote,” he says.
“Of course I’m very grateful for the attention that my older songs receive and I like my old songs, but if you ask me what I’m most excited about it has to be the song I’m writing right now.”
n Ray Davies is curating the Meltdown Festival at The Southbank Centre www.southbankcentre.co.uk. Booking on 0844 875 0073.