Ray Davies’ Live and “Kinks Choral Collection”

Ray Davies – Live (Orpheum November 14, 2009) and Kinks Choral Collection (Decca)


Ray Davies is no stranger when it comes to looking back.  Over the course of four decades writing songs, Davies has not been shy about wearing his retrospective vision on his sleeve.  This is easily confirmed by a quick perusal of titles of his most famous songs. So it should come as no surprise that he has reached back to one of the oldest musical traditions for his latest album, a collection of a capella voices.

The Kinks Choral Collection (Decca) is more than simple re-recordings of Kinks classics, it is rather a joyful collection of rearrangements.  The choir is not bolted on to the songs, but rather has become a potent new component of the songs.

Ray Davies is currently touring with a full choir

In concert at the lovely Orpheum Theatre (whose vintage Beaux Arts design worked well with the backward glances of Davies’ songs), Ray Davies broke the concert into two sets.  The first set featured a nice swath of songs from across his career, backed by a crack four piece band.  “Apeman” and “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” were particularly effective. He rounded out the first set with “Come Dancing,” his paean to ballroom dancing and another era long past. Davies’ most recurrent gesture that evening was a sweeping invitation to clap or sing along; “C’mon!” was his frequent cry.

The second set drew from practically every track on the new choral album, and thus a mini-suite drawn from the album The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society featured prominently. Davies lovingly referred to that 1968 concept album as his “most successful flop.” Davies is continually persuasive in having us believe that indeed somewhere (just over the rainbow?) there is a small village, with a quaint park at the centre, with lovely houses and where seldom is heard a discouraging word. In fact, it almost seems that Davies wants it both ways: pining for that idyllic past and scoffing at those who plead “God save little shops, china cups and virginity.”

Onstage the choral arrangements were impressive, adding a sonic mass that was bracing. The highlights of the second set were easily “Days” and “Waterloo Sunset.” The former was performed in two parts, the first without any instrumentation. The delicacy of the vocals was incredibly powerful. Both songs veer from any treacly sentimentalism.  The burnished imagery of the London skyline in the latter song is told through the eyes of two lovers.

Ray Davies is not like everybody else.

Davies put together the concept for the choral album with help from fellow North Londoners. One can imagine Davies and choirmaster David Temple taking long walks across Hampstead Heath plotting the shape of the album. It was the Vox Society Choir who performed on Davies’ west coast dates (another choir will play the east coast dates), and they were crisp and evocative.  They were the trick to the unlikely onstage success of “You Really Got Me,” the Kinks’ biggest hit.  The choir chugged into an opening crescendo, sonically slamming into the famous jagged guitar riffs.

Other highlights of the second set included “Victoria,” “See My Friends” and “Shangri-La,” each further evidence of Davies’ fondness for the seemingly simpler past. The newest song was his 2007 “Working Man’s Cafe.”

Davies was a genial host, pleased with the audience’s warm reception to the choral productions.  He referenced the early alliterative nature of the Kinks’ album titles when he admitted that he couldn’t go that direction for the new album, “Otherwise it would be the KKK.” He shows no signs of slowing down.  Rumors swirl about a stage musical around “Come Dancing,” an album of collaborations with other artists, and perhaps a return to his unfinished 1998 choral composition Flatlands.  

The ambition and success of The Kinks Choral Collection is testament to a creative muse, not content to rest on his laurels.  Davies is willing to mount an expensive tour to perform the arrangements live, and his legion of fans continue to greet him with open arms.

The author admittedly also looks to the past: Brad Auerbach and Ray Davies, February 1979

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.