Artist Spotlight: Ray Davies

The Ray Davies concert at UB's Center for the Arts on November 13 was, as expected, a stunner, with the singer pulling out the expected KInks hits—"Sunny Afternoon," "Waterloo Sunset," a raucous "All Day and All of the Night"—but also some more obscure favorites, like "Davis Watts." ("Watts" was started by the concert's power-pop openers, the 88, but finished with Davies at the mic.) This was one of those classic shows in which multiple folks could be heard exclaiming the same thing while filing out: "One of the best concerts I've ever seen." This is what happens when a performer of class, distinction, and talent takes the stage, and it served as a reminder that Ray Davies was—and is—a true icon. Here's a fascinating and fun interview Elizabeth Gerhman conducted with Davies from Spree's November issue.  —Chris Schobert


In the late 1970s or early ’80s (who can remember?) legendary Kinks frontman Ray Davies stood barefoot on the stage at Shea’s Buffalo singing "Alcohol" while balancing a beer bottle on his forehead. A lot has happened since then. Davies summed it all up for Spree during a late September phone interview.

You canceled a tour last year for health reasons. I guess you’re feeling better, but how do you keep up the physical level required?

I was always a runner at school. I ran track and field and played soccer, football. When we did the extensive tours in the 70s and 80s, I kept that up. I used to jog until I broke my leg; now I go to the gym two or three times a week.

I’ve recently joined a weight-lifters gym, not that I’m a weight-lifter. The guys—and the women—with the weights scare me. It’s the veins sticking out on their necks that worry me.

But I don’t know how I keep it up, to be honest. I think it’s the mental stress, if anything, on tour. Everybody goes through periods where they act differently until they get into the daily routine of being on the road. The road is quite strenuous. It’s not the time you’re onstage, but all the other stuff—waiting around, traveling in cars, all that.

I remember seeing you play in Buffalo back in the day.

And I remember Buffalo. I remember the backstage [at Shea’s]. Nice Italian restaurant a few doors down where you could get something to eat after the show. It was a good rock’n’roll crowd. It’s been so long since we played Buffalo; there will be a lot of songs in the set that we never played there before. I’m looking forward to it.

You’re always surprising your fans by coming up with new creative outlets. This summer you wrote a musical for high school kids to perform.

Yeah, it was a high school in the Lake District, in the north part of England. They asked me to do it. I knew people on the arts council there. It got a lot of coverage and went down really well. It wasn’t a major stretch; it took me a weekend to write and it was really good fun.

Tell me about the genesis of the new album. It started when you were working with [the late Box Tops and Big Star singer] Alex Chilton.

It’s a long story with me and Alex. He knew me [when I was living] in New Orleans and asked me to write a new song for him. I said I would think about it but didn’t really do anything about it. But he was in England two July 4ths ago, Independence Day, in the studio putting down two acoustic songs with me. That’s when we recorded "Till the End of the Day." I said next time I’ll get round to writing a new song, but he died in the interim. So "Till the End of the Day" really gave me the start for the new album.

It’s got quite an eclectic mix of singers.

Think of it this way. You’re invited to a party. You don’t know anyone there, and you suddenly meet some interesting people you never thought you’d get along with. It’s like a party at Ray’s house. It was the songs that brought it all together.

Tell me about the new album you’re working on.

The new album is still evolving, too. I did a couple of shows at the Meltdown [Festival in London] that involved new material, and I would like to record that. The record is more or less about mental-health awareness. There’ve been lots of government cutbacks. They’re cutting back budgets to social services. I’d like to highlight that cause, because it’s something that’s riddled throughout society. I was with a fourteen-year-old last night who’s been excluded from school because he doesn’t fit the formula, and the services that would normally help that kid have been cut.

Then there are the people who are going through stressful economic times. It’s such a devastatingly austere world we’re living in now, and people need a point of contact. Society needs—I don’t know what’s happening in America, but our society is very fractured. There were riots here in the summer, and the people who started them don’t have a voice. And the people they’re attacking are equally confused. So it’s a very tumbled-up, upside-down world at the moment.

You can be one of the funniest rockers, but you also take on some serious issues.

I think the secret is in the degree of humor. Otherwise it gets preachy, if it’s all serious all the time. I like to incorporate seriousness with a bit of an edge. It’s the best way to keep people entertained and keep them focused without feeling like they’re being preached to. You’ve got to have humor. The next album will have some humor, probably black humor.

One duet that’s conspicuously absent from the new album is with your brother Dave. No comment?

Yeah, no comment. But he sings great. I was just listening to the track on that Toyota commercial, and his voice was so complimentary to mine. I miss his voice.            





Elizabeth Gehrman is a freelance writer whose yet-untitled book about the Bermuda petrel will be published by Beacon Press in November 2012.

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