The posting onto my London Shoes website this week, had me focussing on music and particularly song lyrics – a topic that I have always been most passionate about.
The subject matter this week, is all about the life and times, and works of the legendary singer songwriter – (Sir) Ray Davies……who, in musical terms, and in my opinion – is possibly the greatest living Londoner!!!
Ray Davies is totally unique in his writing, as he has always remained true to his North London roots, with his lyrics depicting the characters, places and social attitudes of London life.
You can forget your ‘Brit Pop’/’Cool Britania’ era of Blur & Oasis – Ray Davies was doing this stuff (better) some 10/15yrs before that particular music genre.
Ray Davies was born in 1944 at 6 Denmark Terrace, Fortis Green, in Muswell Hill, North London.
He was the seventh of eight children including six older sisters and younger brother Dave Davies.
He made his musical debut in 1960, with his younger brother Dave, at the ‘Clissold Arms’ pub situated directly opposite the Davies family home.
Ray Davies was an art student at Hornsey College of Art in London in 1962–63 where he became obsessively interested in music, and started up his own band – the ‘Ray Davies Quartet’.
The band secured an opening spot residency at the Lyceum Ballroom – and having then changed their name to the ‘Kinks’ they also started getting bookings at the ‘Archway Tavern’ (just down the road In Archway, North London) and also the famous ‘Crawdaddy Club’ in Richmond-upon-Thames (where all the top bands and artists of the 60’s started off) – until such time that is, when the promoter had offered the residency to a new band called the Rolling Stones!!!
In 1964 the Kinks obtained their first recording contract, at which time Ray Davies became their main songwriter and leader of the band, especially after the band’s breakthrough success with his early composition, the classic “You Really Got Me”.
The Kinks’ early recordings in 1964 were mainly covers of old R&B standards by other artists – however, by 1965, Davies started to write his own material which was more softer and reflective, with songs like “Tired of Waiting for You”, “I Go to Sleep” (covered years later by The Pretenders) and “See My Friends” and “Days” (covered by loads of people)
Ray Davies’ song lyrics were full of observations and commentary about the struggles, frustrations and aspirations of normal everyday working-class Londoners, and the effect that the ‘class system’ had on their lives, especially in numbers such as “A Well Respected Man” and “Where Have All the Good Times Gone”.
His topical and often amusing songs took a swipe at the complacency and over indulgence of London’s wealthy upper classes, in songs like “Sunny Afternoon”.
‘The tax man’s taken all my dough
And left me in my stately home
Lazing on a sunny afternoon
And I can’t sail my yacht
He’s taken everythin’ I’ve got
All I’ve got’s this sunny afternoon’…….(lyric extract from “Sunny Afternoon”)
By 1966, with tunes like “Dead End Street”, Ray Davies’ lyrics started observing the desperation and hopelessness of life at the bottom end of the social class scale.
‘What are we living for?
two-roomed apartment on the second floor.
no money coming in,
the rent collector’s knocking, trying to get in.
We are strictly second class,
we don’t understand,
why we should be on dead end street.
……….(lyric extract from “Dead End Street”)
However, with songs like “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” (1966) he took the micky out of consumerism and the celebrity worship of the ‘Carnaby Street’ in-crowd (at a time when the street epitomised the so called ‘Swinging London’) – while songs such as “David Watts” (covered a lot later by The Jam) noted the feelings of a normal plain schoolboy who envies the hero worship of upper class students.
As a ‘war baby’ Ray Davies often wrote songs about his own observations of London’s ‘elder’ working classes attitude and dissolution to the declining fortunes of the days of the British Empire and its imperial past, that they had grown up in – and the noticeable loss of its past culture and traditions of friendly communities, village greens, pubs and public schools – topics that are covered-off so well in songs such as “Autumn Almanac” (1967), “Victoria” (1969).
‘I was born, lucky me
In a land that I love
Though I am poor, I am free
When I grow I shall fight
For this land I shall die
Let her sun never set
Victoria..………(lyric extract from “Victoria”)
In 1967 Ray Davies came up with the all-time classic “Waterloo Sunset” – which he wrote in the front-room of his first owned home at 87 Fortis Green – no more than a few hundred yards down the road from his family’s home in Denmark Terrace.
In ‘Waterloo Sunset’ he writes about the sense of contentment of a couple of young lovers living out their simple life bang in the middle of the City’s impersonal urban chaos.
In the early 1970’s, and way ahead of today’s political posturing about ‘houses for all’ etc, Ray Davies’ songs covered-off social conscience issues in songs like the brilliant “Muswell Hillbillies” (1971), and “Village Green Preservation Society” where he passionately had a ‘pop’ at industrialisation and bureaucracy – in favour of a simple traditional English country village and a ‘community’ way of life.
‘They’ll move me up to Muswell Hill tomorrow
Photographs and souvenirs are all I’ve got
They’re gonna try and make me change my way of living
But they’ll never make me something that I’m not’…….(lyric extract from “Muswell Hillbillies”)
‘We are the Office Block Persecution Affinity
God save little shops, china cups and virginity
We are the Skyscraper condemnation Affiliate
God save tudor houses, antique tables and billiards’….(Lyric extract from “The Village Green Preservation Society”)
Also in the early 70’s, the Kinks released their controversial hit “Lola” – in which Davies describes a romantic encounter between a young man and a transvestite, in a seedy club in Soho.
In 1973, and to gain more artistic control – Davies and the Kinks opened their own “Konk” recording studios – which was situated very close to home, just down the road in Hornsey North London.
In the 1980’s with hits like “Come Dancing” (1982) Ray Davies wrote a nostalgic lyric where he observed how his older sisters were disillusioned with their lives particularly now that they were the ‘older generation’ and looked back on their old days:-
“They put a parking lot on a piece of land
When the supermarket used to stand
Before that they put up a bowling alley
On the site that used to be the local Palais
That’s where the big bands used to come and play
My sister went there on a Saturday
Come dancing”………..(lyric extract from “Come Dancing”)
>Apart from the lengthy Kinks discography, Ray Davies has released five solo albums.
>In 1990, Davies was inducted, with the Kinks, into the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” and, in 2005, into the “UK Music Hall of Fame”.
>In 1994 Ray Davies published his autobiography “X-Ray”.
>In 2004, Davies was shot in the leg while chasing thieves who had snatched the purse of his companion as they walked in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. The shooting came less than a week after Davies was named a CBE (eg Commander of the Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth II.
>In 2007 the release of the “Working Man’s Café” album, was followed with a performance at the BBC’s Electric Proms series at legendary music venue “The Roundhouse”, in Chalk Farm, Camden, where he was accompanied by the Crouch End Festival Chorus.
>In 2010 Ray Davies played a majority of his old hits to an extremely receptive audience at the Glastonbury Festival.
>In 2011 Davies performed at the London ‘Meltdown Festival’ where he performed a rendition of the Kinks’ “Village Green Preservation Society” album with the London Philharmonic and the Crouch End Festival Chorus Chior.
>In 2012, Davies performed ‘Waterloo Sunset’ as part of the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Summer Olympics, watched by a worldwide TV audience.
>In the 2017 Ray Davies was (quite rightly in my opinion) knighted New Year Honours for services to the arts.
On my way back home from this gig, I popped into the “Wellington” pub, right opposite the north bank of the Thames, entry road onto Waterloo Bridge – a building that has been a pub since way back in 1908, and still knocks out a decent ‘cheeky’ one.
So, there you have it – hope you enjoyed my little tribute to the legend that is Sir Ray Davies……..who, as I’ve said, in music lyrical terms – could well be the greatest living Londoner……..