For the final night of the BBC Electric Proms, another iconic figure from ’60s British rock strutted his stuff on the Roundhouse stage. Like Paul McCartney earlier in the week, Ray Davies has a new solo album to plug – the disappointingly dull Working Man’s Caf – but unlike McCartney post-Beatles, Davies has not forged a successful career since the glory days of The Kinks. Luckily for the audience he played only a few of his recent songs and gave them what they wanted: the much-loved evergreen hits of yesteryear.
Before then, a good-humouredly impatient crowd was ‘entertained’ – if that’s the word – by the idiosyncratic musical ramblings of Duke Special. The Belfast singer-songwriter pianist (real name Peter Wilson), sporting dreadlocks and what looked like a US cavalry uniform, bizarrely opened proceedings wearing a horse mask – a self-consciously theatrical gesture lost on the bemused fans waiting for the likes of You Really Got Me. To be fair Duke and his band did try to win people over by scattering song sheets for a singalong on I’m Gonna Love You Till You Love Me Back.
But somehow the 45-minute set never seems to get going. With cited influences such as vaudeville and Eastern European folk mixing uneasily with more romantic, soft-centred melodies, plus some unusual instrumentation (including a gramophone) and his own eccentric stage persona, Duke certainly doesn’t go in for the conventional. The show includes an almost unrecognizable cover of Chaka Khan‘s I Feel for You and ends with Our Love Goes Deeper Than This (a duet with Romeo Stodart of The Magic Numbers), with the audience on cue shouting out “No!” – but maybe they’d had enough anyway.
Fellow V2 Records artist Ray Davies was given a hero’s welcome. And well deserved too, as one of our greatest songwriters, the godfather (grandfather?) of Britpop, influencing bands such as The Jam, Blur and The Libertines with his quintessentially quirky observations on English character and culture. The sexagenarian looked in good nick (as was his voice), in relaxed anecdotal mood and bantering with the crowd in between singing some classic slices of pop-rock in a one hour 45 minute set.
A natural showman, Davies has already got the crowd singing the chorus lustily on the second number, Where Have All the Good Times Gone? Till the End of the Day has the joint rocking, while the social satire of A Well-Respected Man is greeted with warm recognition. Davies quips “A 10 fine for every time I mention The Kinks” but he knows all too well that that is why people are here, so obliges with reminiscences of the golden years. Also, perhaps surprisingly, he plays only five of his solo songs, the best of which is probably Morphine Song, inspired by his time in a New Orleans hospital. These receive polite, respectful applause – the spontaneous enthusiasm is saved for the old ones.
“This gig has a North London feel,” Davies announces as fellow Muswell Hill boy Johnny Borrell joins him to sing Sunny Afternoon, though the Razorlight singer makes little impact. More impressive is one of those genuine ‘new music moments’ (which the Electric Proms is supposed to be all about) when the Crouch End Festival Chorus, no less, participates in four songs. These include the first live performance of Shangri-La and a hauntingly beautiful version of Waterloo Sunset, probably the highlight of the evening.
After a rousing rendition of Lola – who would think a song about a transvestite would become such a singalong favourite? – Davies and band exit, only to return for an interesting encore. After playing the original slow blues version of You Really Got Me, then describing how brother Dave suggested speeding up into the classic rocker it became, this is finally delivered with all its youthful fire and energy intact. Davies’s creative juices may have dried up some time ago but on stage there’s plenty of life left in the old dog yet.