Crud Fanzines PLC present...

William Aston Hall, Wrexham, May 2003
RAY DAVIES - @ William Aston Hall, Wrexham, 14th May 2003

(reviewed by JJ of Shakenstir)

It's not often that one has the opportunity to see a rock/pop legend in action, and especially one who was largely responsible for some of the most enduring tunes of all time. Like Beatles songs, I can still remember the words to the most popular Kinks' songs and can even visualise them performed on TV with Davies's in his typical laid-back style. And it appeared I wasn't the only one on the night to want to see it all over again. As I pulled up to the generously sized car park adjacent to the venue, I quickly realised I was going to have to hunt for a resting place. When I eventually arrived in the venue lobby, it was packed and buzzing with people of all ages anticipating a 'knees up' night with Davies and those songs. The William Aston Hall has the luxury option of configuring for seated and standing concerts, and as I saw the seats lined up in meticulous military straight lines, I wondered whether it was appropriate for what was to follow. I decided to reserve judgment.

Now you reviewers out there know how difficult it is to establish the (accurate) artists' set list for the night. If you're really lucky you may just grab one from the stage before the fans get their sweaty mits on them. Maybe, like me, you try to get them from the sound desk or crane over the taped parchment by the various mics stage-front. Unlike me, you may well know all the songs by heart and have either infra red eyes to write them down or a superhuman memory to remember them. So it was a major and wonderful surprise when the guy handling the PR for the event actually presented me and the other journalists with a full and very detailed set-list BEFORE the concert! Oh joy of joys! Try to keep me away from this great venue!
The set-list indicated a solo opening session followed by a decent break and then a full-on band finishing session. As Davies walked onto a large stage full of guitars of many hues, the crowd erupted into some of the loudest applause I've ever heard at a show. Davies seemed a little taken aback by the response and then beamed that batman smile that I remember so well. It had to be a Kinks hit to start and it was. Dedicated Follower Of Fashion immediately got the crowd singing along while a surprisingly young and healthy looking Davies led the chorus. Playing his acoustic guitar, he launched into another favourite, Autumn Almanac followed by This Is Where I Belong and the quirky Sunny Afternoon (and as I type this I'm bloody well singing it in my head!). Davies then introduced a guitarist from Australia whose name I didn't catch but who had been invited over specially for this series of shows.
No Return Or A Better Thing, After The Fall and Dead End Street combined the new and old until Davies announced that he would play a medley of his personal favourites from an album "that flopped" on release. At this point a member of the audience shouted out the album's name (much to Davies's surprise) and he then explained that THE VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY had subsequently become something of a cult classic. It signalled fifteen minutes of Davies at his solo best and it was clear to me that he has a special place in his heart and head for the album. Songs performed were Village Green, Picture Book, Animal Farm, Big Sky, Walter, Johnny Thunder, and Village Green Preservation Society - all sweet, gentle songs which would probably find a ready audience today.
Then arrived the best of this first solo segment to the show. Off came the jacket and as Davies went into the gloom of the wings to pick out his next guitar (the stage lighting was abysmal) I looked down at my set-list to establish the least few songs of the session. Victoria, Next Door Neighbour and Creatures Of Little Faith were familiar but two songs were not. As the drummer and bass player entered the arena without fanfair and shyly, the first of these, Stand Up Comic, signaled the best performance of the night as Davies acted his way in a highly animated fashion through the song. It won me and everybody else and showed just what a rounded performer he really is. The second new song, Morning After completed the first session and welcomed in a decent break for a fag and an opportunity to sample the crowd's mood. Both were great.
Another glance at the set list and I realised that Davies may have coined it big time for tonight's show but also wasn't about to short-change. In total thirty songs and no doubt in my mind that the real singalong would commence after the break. And it did!
The stage seemed to come alive with an improved lighting display, and the band in full rocking swing. London Song, 20th Century Man, and the first singalong tune in favourite Tired Of Waiting. Members of the audience were now standing, swinging flesh and singing their hearts out. I wandered down the side aisle and then up to the wonderful gallery to watch the last songs of the show. It was a revelation. Where Have All The Good Times Gone was topical and appropriate. Then the point at which even the middle-aged patrons couldn't continue to hold there dignity and composure. With All Day And All Of The Night dozens of late middle-aged people bounced up and down, arms waving as the band and Davies upped the stakes in response. Magnificent.
One great new song, To The Bone, and then it back to the future again with another highlight in You Really Got Me, and then Lola, Waterloo Sunset and another crowd favourite, Days. One encore and this marathon show was over. Davies seemed genuinely taken by the enormous audience response and travelled along the front of the stage waving and shaking hands. And as he did, several of those classic songs just kept playing in my head and I wondered if there has actually been anything as memorable written since. Davies has performed for nearly 40 years and is still writing and recording. Tonight he proved that he can also still grab an audience and inspire it. As they say: it was game, set and match!

 (reviewed by JJ of Shakenstir)

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