Ray Davies CBE, one of the most successful and influential songwriters to emerge from the British Invasion of the 1960s, founded the rock band The Kinks with his brother Dave and Pete Quaife in London in 1963. Davies was born in Muswell Hill London, the seventh of eight children, including six older sisters and younger brother Dave.
The band’s string of top 10 international hits began with You Really Got Me, followed by All Day and All of The Night, Tired of Waiting, Set Me Free, See My Friends, Till The End of The Day, A Well Respected Man, Waterloo Sunset, Lola, Sunny Afternoon, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Apeman, and Come Dancing, among many others, all written by Ray. Davies also composed several pioneering rock operas including Arthur, Preservation and Soap Opera.
Following the initial British Invasion, further State-side success continued with The Kinks becoming a major stadium and chart act over the next two decades, selling out Madison Square Gardens and putting Come Dancing into the top 10 in 1982.
Ray’s artistic talents are not just limited to music, as he also directed his first film for Channel 4, Return to Waterloo in 1983 and in 1994 directed and produced Weird Nightmare, a portrait of Charles Mingus for Channel 4’s jazz series. Davies collaborated with Barrie Keeffe in 1981 on his first stage musical, Chorus Girls, and in 1988 wrote 80 Days with Snoo Wilson for the La Jolla Playhouse. He returned with his third musical Come Dancing in 2008 at Stratford East which won the What’s On Stage Best off West End Musical award.
In 1995 Davies published his unauthorised autobiography, X-Ray, and a few years later released live album Storyteller from his one-man touring show. In 2006 Ray released his first studio solo album Other People’s Lives and followed it up with his second solo album Working Man’s Café in 2008. Just a year after this, Ray released The Kinks Choral Collection featuring Ray and the Crouch End Festival Chrous interpreting many of The Kinks classic hits.
Affectionately referred to as the Godfather of Brit Pop, Ray Davies is cited as a major influence on artists such as Pete Townshend, Paul Weller, Morrissey, Noel Gallagher, Damon Albarn and many more. Ray Davies’ songs have become hits for bands including The Jam, Van Halen, The Pretenders and The Stranglers.
The past 12 months have been very busy for Ray Davies. He’s toured with a solo acoustic show in America and the UK, with support from The 88, a young Californian band and Kinks aficionados who “auditioned” by sending him their recordings of a selection of his songs. He played Denmark with a symphony orchestra and choir, and appeared on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival, joined by The Crouch End Festival Chorus, for a rapturously received set, where he paid tribute to former Kinks bassist Pete Quaife, who died in June 2010. And in November he released his highest-charting album since 1966, See My Friends landing in the UK charts at 12, just a few weeks before selling out London’s Royal Festival Hall. The past few months have seen Ray picking the artists for this year’s Meltdown Festival which he is curating.
See My Friends is a collection of collaborations with a formidable bunch of artists on tracks drawn from Davies’ 46 years as a songwriter – with Bruce Springsteen on Better Things, with Metallica on You Really Got Me, with Mumford & Sons on Days/This Time Tomorrow, with Jon Bon Jovi on Celluloid Heroes, and 10 other equally inspired partnerships.
In the summer 2009, he recorded a version of Till The End Of The Day with Big Star singer Alex Chilton. But the project really gathered momentum in New York at the end of 2009, recalls Davies: “I did a big concert there, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame 25th Anniversary show. Met Bruce Springsteen, who said he was really happy to get involved. We did Better Things it was a hit for The Kinks in America, it wasn’t in England. And I performed You Really Got Me with Metallica. And it came from there…”
And there was no standing on ceremony: Jackson Browne popped in with one battered Gibson acoustic in the middle of a European tour for Waterloo Sunset; Paloma Faith brought her whole band for Lola; Frank Black of the Pixies was in and out in one afternoon for This Is Where I Belong. Alt country singer Lucinda Williams, backed by The 88, gives “a new breath, a new energy” to A Long Way From Home, while Scottish singer-songwriter Amy Macdonald brings 1966 top 5 single Dead End Street “right up to the modern social context”.
“I think the artists gave everything,” Davies says appreciatively. “The good ones are the undiscovered ones that came from nowhere, like Lucinda’s tune, that not everybody knows is a Kinks song. And now it’s been turned into something through doing it as a duet. It’s partly hers now. It’s hopefully part of her repertoire.”
And what did the man himself get from the experience of seeing his friends?
“It’s made me come out the other end wanting to write new songs,” he smiles. “Because that’s what I do. Having said that, I love this process, trying other songs with other people. It’s a process of discovery.”