Thursday, June 23, 2011

There were two more events at Ray Davies' Meltdown Festival that need commenting on.

Ray invited his fellow 1960s singer/songwriter Alan Price along to do a turn with his band at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and, because we had only ever seen him before in the quaint but cramped backroom space in the Bull's Head pub in Barnes, Owen decided on seeing him in a more traditional setting.
The last time he was certainly entertaining, singing his signature choons while holding forth behind his keyboards with folded arms like your worst grumbling granddad about alimony payments, the modern world in general and what with the price of coal... Here we got the dour act again but with more of a twinkle in his eye and he was certainly good fun.

I didn't have long to wait before he did the song I had hoped to hear, "Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear"! Yes you can keep your faux-New Orleans blues stuff... give me Randy Newman at his Vaudevillian best and I'm happy!

Alan is definitely a musician's musician. I say that because he certainly let his band members show what they could do, almost to the detriment of the show... I mean, a drum AND a bass solo? Admit.

However we also got wonderfully muscular versions of I PUT A SPELL ON YOU, DON'T LET ME BE MISUNDERSTOOD, O LUCKY MAN, THE HOUSE OF THE RISING SON and much to Owen's pleasure, THE JARROW SONG.

He made a good addition to the Meltdown experience.On Saturday afternoon we had a hugely entertaining few hours in the company of Mr. Ray Davies himself on stage at the National Film Theatre in conversation with his good friend Julien Temple for a look at the films that shaped him growing up in the 1950s and through into films from the 1960s that reflected the times he was helping to shape.

Temple had edited together collections of film trailers that ranged from Ealing comedies to westerns, Hollywood historical epics to Carry Ons, Hammer to European arthouse and UK 'kitchen sink' films to the "swinging" films of the late 1960s.

Ray treated us to anecdotes of his filmgoing years - how he went with his courting older sisters to act as a juvenile chaperon, how he and brother Dave would recreate the westerns in their Muswell Hill bedrooms etc. I loved that he said that ever since BREATHLESS he had been searching for a Jean Seberg lookalike, he found an American girl who looked like her from behind (!!!) and took her to Paris just to have her walk up the Champs Elysee calling out "New York Herald Tribune?". The relationship didn't last the weekend.He was also very perceptive about BLOW-UP and PERFORMANCE, thankfully shattering the illusions of the obvious film fans in the audience by saying that, although he could appreciate them in a certain way, they were also testaments to a bygone age even as they were being filmed - that the film-makers were projecting onto "swinging London" their own sensibilities when in reality the momentum that had brought that era about had fatally stalled. I have always felt both films to be shockingly over-rated. Poor Ray kept returning to PERFORMANCE as he felt the cineastes in the audience were in a profound state of shock.After a break they screened two TV plays that Ray had appeared in. The first was a Play For Today from 1970 called THE LONG DISTANCE PIANO PLAYER about the attempt by a fragile pianist to break the record for the longest time a piano is played, for some unknown reason in a rundown Manchester church hall. It was nice to see Norman Rossington as the pianist's tough manager and a young James Hazeldine as his assistant but the play strained for a profundity that simply wasn't there and at 80 minutes it could have done with about 50 minutes taken out.

Bless him Ray is many things but he is no actor which was also shown in the second, shorter, TV play called STARMAKER from 1974. He co-starred with the delightful June Ritchie and told the story of a rock star who decides to take over the life of a nobody so he can write an album about 'real people' - or does he?

The show was entertainingly cringeworthy watching the TV studio audience reacting with bemused incomprehension at the action taking place all around them but it slowly worked it's charm and in the end it was an interesting take on the idea of stardom.

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