How Norfolk inspired pop legend Ray Davies

The Norfolk coast inspired Ray Davies' classical composition Flatlands. The Norfolk coast inspired Ray Davies' classical composition Flatlands.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014
3:19 PM

Ray Davies returns to Norwich in a sell-out show this Saturday, 50 years on from his first visit. He’s here to talk about America, but his real inspiration is much closer to home.

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Ray Davies performs during the London Olympic Closing Ceremony in 2012.Ray Davies performs during the London Olympic Closing Ceremony in 2012.

He’s world-famous for Waterloo Sunset – but could the sunsets across North Norfolk salt-marshes and sand-flats soon be inspiring former Kink Ray Davies?

The man sometimes credited with foreshadowing punk, inventing heavy metal and reinventing folk and music hall, researched his first orchestral piece by visiting the Norfolk coastline – and now wants to return to his classical choral composition, Flatlands.

“Flatlands is still a work in progress,” says Ray who researched the 50-minute piece with trips all along the north Norfolk coast. “I found the Norfolk coast a very captivating and evocative place.”

So much so that the man forever associated with north London has seriously considered moving here.

Ray's autobiography, Americana.Ray's autobiography, Americana.

He certainly plans to visit again, to re-immerse himself in the between-water-and-land, sea-and-sky atmosphere of our coast, and to complete Flatlands.

With only four months to write it, before it was performed by the Britten Symphonia in Norwich in 1998, he has more to say in music about Norfolk.

Flatlands was written for the Norfolk and Norwich Festival of that year, continuing a tradition of classical music premiered at the Festival which stretches back as far as the early 19th century, and included premieres of music by such luminaries as Elgar in 1899, Vaughan Williams in 1930 and Benjamin Britten in 1936.

Ray has been a fan of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival for many years and will be performing again this year – but not in song.

An Evening with Ray Davies, taking place this Saturday, will see the musician and songwriter talk about his life, his music, his American road trips – and anything else that might crop up in a question-and-answer session.

This year Ray is in the ‘literature’ section of the programme rather than music or performance, but he could just as easily be catalogued as film, or even art.

The evening will include the chance to see Ray’s own home-movie footage of his road trips across America, detailed in his autobiography Americana, published last year. This metaphorical road trip through his life and career, and literal journey around America, traces his fascination with the US, from the four years the Kinks were banned from playing there in the 60s, to the present day. It all pivots around the day, a decade ago, that he was mugged and shot in New Orleans.

He has still not completely recovered. “There are still issues. The book let me vent some of the frustrations and emotions,” he said.

He is currently writing a new album and, although the Kinks split almost 20 years ago, and Ray will be 70 this year, there are still rumours of a reunion of one of the most important and influential rock groups of all time.

It was exactly 50 years ago that Ray and his brother Dave first brought their new band, The Kinks, to Norwich. It was 1964, the year they soared to the top of the charts with You Really Got Me. They played at the Theatre Royal, sharing the bill with The Dave Clark Five and The Hollies.

The EDP was there to review this bold new music although our writer, ‘B.A.C.’, was not completely aware that was witnessing part of a musical revolution which would sweep the globe and still be reverberating half a century later.

“To the untutored ear, it all sounded the same and the performers differed only in their professionalism,” wrote B.A.C. “The Kinks were recognisable by the length of their hair…

“The Mojos appeared pleasant boys who seemed to have rather less stage experience than the rest…

The Hollies were very smart with their horizontal-striped shirts and while collars and their vocalist seemed to have a double-jointed pelvis…

The Dave Clark Five conducted the most relentless assault on the ear-drums.”

Fifty years on, Ray said: “I have had worse reviews!”

And he still remembers that 1964 Norwich concert, because the band van broke down on the way back to London and the Kinks had to wait for help by the side of the A11.

It did not stop him returning for more mishaps in the county he would eventually grow to love. An early holiday on the Broads was far from plain sailing. “I crashed a boat on the Broads,” admits Ray. “I didn’t realise it wasn’t like a car and didn’t have brakes!”

But East Anglia eventually became one of Ray’s favourite parts of England.

“I’ve grown attached to Norfolk,” he says. “In fact I nearly got to live there. I’d love a place near the sea.” The man whose witty, poetic, elegiac songs became English classics and inspired bands from The Jam to Oasis, even ran song-writing courses at Blo’ Norton, near Diss.

He believes part of his success might be due to his art school training, with the close observation essential for good drawing, becoming the attention to quirky detail which would produce classics such as Waterloo Sunset, Dedicated Follower of Fashion and Village Green Preservation Society.

Ray will be 70 this summer – and can hardly believe it himself, saying: “Will I? I might celebrate by having a day off!”

But with a new album, a continuing book tour, persistent rumours of a possible Kinks reunion, and that Norfolk-inspired classical oratorio to finish, Ray could be rocking the musical world all day and all of the night for many more years.

• An Evening with Ray Davies is on Saturday at 7pm, at the Norwich Playhouse. It will be hosted by rock musician, author and cartoonist Peter Blegvad and include Ray talking about what music and fame mean to him and about his book Americana: The Kinks, The Road, and the Perfect Riff; a screening of Ray’s exclusive half-hour film and the chance to ask questions. The evening is a sell-out but other Norfolk and Norwich Festival tickets and information is available from nnfestival.org.uk or 01603 766400.

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