Musicals don’t tend to be my cup of tea, although there are exceptions. Sunny Afternoon, featuring the music of The Kinks, is such an exception.
I’m biased of course; I happen to be of the opinion that The Kinks are one of the greatest bands ever to have existed, and that their lead singer-songwriter, Ray Davies, is some sort of genius. I’m pretty sure that there’s more to this than the North London factor.
They were highly innovative, for example – the distinctive intro to ‘You Really Got Me’ was the first use of distortion sound (see below), and when they moved away from hard-driving rock, Ray Davies developed a flair for social commentary (as seen in ‘A Well Respected Man’ and ‘Dead End Street’ – for which they shot the promotion film, a precursor to the modern-day music video, in Kentish Town), a decrying of increased urbanisation (‘Village Green’ and the subsequent album The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society), a sense of British post-imperial malaise (the album Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)) and the startlingly modern (‘Lola’). Their influence has resonated down the years; ‘You Really Got Me’ was particularly influential on heavy metal and punk rock, while The Jam (who covered ‘David Watts’), Blur and Oasis all cited them as a major influence. More recently, their music has been used in films like Hot Fuzz and The Darjeeling Limited and, a couple of years ago, Ray Davies released an album called See My Friends in which he had re-recorded a number of old Kinks tracks with various artists.
That said, one does get the distinct impression that they boys from Muswell Hill have been overlooked in favour of the likes of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones; no doubt the mid-Sixties ban on playing in the USA at the height of the British Invasion is a factor here, but even the band’s on-stage squabbling – Dave Davies getting knocked out by Mick Avory during a gig, anyone? – seems, when seen through the prism of history, to pale in comparison to the bust-ups of Mick ’n’ Keef, to say nothing of the trail of on-and-off-stage destruction left by the likes of Keith Moon.
Last year, someone (presumably inspired by musicals based on the works of, among others, Queen and Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons) had the idea of putting together band’s songs in a musical; this premiered in Hampstead (not far from where the Davies brothers grew up) before transferring to the West End.
The plot – I believe that in musicals, the technical term for this is ‘book’ – was about the band’s formation and how they – particularly Ray and Dave – dealt with fame and money-grubbing hangers-on. The story of how Dave (who was only 17 when the band made it big) sliced open the speaker-cone of his amplifier and then plugged it into another amp to get the distortion sound for the guitar track of ‘You Really Got Me’ (just one of the band’s many ground-breaking innovations) is retold, as is the band’s hedonistic rock ’n’ roll lifestyle (including the on-stage fights) and their getting banned from playing in America.
As well as the famous songs – ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘Waterloo Sunset’, ‘Lola’ and (or course) ‘Sunny Afternoon’ (accompanied by shameless Union Jack-waving) were all present and correct, as were social commentary tracks like ‘Dedicated Follower Of Fashion’, ‘A Well Respected Man’ and ‘Dead End Street’ – lesser-known tracks like ‘This Strange Effect’ and ‘This Time Tomorrow’ were also woven into the plot. None of them felt like they’d been crow-barred into it, which is the feeling one gets with some musicals. The decision to sing the somewhat fragile ‘Days’ without instrumental accompaniment was a bold one that paid off, while the last twenty or so minutes felt like a particularly raucous gig (as the best ones should be, of course), with the audience singing along and thoroughly enjoying themselves.
During the interval, Dad wondered out loud whether anyone else in the theatre had actually seen The Kinks live, as he did a couple of times at the Wembley Arena back in the day. “Wimbledon Palais,” quipped a man standing near us; this exchange led to a discussion about the relative merits of Something Else and the Kwyet Kinks EP. No-one minded; in fact, several passers-by looked like they wanted to join in.
It was that sort of evening.