Sir Ray Davies has found renewed success with a musical based on his career. Tim Hughes finds out why the Kinks frontman put his life story on stage
RESPONSIBLE for some of the best tunes every written, Ray Davies is a creative powerhouse and national treasure.
But things haven’t always been easy for the frontman of the Kinks. Alongside the worldwide hits – tunes like Lola, Victoria and You Really Got Me – are episodes of drama: a rancorous falling out with brother and bandmate Dave, legal battles with managers and record labels, being banned from America and then, years later, a bullet in the leg after being shot by a mugger in New Orleans.
The whole tale is nicely topped, for now at least, by a knighthood; Sir Ray being included in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours.
Ray’s life is so colourful, such a roller-coaster of highs and lows, that it could form the starting point for a West End show. Which, of course, it has. Twice.
Following his 2005 stage musical Come Dancing, featuring his music and set in a 1950s music hall, he came back with the more autobiographical Sunny Afternoon, above – which brings the action forward to the 1960s.
It makes its Oxford premiere on Tuesday.
“The Kinks were arguably one of the most dysfunctional and hard-edged bands around before punk,” says the style icon, inset, whose music has inspired everyone from The Jam to Blur and Oasis.
“Someone said to me The Kinks were one of the bands the punks looked up to. This is a coming-of-age story. It is about sibling rivalry, a changing society, the pitfalls of the music industry, about loss of self, and it is about being on tour with my brother.
“It is compelling on several levels and, of course, it has got the songs as well!”
So why did he decide to write a musical based on the highs and lows of the band in the age of flower power?
“While I was writing Come Dancing, I found myself thinking about significant times in my life around the time of Sunny Afternoon.
“So many things were happening to me around that time: overworked, infighting among band members, lawsuits with managers and publishers that nearly gave me a breakdown – and the rest.
“I wrote a draft and then came back to it after Come Dancing had been produced. I wanted to write about that time in my life when so much was happening to me.
“British music was starting to conquer the world and England were on the verge of winning the World Cup. I put all these elements together and wrote a short script.”
He teamed up with British producer Sonia Friedman, drafted Joe Penhall to do the book, and recruited Ed Hall as director. The tour follows a successful run in the West End.
While inspired by his life, the show, which won the 2015 Olivier Award for Best New Musical and features such Davies classics as You Really Got Me, Waterloo Sunset, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, All Day and All of the Night, is not strictly autobiographical.
“It seems more to me a like a portrayal of Britain at a certain time in history,” he says. “We were leading the world with music, arts and fashion. The classes were merging and it seemed as if we were all as one. As one of the characters says it was ‘a very special time’.
But it was not without its challenges.
“I think the hardest thing is trying to remain objective,” he says.
“I think it is quite a compelling story about how I began this journey and the story is important. It needs to be a great story for The Kinks fans but also for those who maybe don’t know much about the band, their origins or music for that matter.”
He goes on: “I had to detach myself from it and treat it as a piece of theatre for the stage,” he says. “Detachment is good. It allows you to look more at the character development and the issues involved and I could concentrate more on the story. It is easier to keep going that way.”
But, he says, it is huge fun. “I think people will enjoy the show.
“It brings a new generation to the story who may connect with the songs but not necessarily the band per se. I think they will enjoy it on a number of levels.”
The show is as much about the country at the time as it is about Ray – who was born at home in Muswell Hill and learned his craft in North London.
“London is very present in my life,” he says. “I always wrote about what happened within a square mile of where I lived.
“There is an element of London in Sunny Afternoon but it is more about England, and for that matter Britain, at the time and going to America and the confrontations over there. It sounds strange now but at the time, we were seen to be invading America. People in the USA thought the British invasion was taking their music away from them and possibly corrupting a young American generation.”
He goes on: “It is also about how different classes band together.
“There is a very touching moment in the show where our manager – who is from the upper class – bonded with us. I think that was a very key thing in the sixties because we all had a common quest, and it was more about social bonding.”
With 24 Kinks studio albums and four solo LPs, including 2007’s Working Man’s Cafe, which he toured at the New Theatre in 2010, Ray has a ridiculously large back catalogue on which to draw.
But he is not leaving it there. Having pocketed his Knighthood, Sir Ray is going for gold again with a new solo album called Americana, due out this spring.
Will it be enough for the die-hard fans though, who all want one thing: a Kinks reunion? Surely they could do it – even if just for one night.
“I often hear rumours of Kinks reunions but we can’t do that of course because we lost [bassist] Pete Quaife, one of the originals a few years ago.
“I miss Pete and I miss that team effort a lot; I’m not sure it’s something we could do without him.
“But never say never – and one never knows.”
Sunny Afternoon is at the New Theatre Oxford until February 4. Tickets from atgtickets.com