Storyteller in Germany

Ray Davies in Hamburg, Berlin and Cologne 1998

by Helge Buttkereit

Ray Davies in Cologne, photo: Edgar Zens/SchererI never got to see the Kinks live. In 1993, when I became a Kinks' fan, they played at the Hamburg Stadtpark -- but since I was only on the way to becoming the right fan, my vacation plans came first. No other chance came to see the band. In the December of the same year, they played again in Germany, but I was still not fan enough to drive to Flensburg. Thus I had to wait five whole years to see for the first time a member of the Kinks, and he was definetely the most important: Briefly after the release of the 'Storyteller' album, Ray Davies came to Germany to play three concerts. At that time I had begun my full time studies, and had used up my civil service money through the removal from Alveslohe near Hamburg to Leipzig, but there was no question that I wanted to drive to Hamburg and Berlin.

In order to save costs, I went early on 17 April, carpooling from Leipzig into the north. I was excited, and my travelling companion was somewhat taken aback so she must hear Ray Davies' new album 'Storyteller' -- because naturally I carried with me a cassette. The album had been released one month before, and, together with the forthcoming tour, it had also attracted attention in the media. There was more yet to come. This became clear to me on the trip, because whilst still on the Autobahn I bought the current edition of the 'Hamburger Abendblatt' (newspaper), and there was a current interview with Ray Davies. Not that it was particularly interesting or meaningful, but there was a beautiful comment about the Stones ('They are indeed a band of nutters, but they still have it in them.'). Questions about the Kinks getting back together again were always answered at this time that the band would meet again in the original line up. As we know, there would be many rumors about reunions as a consequence.

I arrived relatively early in Hamburg, so that I still had plenty of time, even though I could hardly concentrate on anything real. So I managed to get something to eat and ran around by myself a little in the area, until I show up very promptly at the Curio-House. There still were few people there, so I conversed with a few fans, and I did look particularly much at the not extensive structure of the stage. The time did not pass fastly, and there was scarcely any diversion, because I was also waiting for my friends from home. They were to show up only shortly before the start of the show -- right at the time Ray Davies took the stage after the opening fanfare.

I knew the book X-Ray, I had heard the 'Storyteller' album, and so I felt intimate with the show. But now to experience the whole thing live was something special. The Curio-Haus in Hamburg-Rotherbaum was a perfect place for the concert. The former refectory of the University of Hamburg is an intimate place, where the public is very close to the stage and which made for good audience-artist interaction. Davies was also full of good humour, as his joyful performance showed -- he enjoyed the concert as much as the audience. As a warm-up, there was 'Lola', because he probably wanted to show, just in case anyone had missed it, who he was. That probably would not have been necessary, but in the concert at that time it seemed completely unimportant to me. At that time, I would have sung along with 'Lola' for the whole show -- as it were, I sang along with most of the songs anyway! I doubt my seatmates were very pleased about that, but it was all the same to me. I had to do this, and besides, I was probably one of the few who knew the words to 'Storyteller' and 'London Song'.

Ray Davies told his usual story, which at that time I could have, too, nearly by heart, assured, that he was not from Dusseldorf, and then he was corrected. A know-it-all had obviously heard the CD already, and when Davies mentioned, 'six more older sisters,' this guy corrected him to 'five.' That sixth sister died when Davies was a youth, and is one of the tragic points of Kinks history -- a point completely superfluous to this interjecter. Earlier Davies' had backdated his brothers' birthday to 1943. Dave received a round of applause, even if were only after Davies' mention of him as 'a minor character of this piece.' At the concert he can't overplay the applause Dave gets normally at this point with a fanfare as on the CD.

poster of the show in Hamburg, photo: Helge ButtkereitThe concert received great reviews, Davies' voice was in its best condition, and he played the new 'Storyteller' songs in addition to the hits -- he also brought the hall to the laughter, when he sang wonderfully the showstopper 'That Old Black Magic' and play himself as a boy looking through the keyhole into the front room. And the Curio-Haus sizzled, when he rocked to the show's conclusion with 'You Really Got Me'. For over two hours Davies stood on the stage, with no interval like the current shows, but there was an encore. 'Waterloo Sunset' was the crowning conclusion. Afterwards could I neither applaud nor sing, but was lucky and already pleased about the upcoming day, because I would be able to take yet again the 'pleasure trip into the past of the Kinks' -- which is how 'Die Welt' (newspaper) described it in the following Monday's headlines.

So my itinerary led me to Berlin on 18 April. To save costs, I took the BerlinLininenBus, which cost only about half as much as the train, and that was really necessary at the time because the ticket prices, for me, were very high. But because of this, I missed a chance to meet our hero who, as I later read, travelled via ICE. Rock journalist Wolfgang Doebling accompanied him, and in the German 'Rolling Stone' there appeared a comprehensive and interesting Ray Davies interview. Doebling let Oasis be Osasis and showed that he is a Kinks' fan. His only criticism: ' Disturbing, if necessary, are his constant attempts to involve the audience, and get them to sing or clap along. And unfortunately, the daily 'Lola' can no longer be excluded, as it is in the leagues with the rarely lively call and response ritual with the mating-howls in the 'Banana Boat Song' 'Dayo, Dayyyoooooo' -- altogether, everyone? No, thanks.' Doebling is also a critic, and here he is probably right -- Davies could 'not see anything bad in it', and did it in Berlin again.

The 'University of the Arts' located near the Train Station Zoo was, at least, from its name a suitable place, but it was not, however, the concert venue. It looked like a sterile movie theatre, not an intimate place for a concert-reading, and so and so he never caught fully the audience's enthusiasm. Davies indeed tried to fire up the beginning through a slight change in the programme, but even an outstanding 'A Rock and Roll Fantasy' failed rightly to move the citizens of Berlin. Thus the whole reaction to the concert remained reserved however loud he got, which except for that additional song was the same as the Hamburg show. The press here, however, celebrate Davies', and none of the comments in the many-voiced Berlin newspapers was negative.

The best review probably appeared in 'Der Tagesspiegel', which summed up the show this way: 'We wanted freedom. We got fashion'. The author draws comparisons to David Bowie, who had adapted to the digital spirit of the times, and to the Stones, who were highly prepared to perform in bigger sized stadiums. Davies, however, reversed the trend, and 'played...like a minstrel born three hundred years too late, and who wished for nothing more than to pull into the small villages and show a few friends a good time.' Just like the song 'Storyteller' says: 'My friend told me the story and Iíll pass it on to you / It was handed down the centuries and I swear that it is true.'

Ray Davies in Cologne, photo: Edgar Zens/SchererThe "Berliner Zeitung" described him not as a music-hall singer, but rather as a comedian. The author heads each of his four paragraphs with a characterisation: 'Ray Davies is a Spoilsport', because he won't rest on the laurels of the Britpop generation; 'Ray Davies is a Storyteller'; 'Ray Davies is a Gentleman', because he gave still another encore despite the long program. The most interesting is probably the third paragraph: 'Ray Davies is an Entertainer'. He sets up his points so well, it is as if he has been his whole life nothing more that a stand-up comedian. His anecdotes are 'finely prepared miniatures...' A prevented minstrel-cum-stand-up comedian who leads the audience on a journey through time -- to quote, for example, the short and otherwise uninteresting review in the tabloid 'BZ'. The 'Berliner Morgenpost' added no new information, and told the story of the show. But its photo caption is the most meaningful, as if refers to Davies as a 'charming conversationalist.' He chats too much, however, about future projects which don't materialize. For example he said the magazine 'Gitarre & Bass' in 1998: 'The next will be a solo-album in the studio, my first ever.'

Kinks' fan Ernst Hofacker was also in Berlin, and the 'Musik-Express/Sounds' writer declared: 'If mankind were in charge of Ray's temperament, self-irony, neverending energy and imagination, the world would be a stronghold of creativity, indulgent jokes, and eternal life -- as well as damned good rock 'n' roll.' Naturally, this is impossible, as Ray Davies is unique. Hofacker also naturally knew this.

Berlin was thus a 'home match' for Davies, but his kind of show, and the contrast between fine arts and pop music was, for the German press, with its roots in the 60s, a joy. Because now the journalist could write finally about those heroes of youth, without being looked down upon by the vanguard of E-music - finally Ray Davies was on a lecture journey.

The good reviews lasted as far as Cologne, where the 'Frankfurter Rundschau' called him 'tender and cynical.' Indeed Davies ran the show with legendary care, and lived through his art in such a way, 'that what he related on the stage, was made an experience for the audience. Before the microphone stands not a 'hit-singer,' but instead a 'Storyteller;' one who sarcastically analyses his own myths -- and, in addition, adds a few new twists to his old work. Thus the beautiful Kinks' ballad 'See My Friends' becomes this evening an ode to his sister who dies at the age of 30.' In Cologne, Davies also kept to his usual programme, and varied it again only by one song. As a second encore he played, in addition to 'Waterloo Sunset' 'Days', and you can say that he thanked the audience for three lovely shows.

Ray Davies gave autographs after the show in Cologne, photo: Denise Lattwein   Ray Davies gave autographs after the show in Cologne, photo: Denise Lattwein

After 1998, there were frequent rumours that Davies would come yet again to Germany. The first came over a report on the 3Sat (tv channel) programme 'Kulturzeit.' They said at the end, 'He wants to return in the autumn.' Except for this empty promise, for which the lady journalist responsible could hardly do anything, the report was not only relatively long, but also well done. It showed a few clips from the Cologne show, above all 'That Old Black Magic,' (not seen anywhere else) and wrapped up the report with a discussion of Kinks' history. That was outstanding, and in addition, he gave still another small interview in which Davies made a few interesting statements: 'Being an outsider is the thing that's driven me on, whether as a student, or in school. Even today I am not really accepted in the very society in which I've made a mark.' And: 'I donít regret that much. One learns from his mistakes. At these shows, you're seeing someone who has made mistakes, and makes excuses for them.' Those statements are rather unusual for a television broadcast, although nothing exciting, but not really every day statements for Davies. Also n-tv (another channel) reported on the show, showing again clips of his appearance, and the the sly-wink statement at the heart of the matter: Ray had summed up in his wisdom in his 'Quotations of Chairman Ray.' The tour had thus evolved as an echo of this. Some journalists, who didn't get the reference, and had not even heard the CD, wrote reviews of the show. The Leipzig 'culture magazine' 'ZeitPunkt' spins yarns about the 'Kings' Davies have recorded songs like 'Lola' and 'Apeman', which were played more intimate for his solo recording.

Again Ray Davies came back to Germany. At the PopKom fair in Cologne he showed invited guests videos from his private collection, and in addition he agreed to show an obviously unprepared television team in the untidy hotel room a video with his 'Greatest Hits'. He has not returned since. In the past year again there were rumours of concerts to be held in this country -- and again, these did not take place. Davies played close by again in 1999 (Salzburg and Ostende), and in 2000 he gave concerts in Denmark. Scandinavia is on the schedule in the upcoming year, but there is no obvious plan for an excursion to Germany. Probably concerts will take place only if the solo disk is released. Only God knows when that will be.

Ray Davies: Storyteller Tour in Germany
  • 17 April 1998: Hamburg, Curio Haus
  • 18 April 1998: Berlin, Hochschule der Künste
  • 19 April 1998: Köln, Gürzenich
  •             Cologne Ticket, picture: Thomas Bartoldus

    Setlist

  • Lola
  • Dead End Street
  • A Rock'n'Roll Fantasy (only in Berlin)
  • Storyteller
  • Victoria
  • 20th Century Man
  • London Song
  • That Old Black Magic
  • Tired Of Waiting
  • Set Me Free
  • See My Friends
  • Autumn Almanac
  • X-Ray
  • Stop Your Sobbing
  • Art School Babes
  • It's Alright
  • Back In The Front Room
  • I'm Not Like Everybody Else
  • A Well Respected Man
  • Dedicated Follower Of Fashion
  • Back In The Front Room (2)
  • You Really Got Me
  • Waterloo Sunset (encore)
  • Days (encore, only in Cologne)
  • Sources

  • Heinrich Oehmsen: "Vorbild zu sein, verwirrt mich" (interview), Hamburger Abendblatt, 17 April 1998
  • Ein Kink kommt selten allein, B.Z., 20. April 1998
  • Ralf Schlüter: Miniaturen eines Pop-Vaters, Berliner Zeitung, 20. April 1998
  • Christian Schröder: Wir wollten Freiheit. Wir bekamen Moden, Der Tagesspiegel, 20 April 1998
  • Peter E. Müller: Erzähl' uns noch 'ne Geschichte!, Berliner Morgenpost, 20 April 1998
  • Stefan Krulle: Vergnügungsreise in die Vergangenheit der Kinks, Die Welt, 20 April 1998
  • Martin Scholz: Zart und zynisch, Frankfurter Rundschau, 21 April 1998
  • Thorsten Keller: Mitreißende Show voller Gechichten, Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, 21 April 1998
  • Ernst Hofacker: Ray Davies, Berlin, Hochschule der Künste, MusikExpress/Sounds, June 1998
  • Wolfgang Doebeling: A Well respected Man, Rolling Stone, June 1998
  • Lothar Trampert: Who Really Got What, Gitarre & Bass 10/98
  • more pictures

    translation: Carey Fleiner
    additions and corrections: Thomas Bartoldus