Unplugged and Unmissable
IT TAKES a special talent to excite Edinburgh' s festival crowds. They trudge around the City from one world-class arts event to another; it leaves them feeling amiable but mildly jaded. You hear it in their voices: the Kirov Opera? Hmm, yes, quite a spectacle. The new Ariel Dorfman play? Mmm, jolly interesting, that.
Then along comes a middle-aged pop singer to perform his songs, most of them three decades old, and those same people talk in hushed, tones, bandying words like ''genius" about. Forget high art - Ray Davies is in town.
It is hard to convey the affection in the Assembly Rooms as Davies strode on stage for the first of eight concerts. Everywhere people wore dopey grins mirroring Davies's own. Later in the venue's club bar, packed with performers and media types, people who normally practise looking cool and ironic shook their heads in slack-jawed wonder at Davies's performance. It was that kind of night : memorable, unmissable.
There was much to enthuse over. Davies ran through most of the Kinks' hits in unplugged mode; himself on acoustic guitar with one guitarist accompanying him. This nudged the audience into realising what fine, durable songs they are: 30 years on, not one sounds dated or immature. We have long known that Wa terloo Sunset, Days and Lola are classics; this treatment conferred equal status on minor hits such as Autumn Almanac and Dead End Street.
Between classics , Davies read excerpts from his autobiographical X-Ray and told anecdotes: upstaging the Beatles on a package tour, growing up in Muswell Hill with younger brother Dave and older sisters. Mum frowned on the girls playing Billy Eckstine's That Old Black Magic: the words were too sexy. Davies then sang it, a cappella, with a cheeky smile. "Mum was right," he said finally: If you could bottle his charm you'd be rich.
Why was the evening such a triumph? Timing, for one thing. Davies confirmed his godfather to Brit- pop's current wave: the debt owed him by the likes of Damon Albarn is mountainous.
Yet his success has deeper implications Pop music struggles to find a niche in Edinburgh, maybe because it stems from an industry too concerned with profits to embrace the Fringe ethos of shambling self-deprecation. But Davies embodies this ethos perfectly: if performers such as John Hegley and Roger McGough can be perennial Edinburgh favourites, so can he.
Now it will be intriguing to see if other pop performers can find a way to meet the Fringe halfway. You never know - more nights like this, and rock 'n' roll might become the new comedy.
David Gritten, Daily Telegraph August 21, 1995