Back in the 1960s a fab four took the music scene by storm. I’m not talking about a Liverpudlian quartet, but a band from Muswell Hill called The Kinks, who went on to become one of the most influential British groups of all time, writes Nicky Sweetland.
A multi-award winning musical-which celebrates their music and is named after one of their inspirational hits, Sunny Afternoon-enjoyed a critically acclaimed run in the West End. The cult show is now touring the UK and will bring some rock and roll to the New Wimbledon Theatre later this month.
The show stars a group of actor/musicians, who not only portray the characters within the story but also play all of the big hits live.
Ryan O’Donnell plays lead singer and songwriter Ray Davies, whose world-weary vocal style and sharp, empathetic lyrics became synonymous with the band.
Ryan did a stint in the West End production before taking off around the country and told me, “It’s a feel good show, but a bit gritty at the same time. We play all of The Kinks’ big numbers from their rise to fame back in the sixties and from when they went to America and then got thrown out. It’s about how the band coped with stardom and how it informed their writing.”
Brothers Ray and Dave Davies formed the band and initially called themselves The Ravens. They played a combination of R&B and rock and roll with friend Peter Quaife on bass. A self-produced demo tape was given to record producer Shel Talmy who helped the band land a contract with Pye Records in 1964. Before signing, the group replaced their drummer with Mick Avory and renamed themselves The Kinks.
Sunny Afternoon won the 2015 Olivier Award for Best New Musical and has music and lyrics by Ray Davies (Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music) and a new book by award winning playwright Joe Penhall.
Ryan said, “Joe Penhall wrote Blue/Orange back in the day and won lots of awards working on it. He’s come up with a really clever script and he manages to get so much into just a couple of lines here and there. It is mostly music we are playing, but what little script we have, he’s really crammed with the back-story.”
After The Kinks obtained a recording contract, Ray Davies became the songwriter and leader of the band. He received a CBE in 2004 and was knighted in the 2017 New Year Honours for his services to the arts.
Ryan is full of praise for the Rock and Roll Svengali but is mindful to ensure his performance in the show is not just an impersonation.
“I never really wanted to get bogged down into doing a three hour impression of Ray Davies. He’s a very softly spoken man; I’ve met him numerous times and that just doesn’t really work in a musical, so I do a little nod to Ray’s personality and character here and there but otherwise try to make it a bit bolder and play it with a broader brush stroke
Between 1965-1967, The Kinks enjoyed their first commercial peak scoring nine British and seven US chart hits, but a dispute with the American Federation of Musicians during a 1965 tour led to them look to home for future success. The influential group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2005 into the UK Music Hall of Fame.
Ryan came across their music when he was learning the guitar and tells me, “When I was discovering music as a teenager I filled my CD collection up with The Who, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and the Kinks, so I was a fan in that way and picked up a few of their tunes.”
The theatrical adaptation of the band’s story is highly amusing and yet at times very poignant. Jelled together with smash hit songs like Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, Waterloo Sunset and of course the title track, Sunny Afternoon, the show appeals to fans of the band as well as those who love live theatre and Ryan said, “Even though you might be a big fan of The Kinks, you’ll get to hear the music played live very well and even if you’ve read every book about The Kinks, you’ll learn something new from this show.”
Sunny Afternoon will run at the New Wimbledon Theatre from 28th March until 1st April. You can find more details on the website http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/sunny-afternoon/new-wimbledon-theatre/