A story about meeting Ray, 28 April, 1998, Villa Montalvo, Saratoga, CA
Date: October 3, 98 3:01 PM
From: Randolph Carleton Wright
Subject: Re: A Story of Villa Montalvo: Ray Davies and an E-type Jaguar
- Randy and his Jaguar by the Villa Montalvo marquee
- Randy and the SNYAFTN license plate
- Closeup of the autographed license plate
- Randy and his Jaguar (in daylight)
A story of Villa Montalvo: Ray Davies and an E-type Jaguar
In years past, I have been to numerous concert venues in northern California, for a variety of bands, including the Kinks- the Oakland Coliseum, the Concord Pavilion, the Berkeley Community Theatre, and others, all suggesting a stage and audience. And two months ago, when I first heard of 'Villa Montalvo,' I wondered, what is a Villa Montalvo? Well, now I know. It is a private performing arts center with public performances. The premises are a former stately home of a former US Senator for California. But more importantly, Ray Davies, as part of the 'Storyteller' tour was playing at this mysterious venue in California, the closest place on the most convenient date for Reno, Nevada. Consequently, Clay Alder and myself decided that the proper and grand thing to do would be to drive my 1967 silver blue E-type Jaguar roadster to the concert.
It is, of course no coincidence that the Jag wears vanity license plates that read, 'SNYAFTN', which even the most jaded Kinks fan will easily recognise as a cypher for 'Sunny Afternoon'. As Saratoga, California is a four hour drive if driven "efficiently," it was determined by Clay and myself that we should leave Reno by 12:30 pm on April 28, the day of the concert. And after 'To the Bone', 'Greatest Hits', 'Arthur' and a semi-tractor that was parked in the slow lane of Interstate 880, we did pull up to Villa Montalvo, top down, at 7:00 pm, one-half hour before show time, the thirty-one year old Jag running flawlessly and giving us the glories of the road the entire time. In a moment of wild abandon at Immigrant Gap, we passed a Datsun Z car on the outside of the curve in the E-type car, with 'See My Friends' going at full tilt from a heavily taxed stereo. Along the way, a fellow pulled up along side with his window down and gave me the 'thumbs up'. I shouted back an enthusiastic "Yeah, we're going to see Ray Davies!" He smiled back and nodded just as enthusiastically. He knew too that the mystique of toggle switches, booming exhaust, Gieves & Hawkes, Nelson and Waterloo Sunsets were all bound up together. It was going to happen tonight- an evening of Churchillian and Victorian glory! Perhaps we would hear some super secret gems like 'Mr. Pleasant', or 'Berkeley Mews'. Or that looking glass view of someone in 'Afternoon Tea'...or 'Fancy' or...'God's Children'...or... And by the way, we never once broke the speed limit.
At Villa Montalvo I cleaned all the poor dead insects off the greatest motorcar ever built (that is, of those which there were more than fifty built) and Clay and I made quick work of the walk from the car park (after hoisting on the coat from Savile Row and running our own fingers through our hair we seemed cheeky enough for college girls) where we drank in the cool elegance of the Villa. I had a nice chat with Craig and another Kinks fan, talking about the Village Green Preservation Society album. I showed them the program from the Reno Jaguar Club's annual all British car meet which is called "A Day on the Village Green" for what I hope are obvious reasons for the reader, especially if he is Ray Davies.
This particular issue was a salute to the British cars of the 1960's and referenced the Kinks and other cultural icons in giving an overview of social values and pop culture. I also brought my hardbound copy of "X-Ray" which I had purchased on its release date in a bookstore in Covent Garden on the last day of that trip to England. It was my hope to have one signed and present the other to Ray Davies. This probably would require quick thought, astute judgment and cunning- qualities I had never questioned or ever analysed in myself.
As it turned out, Clay and I wound up in the sixth row from the stage, a very satisfactory development. However, being that we were on the two end seats facing stage right, I quite naturally and rightfully kept wondering why we hadn't gotten seats in the center of the row. While this concern would soon dissolve when Ray Davies walked on the stage, I made a mental note that in the future I would confirm exactly where in the row the seats were located that I was buying. They would be in the center, even if I had to move back a row. More than that would require careful consideration, though.
But soon enough, the lights dimmed and Irish music came on-for just a few minutes and then Ray Davies walked on stage, wearing faded blue jeans and a dark sport coat. It was closer than I had ever been to him or the Kinks in concert. Here was the man who had played to sell out crowds of 20,000 and more at such venues as Madison Square Garden and the Cow Palace. I could practically have carried on a conversation with him. There were only 300 people in the room. I think I have been to some parties in college that had more people. And one of those was at my beloved parents' house when they went on vacation one year....
Ray immediately launched into 'Lola', a Kinks song which I often hear on the radio, but which tonight sounded as fresh and vibrant as the first time I heard it. And of course, Ray had us singing the chorus. Then there was some talk about the oral tradition of storytelling and about a glorious 18 months in Ireland ("southern Ireland") and discussion about the three guitars on stage ("the red one, the green one and the blond one"). And then we heard '20th Century Man' with its potent statement about human nature and the balance between war and techology and individual freedom. Interestingly, when Ray sang the line that referred to the artists ("I'll take Rembrandt, Titian, Da Vinci, and Gainsborough"), it came out, "I'll take Rembrandt, Titian, Da Vinci and [slight pause] Thomas Gainsborough." Is there a preference for the great Gainsborough here? This was followed by either London Song or Victoria (probably Victoria) which was wildly received. Then there were discussions about life in the Davies household with five older sisters and one younger brother named Dave who had started a rock and roll band, life with dad and the pub, the suburban gardens and early musical influences (Big Bill Bronzy, Chuck Berry) and a hilarious send up of the "upper class" management the Kinks had thought they luckily acquired in the 1960's. 'London Song' gave a powerful reading of London with marvelous imagery- the part about looking down from Highgate Hill all the way to Leicester Square opened up an entire vista. And the reference is to "Chiswick Bridge", not "Choosey" bridge. That's what I heard sitting in the sixth row. Then there was 'See my Friends' (about the premature death of a sister), 'Tired of Waiting', 'Autumn Almanac', and the interesting story about how people see each other superficially in the story about the hunchback that led up to 'X-Ray', the humerous reading about adolescent seduction in 'Art School Babes', and glorious renditions with audience participation in 'A Well Respected Man' and 'Dedicated Follower of Fashion'. These of course, only touch upon the highlights. The show closed with the story of success and recording of the Kinks' breakthrough single that did so by going to number one in the charts, 'You Really Got Me'.
At this point, Clay, who was sitting on the end of the row said, "Now grab your book, let's go to the stage and get the autograph" Now I understood why I had been stuck on the end of the row. Everybody else was standing, cheering and calling for an encore as we walked up to the stage. Ray Davies was standing there, taking a bow and saw me as he left for the wings. He was of course compelled to return for an encore, and in the meantime Clay and I sat down on a bench that ran out from the apron of the stage along the wall. We sat about about twenty feet from Ray Davies as he sang 'Waterloo Sunset'. It was during the chorus he spoke the lines (with some emotion), "As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset, I am in paradise." I was so moved during the performance I didn't know what I was going to do. But when he finished and put the guitar down, he walked to the edge of the stage and looked right at me, as though to say, "Well, come on now, what are you waiting for?" I grabbed my first edition of Ray Davies' autobiography, and with pen in hand walked up to the stage and handed them to him. The crowd cheered wildly as Ray Davies autographed my book from on the stage. He smiled and handed me the book and left. When I got back to Clay I realized that I had forgotten to give Ray Davies the program from 'A Day on The Village Green". I would not leave without doing so. After all, we had been doing this British car meet for fourteen years with a reference to one of the Kink's finest albums, and Ray ought to know what a heroic effort we're all making out here in the Nevada desert. And besides, I had just driven 300 miles for this moment, with the top down, not once exceeding the speed limit. As we walked out, I turned to Clay.
"Clay, let's wait for Ray Davies to come out, I'll give the program to him then." After all, I reasoned, I had read of such things in books and on the internet. Of course, what is the starting point of a conversation when a performer has to make the next show and its in L.A.? Sometimes the mind must improvise. There will be a solution. Admittedly, Clay initially resisted the idea. But I was insistent; I prevailed. I asked an usher from whence in the building one could expect Ray Davies to emerge after the show? "Probably the front door, that's the only exit." Someone else suggested asking the crew as they took down the equipment. "Is there a chance I can see Ray Davies?" Without turning around, I got the response, "Yeah, in L.A." That left a bad taste. I decided to confer with Clay outside. It looked like Ray Davies wanted to get away with a minimum of contact after performing for over two hours. I felt like an intruder.
However, if we brought the E-type up to the Carriage House theatre, he just might be intrigued, especially with a license plate that read 'SNYAFTN'. Then I could present the program. After a brief discussion, we determined that the best plan would be for Clay to bring the car around and I would stay, in case Ray came out before the E-type materialized. Clay disappeared down the narrow lane to the car park. I waited as nonchalently as I could. I convinced myself that this is not the same as stalking. Eventually everyone left except for one person, and numerous cars came by, none of which was the E-type. In the meantime, I observed that down the side of the Carriage House theatre, at the end of the building, were backed up a steep incline or hill two vans with a small crowd of people standing there. Suddenly the light came on. STAGE DOOR!!!! And as I stood there, a camera flash went off. RAY DAVIES WAS OUT AND THERE WAS NO E-TYPE IN SIGHT!!!! Where oh where was Clay??? I peered urgently down the dark road. Finally, I could hear the drone of the exhaust of the E-type. Sure enough the long low shape came into view. Clay parked where I was and got out. I said to him excitedly, "Look, Ray's down there where those vans are."
"I'll bring the car, you go see if he's there." Clay marched off to the distant crowd.
There sat the car, with the top up. Now, I don't know what I was thinking (probably not at all, for that matter) maybe I thought I would drive up in the car and Ray Davies would walk up and see me there sitting in it (ah, the entrance) maybe the car looked more approachable with the top down. Anyway, no one in history ever saw the folding top and windows of an E-type Jaguar get taken down so efficiently and quickly as at that moment. I lept into the car, turned the key and punched the starter button. I could have been Sterling Moss at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. And he was famously fast.
In a flash, I had driven to the foot of the hill or incline. I fixed the handbrake, left the car in neutral and grabbing the all important program, lept out and strode mightily those last few feet to the first van. The Jaguar sat there idling with its lights on.
As I approached, I saw Ray Davies get into the van. Clay was standing there with a small group of people. I was breathless. Luckily, the van window was open. Ray sat there.
"We drove down from Reno today to see your concert." The whole entourage was in the two vans and ready to go. I handed Ray Davies the program through the open window. At that moment I ran out of breath.
"You'll have to excuse me, but I'm out of breath from running up this hill."
"Oh that's alright. You're fine." His voice sounded like a whisper, like he was hoarse. I was hoarse and I only sang some of the choruses in a crowded house. I think I forgot who I was.
"This is the program from the all British car meet that The Reno Jaguar Club puts on every year." The program was sitting in his lap. "We have named it 'A Day on the Village Green'. Which, as you probably know, is named after one of your songs, 'The Village Green Preservation Society."
"Yes, that's very nice." Davies showed genuine interest. He got out the felt tip pen and started to sign the cover.
"Oh no, this is for you, you've already signed the autobiography for me. We want you to keep it."
Ray mentioned something about the program and opened it up and started to look through it. Then I heard Clay speak, who was standing directly behind me.
"Why don't you sign the Jaguar?" Sign the Jaguar? How does one sign a Jaguar? Where? And with what? How does the signature stay on? It was impractical; it was impossible; it was insane. It was an airy suggestion, to say the least. We would be surprized.
"We drove it down today, its an E-type and its license plate says, Sunny Afternoon on it. Well, its spelled S-N-Y-A-F-T-N. Its a personalized plate. I thought 'Sunny Afternoon' was the right thing to put on a British convertible." I may even have encouraged this by saying, something like, "You've got to see it, its right over there."
Ray turned and nodded to the driver. He looked at me and said, "That sounds like a good idea." As I stood there he opened the door and got out. The three of us walked towards the idling Jaguar. I went on about how it was a series one E-type from the early sixties. Clay was talking about "signing the Jaguar" somewhere. I suggested on the back of the bucket seat. Ray stopped in front of the car. I stood next to him. He studied it intently. There was the front license plate. 'SNYAFTN'. Ray got down in front of the car. He reached out and wrote his name with the marker above 'SNYAFTN'. At the end of Davies he drew a long straight line. He signed his bit on the car.
This all seemed unusual to me. However I had the presence of mind (have I really been practicing law for nearly twenty years?) to observe, tongue in cheek, "Well, now its official".
Ray stood up and looked at me. With a grin on his face he said, "Yes, now its official." He put out his hand. I shook his hand and told him I thought it was really a great show that night. With concluding pleasantries he then turned and walked back to the two vans full of people. I think I was starstruck the entire time. Clay and I drove off in the Sunny Afternoon E-type.The Jaguar drove magnificently all the way back to Reno, the curves of the car carrying us like a great blue wave as we flew down the road. GOD SAVE RAY DAVIES!!!