"In The Doghouse" - Ray Wilson's gig at The Doghouse, Dundee, Monday June 4, 2001. Review by Richard Gorman.
Once upon a time Dundee was a hard rocking city. Then the factories closed and prosperity passed the town by as did most big name performers. So it was a surprise to pass a fly poster for a city pub venue announcing an appearance by Genesis front man Ray Wilson. Dundee University Bands Society had booked "The Doghouse" to promote local student performers and secured the former Stiltskin singer as star guest. The atmosphere was lively and smoky with a small stage area separated from the bar by a wooden screen. Busy but not packed the audience was overwhelmingly composed of young students, many here to support friends performing on the night.
Ray took the stage in the middle of the bill with a short but extremely powerful solo acoustic set. Minor technical difficulties held up his opening number but it was to be well worth the wait. He opened with Peter Gabriel protest song Biko. The song has inspired other artists with both the progressive and multi-talented Robert Wyatt and masterly folk guitarist Martin Simpson producing excellent covers. Ray Wilson did himself, and the song, proud. The guitar style was perfectly pitched as strong rhythmic backing for a powerful voice. His friendly stage manner set up a good rapport with the audience and the main strengths of his performance were established immediately. Solid supportive acoustic guitar playing, a set of poignant classic songs and a magnificent emotive vocal style.
The set featured two of Ray's own compositions, two by Stiltskin, Bruce Springsteen"s "Born to Run", along with a couple more familiar to Genesis fans "Mama", and the Phil Collins hit "In the Air Tonight". From the outset Dylan, Gabriel and Springsteen were cited as musical influences which was borne out in performance by the gritty rendition of "Born To Run". Much of the physical, growling persona of Springsteen is apparent in Ray Wilson"s stage presence. All the more so in the intimate setting of a solo performance which emphasises the extraordinary raw power of his voice. Naturally suited to hard edged rock material both Stiltskin songs came across well. The hit "Inside", which received a lot of Scottish airplay, went down particularly well with a youthful crowd.
Ray Wilson's own songs, which were recorded under the band name "Cut", deserve special mention. Both the superbly titled "Millionairhead" and "Another Day" stood up well in prestigious company. Before singing "Another Day" he related the tragic story of a teenage friends suicide which had inspired it. The song had a strong emotional impact. Apparently trance producer Van Muhren is considering re-mixing and releasing this song in a club dance format. The material certainly deserves to be more widely heard. The only hints of disapproval during the performance came, perhaps predictably given the trendy and youthful nature of the audience, with a couple of muffled boos at the mention of Phil Collins. Not one of Ray Wilson's favourite writers he nonetheless pressed on with "In The Air Tonight" explaining that he thought the song itself was "a classic". Ray put his all into the song and carried it off well to enthusiastic applause.
Finally he took , on the face of it, his biggest musical gamble of the evening with an acoustic rendition of "Mama" which he described as "one of the greatest songs ever written". Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks cunning minimalist exchanges, the haunting synth theme and the relentless and unmistakable brooding backbeat, seemingly essential to the song, are inevitably lost in a solo acoustic performance. In fact it emerged as the musical highlight of the evening. Ray Wilson's voice shifted triumphantly from haunting and lyrical to growling and thunderous in a vocal tour de force. "Mama" proved not only the perfect climax but the ideal showcase for Ray Wilson's impressive talents as a solo performer. He is planning a tour beginning at this year's Edinburgh Festival. Be there.