"Something old, something new..." - Ray Wilson live at the Camberley Theatre, Thursday 22nd June 2006. Reveiw and photos by Stuart Barnes.
OK, confession time. I admit that prior to this gig, I hadn't heard any of Ray Wilson's solo material. With that in mind, I had no idea what to expect from a whole gig with Ray and his band. Camberley Theatre is a pleasant enough venue with a capacity of around 400 people. Sadly the turnout for this performance was only about 120, which must have been very disheartening for Ray and the band members. I've played to bigger crowds in a pub covers band. Not so much a gig; more a paid rehearsal in front of a few friends!
That aside, the gig itself was very good. The opener, Calling All Stations was perfect; a nicely paced warm-up showing a hint of what was to come. The one thing that struck me immediately was Ray's voice. Every nuance and inflection was crystal clear at every level; credit to the sound crew there. This was followed by a very credible version of The Lamb. A minor technical problem with the drummer's monitors meant that Ray had to fill a few minutes with something. Lover's Leap from Supper's Ready as perfomed on the CAS tour. Nice. For some reason I had forgotten that he could play the guitar.
With the drummer back on track, it was on with the show. Land Of Confusion was next. Again a credible version. Then a change of mood as Ray took a few moments to introduce the next song, The Actor. Something about this song caught my attention due to the introduction in which Ray set the scene. The guitar and Ray's voice combined with touching lyrics to show a side of this gig I wasn't expecting. I was impressed, to say the least. Back to Genesis for the next song, Carpet Crawlers. Somehow, when singing songs like this Ray's voice sounds vaguely like a combination of Peter Gabriel's and Phil Collins', but there is a third element to it that adds Ray's personality and vocal aggressiveness when required. There is no line drawn between the sounds and Ray is able to use and combine those elements almost at will, and to great effect.
Back to his own material, Ray introduced the next song, Another Day, which was about a friend who died when they were both younger. Thought provoking and powerful.
That was followed up with a Peter Gabriel song, Games Without Frontiers. As with the other covered songs there was nothing unexpected or offensive about this version. Changing tack again, we were given another helping of solo material in the form of Change. This song has a great chorus, good melody and catchy. From the few solo songs he'd played it was becoming clearer as to the contribution he'd made to CAS; more than I first thought. In the days following the gig, I have noticed that I look for this song more on the Live CD than any of the others.
It wasn't immediately obvious as to what the next song was. The fact that it was played on a guitar rather than with the more familiar keyboard sounds we all know compounded this. It was only when Ray started singing that all became clear. This version of In The Air Tonight was a bit different, and yet somehow familiar. The solo voice and guitar carried on until the drum break, when the whole band joined in, lifting the song to a new level. This was followed up by another solo song, Ghost.
A short break followed, so that the bar could rake in a few more pounds from the gig and the audience could stretch their noses and powder their legs. That over, it was back in to the theatre for the second half. Keeping with the covered songs theme, the band opened with Solsbury Hill and followed that with Follow You Follow Me, complete with keyboard solo! It started acoustically, like the CAS tour version, and by the end the whole band were playing. I like the way that one was worked out.
A blast of nostalgia followed as Ray announced Ripples. This was an excellent version complete with solo section. The Irvin, the keyboard player did an admirable job with this, although I couldn't figure out where the bass piano notes were coming from when his hands were tied up with the piano arpeggios and the synth solo :-)
Not About Us was next followed by another solo song, Alone. Another nostalgic treat followed in the form of Entangled. This was tackled excellently by the band, even down to the vocal harmonies in the chorus.
Then we moved on to the Stiltskin set. With a new album out it was obvious that we were going to be treated to a few songs from it. Lemon Yellow Sun and She. This is heavier stuff than either his own material or Genesis', but none the less it worked within the context of this gig; even with the technical problems with the special microphone used! Just as Phil Collins can't get away with not playing In The Air Tonight, Ray couldn't play these two new Stiltskin numbers and not get away with leaving Inside out of the set. Sure enough and seriously Rockin' version of Inside followed. On record this song shows the quiet and loud sides of Ray's voice. Live, the contrast between the two is enough to blow you away.
The show ended with a rocked up version of I Can''t Dance, complete with harmonica solo at the end and Turn It On Again. By this point the 120 strong crowd were doing their best to sound like 400 people. Our efforts were rewarded with an encore set with Ray on his own singing Shipwrecked and No Son Of Mine a la unplugged and with audience participation. Lastly Ray introduced the Irvin the keyboard player back on to the stage and the two of them embarked on a very different version of Mama than one I'd ever heard before. There I was enjoying the unplugged feel of the song up to the middle section (the can't you feel my heart bit), when the rest of the band came back on to the stage to end the song with mega-powerful drum break and outro section. I loved the way the song built up; different to the original and, in my opinion, every bit as good.
Overall I was impressed with the gig. I enjoyed all of it, although I found myself enjoying Ray's own material more than the Genesis material, to the point where I wanted to hear more of that than the covers. Someone had to explain to me that the tour was called The World Of Genesis for me to realise that the overbias was deliberate. The way in which the cover songs were approached was to use a close approximation rather than a full-blown carbon copy. This worked, and even when new arrangements were used, they worked as well, especially with In The Air Tonight and Mama. I suppose that with Ray having been in Genesis, that means that he can get away with departing from the norm whereas others might not. I certainly didn't hear anyone complaining about the way things were played. This isn't a tribute band. If you want that sort of thing, go and see one of the many gigging in the UK and Europe. Ray's voice is amazing to hear 'in the flesh', and the material he is performing shows it off well. My only regret is that I didn't start listening to his songs earlier. To think, I've been missing out on all that enjoyment...!
The chat between the songs was very entertaining, ranging from childhood experiences to his time on the road with Genesis and beyond. Some bits were funny and others hilarious (<plug>the An Audience and Ray Wilson CD available at the merch desk has some great stories on it. Also, the Ray Wilson Live CD has a story from the Bray Studios CAS rehearsal that left me crying with laughter.</plug>).
In order to try to balance this review I will draw attention to a couple of failings, neither of which can be pinned on Ray himself. First, the light show isn't all that good. I'm sure that a dozen or so Par cans, a follow spot and a few Vari-Lites, can be used more effectively within the budget constraints. Secondly, the band didn't seem to be very animated; there was very little eye contact between them and they looked more like professionals going through the motions than musicians performing (been there, done that). The low turnout might have contributed to this. Lighten up guys. You get paid for playing musical intruments and are doing a European tour, something which most of us only dream about when were are at our desk doing 9-5. Enjoy it, or at least look like you are, even if the room isn't full! That said, they are only minor niggles and did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the show. To the band's credit, I didn't hear a bum note all night.
Worthy of a mention was the volume level of the show. Some small venue gigs I have been to have been very loud; to the point of being painful. Nowadays I always bring some noise reducing earplugs to gigs, just in case. I found that I didn't need them for this gig. That's not to say that it wasn't loud enough; it was. It was comfortably loud, a level which most engineers these days don't know the meaning of. Kudos to the sound crew for that.
Outside the hall, the merchandise available was well priced (even with multi-buy prices on the CDs) and there wasn't too much choice to frustrate those of us who don't have bottomless pockets! Some shows I've been to have the artists entire back catalogue laid out on the table and you can end up either not knowing what to buy or you end up incurring the wrath of the missus by buying too much! There is such a thing as too much choice. For those people who didn't want CDs there were T-shirts, polo shirts and CDs on sale as well. The merchandising manager, Tyla (she's also Ray's wife), was very friendly and helpful and Ray himself after the show was great, signing all manner of things thrust under his nose, and standing for photos with fans.
Having found out that Ray will be gigging again nearer the end of this year, I will definately be going again, and I will be bringing some friends. I suggest you do the same!