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Ben Crosland
Ben Crosland
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Former Kinks leader, songwriter Ray Davies has long been a grand elder statesman of British popular music. He mined a strain of Englishness like no other songwriter of his generation and his work continues to influence many artists, writes TONY DEWHURST.

“Ray Davies’ songs had a fire and an edge to them and his songs are rooted in the blues, popular song, variety and music hall theatre, so for me he was as important a songwriter as John Lennon and Paul McCartney,” said bassist Ben Crosland, who will introduce an instrumental jazz re-working of 12 songs from the Ray Davies songbook at this month’s Ribble Valley Jazz Festival.

I think we are using the original music in a respectful way and I’m really grateful to the Ribble Valley Jazz committee for inviting us to this special festival

Ben Crosland

“This is a project born out of my love for The Kinks. They were part of my musical education. I remember listening to those great songs on a little Dansette record player in my bedroom, and The Kinks completely caught my imagination. To play live on stage was what I wanted to do after that.Now it has come full circle, and interpreting those superb songs in a jazz style, we’ve discovered new subtleties and strengths in these wonderful compositions.”

Crosland says Davies is aware of the project, and he has assembled a quintet of international quality – including guitarist John Etheridge and drummer Sebastiaan de Krom for their show at Clitheroe’s Grand Theatre on April 29.

“I always thought a Ray Davies songbook could work in a jazz context, but I’ve certainly never heard of anybody doing jazz arrangements of his work before,” added Crosland who will release the Ray Davies jazz songbook as an album this summer.

Ben continued: “We’ve used the original songs as a jumping off point really.

“For example, we’ve tweaked the harmonies on Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy and given it a laid back kind of New Orleans groove.”

When Crosland debuted the show at the Marsden Jazz Festival it sold out in hours such was the demand.

“Doing this I’ve found extra hidden strengths in their music that I hadn’t discovered before,” added Ben.

“When you listen to You Really Got Me, for example, it is a very raw-edged and extremely powerful song. This isn’t a precious performance, though, we want people to come to the show and sing along to it.

“I think we are using the original music in a respectful way and I’m really grateful to the Ribble Valley Jazz committee for inviting us to this special festival.”

• Ben Crosland Quintet: The Ray Davies Songbook. The Grand Theatre, Clitheroe, April 29. £15. The Ribble Valley Jazz Festival runs from April 28 to May 2. Box office: 01200 421599.