FEATURE/INTERVIEW: Ben Crosland - New CD launched July 13th : The Ray Davies Songbook

John Etheridge, Ben Crosland, Dave O'Higgins.
(Sebastiaan de Krom and Steve Lodder also feature on the album)

"Sunny Afternoon," "Waterloo Sunset," "Dedicated Follower of Fashion"...  In something of a first, bass guitarist and arranger BEN CROSLAND has given classic songs by the Kinks the instrumental jazz treatment, His new Kinks-themed songbook album "The Ray Davies Songbook" will released this summer. Stephen Graham interviewed him by telephone at his home in Huddersfield:

Ben Crosland first got to love seminal 1960s London band The Kinks as a young teenager. He saw them live while still a student at Cambridge University at the dawn of the 1970s. By then totally smitten, as a young teen he had even joined their fan club, receiving a medallion for his pains as a membership perk, and held them in the same high esteem, he says, as the Beatles. “I still have all the singles, that’s not too embarrassing, is it?”

It’s a very auspicious time for the Kinks’ deeply influential songwriter Ray Davies as the treasures of his remarkable songbook are firmly in the spotlight in the West End of London where audiences have been flocking to Sunny Afternoon over the last couple of years at the Harold Pinter Theatre, a well received musical based around The Kinks hits. On Crosland’s album - the project owes its origins to a Marsden Jazz Festival commission -  keyboardist Steve Lodder on the song Sunny Afternoon itself came up with the idea to give the song a reggae tilt but generally the band steer well away from deconstructing the tunes or changing them too much. “We didn’t want to ruin them,” as Crosland who turned 65 earlier this year, puts it cheerfully.

Recorded at saxophonist Dave O’Higgins’ studio, Crosland is joined on tenor and soprano saxophones by the perennially cool O'Hig, and by John Etheridge on guitar, Lodder alternating piano and keyboards, and former Jamie Cullum Twentysomething-period sideman Sebastiaan de Krom is on drums. Crosland plays with the expat Dutchman for the first time here, his swing feel a strong characteristic on a few of the songs.

The Ray Davies songbook choices include a version of Dedicated Follower of Fashion, with the chorus taken up a minor third, Crosland says, a technique Kind of Blue pianist Bill Evans adopted on Days of Wine and Roses, for example.

Well Respected Man: “I didn’t mess with the harmonies,” Crosland jokes, is also included. Fans of The Kinks may be greatly relieved to know that Waterloo Sunset, one of the greatest songs in popular music, never mind that it is also one of the greatest songs about London, is also included on the all-instrumental affair. Crosland further inspired by the whole project would also like to arrange a few more Kinks songs, not that he is contemplating a second album, but perhaps to add to the band book live for a few extras not on the album, Days (it's hard not to think also of the beautiful 1989 version of the song by Kirsty MacColl), and Come Dancing, he says, are strong contenders.

Crosland began as a guitarist and doesn’t play double bass at all. His bass guitar heroes – he’s less keen, perhaps understandably to discuss his bass, not to mention base, villains – are Jaco Pastorius and Steve Swallow. Crosland plays a four string Paulman bass guitar, an instrument that falls somewhere between the design of a Fender Jazz and a Fender Precision made for him by a local luthier Paul McNab, which he has been playing since 2005.

Asked if he wonders how Ray Davies would react to his album, Crosland says he would like it if the great man were to see it as “a heartfelt. affectionate, and musical interpretation, and part of me would love him to hear it – part of me finds the thought terrifying!” (pp)

The Ray Davies Songbook is issued on the Jazz Cat label and is launched during release week at the 606 club in London on 13th July

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