SUNNY Afternoon, winner of the 2015 Olivier Award for Best New Musical, will be on tour at the Grand Opera House, York, next month in the wake of songwriter Ray Davies being knighted for services to the arts in the New Year's Honours list.
Sir Ray always wanted to bring The Kinks' story to the stage in a musical built around the North Londoners' songs. "I was writing another musical called Come Dancing based on one of my songs, which was eventually staged, and in 2005 I found myself thinking about significant times in my life around the time of Sunny Afternoon," he says.
"So many things were happening to me around that time: overworked, infighting among band members, lawsuits with managers and publishers that nearly gave me a breakdown and the rest."
Sir Ray wrote a draft and returned to it after Come Dancing had been produced. "I wanted to write about that time in my life when so much was happening to me. British music was starting to conquer the world and England were on the verge of winning the World Cup," he says. "I put all these elements together and wrote a short script.
"I had already done a one-man show called Storyteller with songs, storyline and spoken words. It was originally linked to an American producer but since it was a British show I felt it needed a British producer and Sonia Friedman was that person.
"Then Joe Penhall came on board to do the book; we did a few workshops and after that Ed Hall came on board to direct. After another workshop, the production started its life with a trial run at Hampstead Theatre, before it transferred to the West End and now it is on tour."
Sir Ray has been called the Samuel Pepys of the Sixties with his love of stories and characterisation, so what did he derive from re-living the stories and songs creatively? "Well, I think once I had got the initial treatment and outline done, I had to detach myself from it and treat it as a piece of theatre for the stage. Detachment is good. It allows you to look more at the character development and the issues involved and I could concentrate more on the story. It is easier to keep going that way."
Sunny Afternoon presents an authentically warts-and-all portrait of The Kinks. "We were arguably one of the most dysfunctional and hard-edged bands around before punk. Someone said to me The Kinks were one of the bands the punk bands looked up to.
Ryan O'Donnell as Ray Davies in Sunny Afternoon. Picture: Kevin Cummins
"It is a coming-of-age story; it is about sibling rivalry, a changing society, the pitfalls of the music industry, about loss of self, and it is about being on tour with my brother [Dave]. It is compelling on several levels and, of course, it has got the songs as well."
Sunny Afternoon is not only the story of The Kinks, however. "It seems more to me a like a portrayal of Britain at a certain time in history," says Sir Ray. "We were leading the world with music, arts and fashion. The classes were merging and it seemed as if we were all as one. As one of the characters says it was 'a very special time'."
The show also has a sense of the importance of London as a place in Davies's songs and the role of community and friendship too. "Well, London is very present in my life. I always wrote about what happened within a square mile of where I lived," says Sir Ray. "There is an element of London in Sunny Afternoon but it is more about England, and for that matter Britain, at the time and going to America and the confrontations over there.
"It sounds strange now but at the time, we were seen to be invading America. People in the USA thought the British invasion was taking their music away from them and possibly corrupting a young American generation.
"It's also about how different classes band together. There's a very touching moment in the show where our manager, who is from the upper class, and us bonded. I think that was a very key thing in the Sixties because we all had a common quest and it was more about social bonding."
Now 72, what is Sir Ray working on at present? "I've got a new album coming out in the spring called Americana, which I’m finally just finishing off," he reveals.
He neither rules in or rules out a possible Kinks return to the concert platform, instead saying: "I often hear rumours of Kinks reunions but we can’t do that of course because we lost Pete Quaife, one of the originals, a few years ago. I miss Pete and I miss that team effort a lot; I’m not sure it’s something we could do without him. But never say never and one never knows."
In the meantime, Sunny Afternoon will shine a light on the life and times, the fights and the hits of The Kinks in York in February.
Sunny Afternoon runs at the Grand Opera House, York, from February 21 to 25 at 7.30pm nightly, plus 2.30pm Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday matinees. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york