A life packed with music, tragedy and TV roles ... and Ray is still in the swing
DERBY audiences are already familiar with the musical talents of big band leader Ray McVay, who brings the Glenn Miller Orchestra to Derby next week.
In the mid-1960s, Ray spent two-and-half years heading up the popular big band, which played live at one of Derby's hottest night spots at the time – the Locarno Ballroom in Babington Lane.
It was a happy time for Ray, who finally found himself returning to the music he had loved since his childhood and always aspired to perform. Until the likes of Chuck Berry and Bill Haley got in the way.
"My father was a musician and fan of swing, bringing home the records of Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, which I thought were amazing," said Ray.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, May 26 2013
"I learned to play the saxophone as a teenager and my ambition was always to become a big band leader.
"The main problem was that American rock 'n' roll exploded on to the scene in the late 1940s.
"The interest in big band/swing music plummeted in the UK virtually overnight and no halls were prepared to take the risk of booking the big bands any more."
The change forced an about-turn for Ray, who realised that the only way forward was to embrace this new genre.
"I'm not saying I didn't like rock 'n' roll. It was exciting, vibrant music and I soon found my niche," said Ray, who worked with the likes of Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, Georgie Fame and Billy Fury
The first wave of rock 'n' roll was largely saxophone and piano-led, which suited Ray's skills, and he rapidly became a valued addition to tours.
Sadly, Ray was also closely linked to one of the major tragedies of that era, his own life being saved by a last-minute decision to swap seats with American rock and roller Eddie Cochran. On the night, of Saturday, April 16, 1960, Ray was originally in the taxi which later crashed, killing 21-year-old Cochran.
The musicians were leaving a gig but Eddie was struggling to fit his amp into his transport. He asked Ray to swap seats so he could take his amp in the taxi.
The decision had tragic consequences for Eddie and Ray is still clearly moved by the events of that night.
Eddie's girlfriend, Sharon Sheeley, and singer Gene Vincent survived the crash, although Vincent sustained lasting injuries that would shorten his career.
"There are these moments in life where small decisions have huge consequences and I still feel very sad reliving what happened that night."
As rock 'n' roll began to be replaced by new musical genres, nostalgia for the big band sound began to return.
At long last, Ray was given the opportunity to fulfil his childhood ambitions. Eric Morley asked him to join Mecca with his own band at the Derby Locarno, heralding the start of a new and long musical career which saw him front bands in Glasgow and Edinburgh, the Hammersmith Palais and the Lyceum Ballroom in the Strand.
For 12 years, Ray appeared on BBC TV's Come Dancing and he fronted his own BBC radio show for three years called Monday Monday.
It was an interesting role which brought him into regular contact with many new rising performers of the time, including the legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix.
"I was only vaguely aware of who Jimi was but it was a memorable performance," said Ray. "His guitar playing was amazing but it was so loud that it literally brought the house down, fetching all the plaster off the ceiling."
After many year at the top end of his game, Ray finally fulfilled his dreams to become the leader of a Glenn Miller Orchestra in 1988, a role he loves, In the early days he was joined by original members of the Glenn Miller band
He said: "We still have a team of wonderful musicians who faithfully recreate the Glenn Miller with tracks such as In the Mood, Moonlight Serenade and Tuxedo Junction to name but a few."
WHAT: Glenn Miller Orchestra
WHERE: Assembly Rooms
WHEN: Friday, January 31
TICKETS: Call Derby 255800 or visit www.derbylive.co.uk