Aylesbury lost one of its most beloved musical characters on Saturday when 'Rocking' Ray Smith passed away after a short illness.
Many have lost a good friend and the town a lifelong supporter of its music scenes going back to the 60s, whether fronting one of several bands over the decades or offering encouragement in the audience. It's believed Rocking Ray attended more Friars gigs than any other member.
Ray's death prompted a torrent of shock, sadness and tributes on social media. All spoke of the quiet, gentle soul who never said a bad word about anybody but was fiercely passionate when it came to the music he loved, whether the Stones, Jimi Hendrix or original rock 'n' roll of the 1950s.
"I am shocked and saddened," says former Civic Centre manager John Braley. "When I moved from Bournemouth, where I saw Gene Vincent often, to Aylesbury in 1964, I was amazed that he was due to appear at the Borough Assembly Hall. Ray told me that he saw that show! I was manager at the Civic Centre for 33 years. Ray not only attended Friars, but every music event that was happening. I last saw him at Duane Eddy at the London Palladium last year. He was such a lovely man. A true gentleman."
"Ray was one of Aylesbury's finest people," said Friars promoter David Stopps. "He lived for music. He came to the very first Friars gig in June 1969 and he was at the Friars 50th anniversary in May of this year. He probably came to more Friars gigs in that 50 year period than any other Friars member. He played Friars himelf fronting his band Magus in 1973. I'm devastated that Rockin' Ray has left us. He will be so missed."
This writer remembers first meeting Ray in the queue at that first Friars. Wearing his trademark brown, fringed buckskin jacket, he talked easily, smiled a lot and dazzled with his deep musical knowledge. And he was pretty much the same the last time I saw him, at my 65th birthday party held as part of the monthly Vinyl On Wednesdays events which, of course, Ray attended when health permitted. Unfortunately, it was to be his last one before he was admitted to hospital the day we honoured his hero Hendrix. Everyone present signed the good luck card brought along by his close friend Doug Arnaud.
Ray sang and played guitar or bass with several Aylesbury bands over the decades, including Magus, Palace and Revolver; doing cover versions for love rather than aspiring to rock stardom for money.
"Ray will be remembered for his role as singer in the band Revolver, although he had been in several other bands as well." commented Friars co-founder Robin Pike. "Revolver were especially popular in Wendover, where they often played at the Wellhead Inn and the Memorial Hall. His Mick Jagger vocals on 'Sympathy For the Devil' will live long in the memory." (I will always Ray's stirring rendition of the Doors' 'Roadhouse Blues' or him duetting with US soul singer Wonder in The Ship Inn around 1990 on Ike and Tina Turner's 'Nutbush City Limits').
Ray was always supportive of other local bands. "This is very sad news," posted Marillion bassist Pete Trevawas. "Ray was such a gentleman. He always had kind words of encouragement for me as a young musician growing up."
"One thing that I particularly remember was his Tommy Cooper impersonations," added David Stopps. ""My manager came to see the show last night, and he really didn't like it. He went off in a huff...or it might have been a Daimler.'"
"Very sad to think that I'll never bump into him again," said Rock's Family Trees legend, former local resident Pete Frame. "He was such a warm, gentle, friendly guy - far too self-effacing and modest to front a rock band, I always thought , but he always found the enthusiasm to carry it off."
According to Doug (another of Ray's endearing qualities was he never talked about himself), he was born in Aylesbury on Boxing Day 1946, one of his first jobs with the GPO so he could obtain a Motorcycle Licence. He worked at Rexel's for over 20 years. "He loved his bikes and cars," recalls Doug. "He was well known for his love of Indian food and was also a founder member of the Aylesbury formation drinking team where much Real Ale was taken, but he is known to most through the bands he played in. Revolver was the most famous, named after his love of the Beatles. In later years, he managed to beat cancer a few times but, sadly this time it was not to be."
Vinyl on Wednesdays will now continue in Ray's memory and plans are afoot to honour him with a suitable event. This rare gentleman of our music scene is already greatly missed.