Ray McVay is now well into his sixth decade in the entertainment business.
Starting out in the rock’n’roll era of the ’50s, he has progressed through the popular dance bands of the ’60s, the disco movement of the ’70s, radio, television and, finally, to the resurgent popularity of big bands. Along the way, he has performed in concerts and gala functions and been invited, on many occasions, to play for royalty.
As a teenage saxophonist, Ray McVay played with several bands around his home town of Gourock on the west coast of Scotland. However his ambition was to play in a big band.
Unfortunately, there were not many big bands where he lived, so Ray decided to pack his bags and his tenor sax and head for London. On his arrival he was surprised to discover that there were no big bands in the capital either. It was the sad truth that big band music was on its way out and being replaced with ‘Rock’n’Roll’.
So Ray got stuck into the rock’n’roll circuit and it wasn’t long before he was offered the position of Musical Director with rock’n’roll impresario Larry Parnes who was responsible for the careers of most of the British pop stars of the 50s and early 60s – notably Tommy Steele and Georgie Fame. That’s when Ray’s career really took off. Parnes developed the idea of the package tour, for which his stars toured the country together in a bus, playing one-night stands in all the major cities. Ray’s job was to hold it all together musically and it wasn’t easy! All the stars wanted to sing the same popular songs and change their act every night – Ray remembers it was hectic! But he did get to work with stars such as Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Freddie Cannon and our very own Billy Fury. Ray’s group was called ‘The Beat Boys’ and the line-up included Brian Bennett (who later joined The Shadows) and a great pianist, doubling on vocals; his name was Clive Powell, who later became known as the legendary Georgie Fame. To this day they are great pals.
At the end of the last tour, Ray, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and a friend named Sharon Shelly were preparing to head back to Heathrow Airport. They were all very happy at the end of a successful tour. Eddie decided he wanted to take his Amp with him in the car, but there was no room for it unless someone got out, so Ray volunteered to travel in the Dormobile with the others. About 2 hours later, travelling down the road, Ray and the boys came across a terrible car crash with police, ambulances and lots of flashing lights. Fate had obviously kept Ray alive; the seat he had given up was the seat that Eddie Cochran was sitting in. Eddie died of his serious head injuries and Gene Vincent died a couple of months later. Whilst working with Gene Vincent they had a ‘top ten’ hit with Pistol Packin’ Mama’ on which Ray played the tenor sax rock solo … ‘maybe it was my solo that got it there!’ says Ray.
It wasn’t long after, when Ray had had enough of touring with the rock bands, that the head of Mecca, Eric Morley, asked him to join Mecca with his own Band. Ray subsequently started in Derby and then on to Glasgow, followed by Edinburgh and then on to the Hammersmith Palais in London. Finally Ray and his band went into Mecca’s top venue, the Lyceum Ballroom in the Strand. During that period, Ray appeared for 12 years on BBC TV’s ‘Come Dancing.’ He also had his own BBC radio show for 3 years; a lunchtime show called ‘Monday Monday’. But Ray’s heart was still with the big bands and he yearned to tackle a new challenge with the music of Glenn Miller. Despite winning almost a dozen Carl Allan Awards as Britain’s most popular Bandleader, Ray McVay decided to move on.
He had an idea to form a Glenn Miller Orchestra here in the UK so he contacted Glenn Miller Productions in New York and spoke to the President of the organisation David Mackay Jr. In 1988 Ray was invited to New York to discuss the possibilities. When he got there, Ray was delighted to discover that David Mackay had already checked out Ray’s pedigree with the BBC and had received a highly positive feedback. Ray was granted permission, licences and all the music, help and advice needed to establish a true Glenn Miller Orchestra outside the USA to be based in the UK.
Ray had finally achieved his lifelong ambition.
He’s proud to have made a contribution to keeping the Glenn Miller name and tradition alive and helped to protect the orchestra’s reputation here and abroad. Under the direction of Ray McVay, this orchestra continues to thrill audiences throughout the UK and has made overseas trips to Russia, Japan, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Uruguay and United Arab Emirates. Festivals and cruises have also taken the orchestra to all corners of the World.