Ray Carless (1954-2022). A tribute by Orphy Robinson

Sebastian writes: This tribute to saxophonist Ray Carless by Orphy Robinson has appeared on Orphy’s Facebook page, and is reproduced here with his kind permission.

Ray Carless. Photo from his Twitter profile @clubskaaville

Ray Carless R.I.E.P.

This is a very sad day for all who knew and were friends or worked with or were lucky enough to stand on a stage with Ray Carless!

At 4pm today Ray’s brave fight with this long term illness was finally over and he’s now resting safely with the Ancestors!

In my opinion Ray was one of if not the most important musicians the Uk has ever seen. Ray was and is the catalyst and the inspiration for many of the UK Black musicians that you see or hear on the Uk music scene that he helped to build.

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Through his encouragement many of us went on to study, play music, have careers and travel the world. He taught us there was a world outside your street, so don’t be afraid to take that journey!

His passion for celebrating our Caribbean heritage in the Uk was unrivalled, infectious and his detailed in-depth knowledge was respected by all!

He is as important to the Caribbean community and to be celebrated as a Joe Harriott, Harry Beckett, Wilton ‘Bogey’ Gaynair, Shake Keane and the many others who have left such a powerful legacy mark on the musical landscape.

Ray was there at the foundation of the original Jazz Warriors Orchestra, organising, championing and performing in the classic Horn Section line up. It was a real honour to stand on stages with Ray who was always top class and a generous soul. It has been said more times than I can rememebr that without Ray there woud have been no Warriors!

Growing up in Hackney in the 1970s I saw close up I saw first hand how much hard work he put into becoming the great musicians that he was. His career started with his involvement in the thriving london Reggae scene where his Saxophonist dad was also a first call sideman for every and any occasion.

Ray was also a respected presence in the Brit Funk pantheon of bands in the 1970s, were he played in the horn section of most of the Marquee name bands at the time such as Hi-Tension, Incognito, Cymande etc.

It was an honour for us to have Ray playing on the debut single of my band Savanna alongside another important figure the South African Trumpet player Claude Deppa. He had inpired the ‘Savanna’ band when he released his own “Tarantula Walk” single and did promotional work to support it, turning up and performing the single at various night clubs that we frequented.

Ray was behind many music Education workshops in and around North and East London, working hard in the community, organising, promoting gigs, events, volunteer youth work.

We all remember seeing Ray late in the night handing out flyers outside clubs for events such as his iconic Club Skaaville gigs.

Creating opportunities that would give new artists a chance to perform at the many nights that he led.

Over the years he had a steady amount of session work across many genres, recording and gigging, as a go to consistent and classy Saxophonist of note.

In recent years it was fantastic to have Ray join us in the Cleveland Watkiss Great Jamaican Songbook band and the added bonus to record his exquisite tones and feel sound with that unmistakeable Jamaican swing on the album!

Ray was always the perfect gent, honest, dependable and with a reassuring smile. Some of our history departed for the next level today and we are seriously going to miss this gentle giant!

Walk well Ray..

Ray Carless R.I.E.P.

With thanks to Orphy Robinson

LINKS: Ray Carless’s website

Short biography on Summer Soulstice

News given out on BBC by Dotun Adebayo – from [07:30] (H/T Stephen Graham)

6 replies »

  1. Oliver Weindling writes:

    Ray was a musician whom we were so delighted to welcome to the Vortex. As a genius on the saxophone is indisputable. But also his father figure status to so many and the reverence with which he was held.

    Of course, we can dwell on the musicians with whom he worked and inspired. And, as with too many such in this country, under-recorded as a leader.

    He was most passionate that we recall and respect the generation that arrived on the Windrush, of which his father was one. He taught us all to be proud of the musical heritage which they brought to this country. Most memorable were the gigs he organised at the Vortex to celebrate this, as Club Skaaville. A wonderful ska/reggae band, but also friends giving their memories of what it was like to arrive here. The highs and lows – just as the iniquities of the UK government’s attitude to them were being shown. I myself was in tears. If only someone from the government had been there!

  2. Like the music community in the UK and further afield I have also been dealt a body blow this week on learning of Ray’s passing.

    The last time I saw him was at a friend’s funeral in 2016 where he was blowing sonorous and heartfelt notes on his tenor saxophone in tribute. The majesty of his sound was unmistakeable.

    I first learned about Ray as a teenager in Barbados in the mid 1980s.

    A friend who had lived in the UK for a while pressed a Light of the World LP featuring Ray into my hand. ‘You have to listen to Mr Carless!’ I was struck with his fluency and lyrical approach on the soprano saxophone. I later learned that that signature sound was loaned to countless reggae, funk, ska, soul and jazz recordings. He recently was part of the horn section of the Cymande band.

    Though Ray was genteel and eloquent off the band stand, he was essentially the quintessential artist who preferred his instrument to do the talking.

    As Orphy Robinson and countless others will note he was a cornerstone of Black British Jazz, without him there would be no Jazz Warriors in the 1980s.

    As we mourn his passing, we are consoled by the oft repeated dictum, ars longa, vita brevis.

  3. So great to see so many black audience faces in that clip! Speaking as a long term white jazz fanatic all the way back to the 60s, now well into his 70s, there’s so much we still don’t really know regarding the foundations and founders of what blossomed into the Black British jazz revolution of the 1980s and beyond to today. RIP Ray!

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