Through the 80's & 90's
In the 80's
As each decade changes so does music; the 70's had been an era of Disco, Funk, Soul, Rock and Jazz, yet these started to fade as the 80's lured us in with increasing development and enhancement of electronics. It was a technical era where musicians experimented with digital created sounds and sparked an interest in using synthesisers and harmonisers. This lead to the boom in synth-pop and techno beats that rarely use real musicians playing instruments. For many musicians it was now a fight to survive over the computer.
His career in the sound library field was exploding. He issued dozens of outings for Bruton Music and other labels, sometimes collaborating with Alan Hawkshaw and Frank Ricotti. Learn more
During the early '80s, Russell played and recorded the music with Grammy Award Winner Gil Evans’ British band when Evans toured the U.K. and Europe, and developed a personal friendship with Evans over the years. "Playing with Gil Evans and some of the older jazz guys like Art Blakey and Mark Isham was a great time for me – we were really at the onset of a big musical change." - Ray Russell
Townhouse Recording Studios was a fairly new studio built in London for Atlantic Records in the late 70's. At Townhouse Studios in 1980 Ray Russell along with an extensive list of Pros session musicians were commissioned to collaborate Italian singer/songwriter Lucio Battisti for his Album 'Una Giornata Uggiosa' - a collection of meticulously crafted, deceivingly upbeat '80s synth pop. It was as part of Virgin Atlantic that Ray also collaborated with Amy Stewart and Johnny Bristol on their 1980's single album 'My Girl/My Guy.'
From his TV arrangements with the Follies back in the 70's Ray's musical career continued blooming as a musician for television. In 1980 Ray joined ITV's music department as a guitarist playing on the South-London based gangland drama FOX staring Larry Lamb, Ray Winstone, Derik O'Conner and Bernard Hill. Later that year Ray composed the theme tune and other arrangements which played on 13 episodes for the ITV sitcom Cowboys directed by Michael Mills and stared David Kelly, Roy Kinnear, Collin Welland Debbie Linden and Janine Duvitksi. The title theme featured on all episodes as well as the future DVDs releases.
In the same year in a recording studio in Holland, 'The Wombles' theme song creator Mike Batt was producing his album 'Waves'. Ray was selected to contribute his unique guitar sounds. The album featured the song The Winds of Change which was a big hit in Europe. Mike Batt impressed with Ray's work, hired him again the following year for the album 'Six Days in Berlin'. Then after Mike had ' co-written the title theme with Andrew Lloyd Webber for musical Phantom of the Opera, Mike started planning a musical of his own 'The Hunting Of The Snark' - based on lewis Carrolls poem. The concept album was star studded - Art Garfunkel (Butcher), Sir John Gielgud (Narrator), John Hurt (Narrator), Roger Daltrey (Barrister), Cliff Richard (Bellman), Deniece Williams (Beaver), Julian Lennon (Baker) and Captain Sensible (Billiard Marker), as well as a rocking team of instrumentalist including guitarists Alan Parker, Chris Spedding, Mitch Dalton, Ray Russell and George Harrison.
Unfortunatly the album was not released at the time due to a disput with Sony Music. Determind to share his work Mike took his Musical to the Royal Albert Hall for a live performance of which he kept many of the original cast and musicians including Ray Russell, though with a few changes; Billie Connolly taking over from Cliff Richard, Midge Ure replacing George Harrison, Justin Hayward taking over from Art Garfunkel and the addition of The London Symphony Orchestra. Mike Batt filmed the show at his own expense. It was later shown on BBC Two.
In the September of 1981 Ray found himself booked up for four nights playing 'The Secret Policeman's Ball' - a benefit show directed by Monty pythons John Cleese, produced by Martin Lewis and Peter Walker, staged by the British Section of Amnesty International to raise funds for its research and campaign work in the human rights field.
He played alongside musicians Jeff Beck, Phill Collins, Sting, Eric Clapton, Bob Geldof, Donovan and Midge Ure as well as other professional session musicians such as Mo Foster and Simon Philips.
The event was a mixture of musical performances and comedy from John Cleese , Rowan Atkinson, Barry Humphries, Gryth Rhys Jones, Victoria Wood, Jasper Carrott and more.
In the early 80's long-time friends Mo Foster and Simon Philips banded with Ray Russell to form RMS. The trio shared their masterful skills in composing, arranging and playing on their album 'Centennial Park'. They recorded their album at Trident studios London, under the MMC Label - a UK label established in 1982 by Peter Van Hooke which later became part of EMI records.
“Simon is a world class drummer who can work his magic on anything, and it will be great. Same with Mo. After we recorded an album of mine called ‘Ready Or Not’, we were working in Trident with Greg Walsh with this Italian artist, and we finished early. Greg said, ‘Got any tunes?’ We wrote on Saturday, recorded on Sunday, mixed the following week and did some brass charts for that album in four days. ‘Centennial Park’ was a time stamp of where the music was at and how different kinds of music were chemically mixing...” -Ray Russell
With their busy schedules RMS found it tricky to find regular time to play together and so supported each other through different means. In the early 80's Simon Phillips joined the duo band Ph.D. with Tony Hymas and Jim Diamond as an 'unofficial' member. Together they produced the album 'Is It Safe' in 1983 of which Jeff beck and Ray Russell played Guitar on.
Also in 1983, Heaven 17 secured the talents of notable session musicians such as Ray Russell, Simon Phillips and Nick Plytas as well as retaining John Wilson, when creating the album 'The Luxury Gap’. Ray played guitar and guitar synthesiser on the album. He struck a good relationship with the band and was approached by them again to play on the album 'How Men Are' in 1984. In the same year, Heaven 17 teamed with Tina Turner to create her comeback album 'Private Dancer' they turned to Ray again to play on track 'Lets stay together. Its production was overseen by different teams but mostly by Heaven 17's Martin Ware and Rupert Hyne. Having recently played with Heaven 17, Ray was called in to play on the track Lets Stay Together. Most of Rays days were a typical 16hr shift. Ray had just completed a morning working on jingles followed by an afternoon as a featuring guitarist in a live orchestra with Andy Williams. Here he recall what happened next -
"I walked out of AIR studios in Oxford Street, the traffic was easing, it was a crisp blue night. My wife-to-be Sally and I walked along to the new CBS studio on Whitfield St. I had been asked by Heaven 17 and producer Greg Walsh to play on Tina Turner’s new single which was in a way a comeback single for younger people, the remake of the old Al Green song “Let’s stay together”. Tina sang that song in one take, and the hairs stood up on my back. They did another as a safety take which was just as good, I put some guitar on, and Tina sat with Sally talking for a while the overdubs were going on. What a star, and what a production! Thank you, guys. I also did a couple of Heaven 17 albums before that which were big hits. The first band to use a Fairlight (look it up if you’re young) to move audio around converting to digital. Much harder then but fun.”
The album was referred to as 'Tina's come back' achieving No.1 in the charts in many countries including the USA where it also achieved 5x Platinum. The track lets stay together was a huge success in its own right. It was released as a single and achieved a best seller in Europe and Billboards No.1 Hot Dance Club Song.
During the same year 1984 Scott Walkers first solo album in 10 years ' Climate of Hunter' featured Billy Ocean, Mark Knopfler, Mo Foster and Ray Russell. The album place in the top 100 in the UK charts.
Though Ray was very familiar with Television music production at this point, he hadn't as of yet been responsible for TV themes. This changed when he met composer George Fenton – famous for his collaborations with Ken Loach, Richard Attenborough and Terry Gilliam. George had been offered a new BBC mystery/crime drama called 'Bergerac' to write the signature tune for the series starring John Nettles, Terrance Alexander and Sean Arnold.
Ray talks about working with George Fenton - “I always composed for the various groups I had and one person I did many sessions for, asked me to help him write a detective theme for a programme called ‘Bergerac’. This still gets repeats. I owe a lot to George, he taught me how to read the director’s mind and communicate visually. A lot could be said about how much inspiration he gave me. He’s a modest man and that’s a quality hard to find sometimes.”
When George Fenton began to write for the big screen, starting with Gandhi in 1982, Ray was well placed to develop his tv work. With George moving on the series needed a full time composer to produce the set the tone with the perfect underscore, Ray was chosen to be the one to do this and remained the series composer for 15 episodes. “With TV themes you have to really bang the nail on the head with exactly what that programme is about. George wrote the signature tune and then I did the whole programmes’ underscore" - Ray Russell
Ray Russell later formed his own group, the Ray Russell Band. He was a regular participant at the Montreux Jazz Festival throughout the '80s and '90s, working in various group contexts including drummer Simon Phillips' band, while continuing to issue sound library outings. He also released 1987’s Childscape, featuring appearances by Evans and Mark Isham, on the Theta label (reissued several times). He played many of his songs at Freiburg Jazz Festival in 1987.
In 1988 Mo Foster released his first solo album 'Bel Assis' an album which was designed to battle the growth of emotionless digitally created pop. His aim was to fuse the flexibility and precision of computer music with the warmth and emotion of ‘real’ performance on ‘real’ instruments. This included bringing in his band mates from RMS Ray Russell (co-composer and guitarist) and Simon Philips (drums) along with more of the best musicians in the business Rod Argent (Keyboard), Frank Ricotti (Vibraphone), Stan Sulzman (saxophone), Peter Van Hooke(percussion), Dave Defries (Trumpet), and Thin Lizzy's Gary Moore (Guitar).
In the same year Ray released his solo album 'Why Not Now' with featured Mo foster, Mark Isham and Frank Riccotti and included cameos from Gil Evans , Tony Hymas and rays son George Baldwin who at around 18mnths old contributed backing vocals and toy sounds.
In the 90's
The 90's brought a change in music where a rise in affordable home audio electronics and digital recorders like Logic Pro made many professional studios uneconomic to run. Though these low cost products made it more affordable and accessible for the up-and-coming and even established artists to make music, it caused a flooded market and a surge in pirated copies, as a result albums started dropping in popularity. This of course resulted in dwindling record company budgets. The survival of the session musician therefore determined on how well they could diversify. In this era it was essential for Ray to demonstrate his expertise acquired from his eclectic career thus far. This manifested in his musical contributions throughout the 90's.
On Dame Evelyn Glennie's album of contemporary fusion jazz, folk and world music - 'Rhythm Song' Ray arranged and conducted 2 tracks. RMS collaborated with Gil Evans for their album 'Take Me To The Sun' which also featured arrangements composed by Jimi Hendrix. With Gil Evans, Mark Isham, Mo Foster and Frank Ricotti, Ray also released his album 'Childscape'. Gil Evans also made a cameo on Ray's album 'A table near the band'.
It was also in 1990 that Ray worked again as a guitarist for 'The Wombles' theme tune creator Mike Batt on his new project 'The Dreamstone' a concept album featuring singers Ozzy Osborn, Bonnie Tyler and Billy Connolly. The Dreamstone was a British children's cartoon which originally aired on CiTV from 1990 to 1995.
Just at the end of 1989 Ray acquired the position of producer and composer for the BBC's 'Inspector Alleyn Mysteries' which first aired between 1990-1994. He recalls recording with series producer George Galaccio : - "I have to thank George for believing in me and laying out the dosh to have a series without any samples, just live musicians. He gave me a free reign musically. It was a great experience. You explore yourself and the characters in the music; which is the third dimension of the story. The pictures are George and I along with the musicians, in the now defunct CBS studios engineered by Mike Ross, whilst recording the series. That studio did have a great room. Excuse the shirt!" - Ray Russell
He also played guitar for bandmate Mo Foster on his second solo album 'Southern Reunion' (released 1991).
“I didn’t want just another bass album. I wanted it to be more compositional to give space for the other soloists to work in – to create a backdrop for their own ideas” - Mo Foster.
The following year, 1992, Ray became the composer for ITV's popular mystery crime drama, 'A Touch of Frost' which starred David Jason as Detective Inspector Jack Frost. He contributed to 22 episodes from 1992 - 2010. In 1998 the series won its first Lew Grand Award for a significant and popular programme and the following year the series received a Royal Television nomination again for most popular drama. The series continued receiving awards nominations throughout its run including an award for its music. Learn more.
"David Jason was an actor who knew his business, producer David Reynolds was on the ball 24/7 and all the directors who did the show… got the interpretation of the Frost character right.” - Ray Russell
1991 brought the end of the BBC series 'Bergerac' of which Ray had composed the whole programs underscore - over 15 episodes from 1986. However, with new jobs popping up like the 'Inspector Alleyn Mysteries', his work as a television composer continued through the 90's mainly on shows for the BBC and ITV. Learn More.
Also in 1992 he collaborated with RMS's other member, Simon Philips, to create his Play-Along CD and VHS (later in 2007 the DVD was released). Ray composed the music with Simon. The album also features the brilliant bassist skill from American Bassist Anthony Jackson.
In 1996 Ray took over the position of Series Composer from Nigel Hess for medical drama 'Dangerfield' staring Nigel Le Valliant, Nigel Havers, Nadim Sawalha, Nicola Cowper and William Wallis. Though Hess created the theme tune, Ray composed on 4 series resulting in 44 episodes which aired between 1996-1999 on BBC One. Between this period a large majority of Ray's work was focused as a television composer. He also worked on My Wonderful Life, Screen Two, The House of Angelo and The Last Salute. Learn More