Review – Ray Fenwick – Playing Through The Changes – Anthology 1964-2020 – by John Wenlock-Smith

Modern music has long had its own set of musical minstrels who journey between different groups and sounds, how would Elvis sound without Scotty Moore and James Burton’s inspired playing? where would Cliff and most British rock be without Hank Marvin’s Stratocaster and graceful guitar lines? Music is littered with the artists whose sole role was to make the music the boss, make it sound better or different. Ray Fenwick is one such journeyman musician who skills have graced recording of the Spencer Davis Group, Fancy, the Ian Gillan Band and many over in his 50 plus year career, Ray also replaced Steve Howe in The Syndicats in 1964.

Ray is probably best known for his time in the Ian Gillan Band, which was formed after Gillan first left Deep Purple in 1973. The music the band made was hugely different from Purple with more Jazz, and even funk, elements present. The Ian Gillan Band made three albums, ‘Child in Time’, ‘Clear Air Turbulence’ and ‘Scarabus’, along with a set recorded in Japan that gained eventual UK release after the band had split up.

Ray is also remembered for his part in the Fancy project, who recorded a steam version of Wild Thing by The Troggs, the band was originally fronted by Penthouse Pet Helen Caunt, then by Annie Kavanagh, an ex-Musicals singer who had appeared in Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. Fancy had a follow up hit single She’s Riding the Rock Machine that was also a bit hit in the states.

Their unique blend of poppy, funky rock was in a similar vein to The Average White Band and, whilst Fancy enjoyed some US success, they failed to capitalise on it in any significant way which then led to Ray getting involved with Roger Glover’s Butterfly Ball, project where he worked along with various Deep Purple related musicians, including Ian Gillan which is where the Ian Gillan Band idea was first conceived.

This expansive 3 CD set covers all areas of Ray’s career and includes a few rarities, along with some excellent tracks that really show Ray’s skills as a guitarist, writer and arranger. Especially fine is an eight minute plus psychedelic track called The Dream, recorded for Ray’s 1971 solo album ‘Keep America Beautiful, Get A Haircut’, released in 1971 on the Decca Label, an album that now commands a hefty price tag on various well-known auction sites and on line retailers It may be time for a proper reissue?

After the Ian Gillan Band years, Ray turned to being a session musician, recording with a variety of artists including Roger Glover and Eddie Hardin’ (in his Wizard Convention albums and concert) and worked with Graham Bonnet before forming the all-star rock project Forcefield in the mid 1980’s. This called on such luminaries as Jon Lord, Don Airey, Neil Murray and Cozy Powel. Jan Akkerman appearing on ‘Forcefield 3 – To Oz and Back’, along with Graham Bonnet.

If I have one criticism of this set it would be that the music is so very varied that it would be better presented in sets or eras, that way you could have all the 60’s tracks together, all the Deep Purple related tracks in one place and also Forcefield and Ray’s solo stuff and session work together. This would give better continuity and make this more accessible to listen to. That is just my opinion though and, hell, what do I know? I am only a reviewer, not the artist.

Some of these tracks are really hidden gems that passed the public at large by and really deserve a platform and should be heard. I am thinking of the Wizards Convention tracks, especially Money to Burn with David Coverdale, who turns in a fabulous performance. The Wizards Convention 2 tracks also impress, as does the Hardin and York track Have Mercy Woman. In fact, the second disc is crammed full of good tracks and many surprises, also noticeable is just how versatile a guitarist and musician Ray really is, playing a mean slide guitar on Between the Devil and Me.

The different styles of music that Ray plays on this set range from hard rock, jazz fusion, pop and country to reggae and all points in between. The more progressive of his work appears as tracks by Ray Fenwick in the main, although there is a whole stack of stuff to enjoy over the three discs. Packaged in a handsome three panel set with good photos and a highly informative booklet that gives the lowdown on his extraordinary career, this is a fine set indeed and well up to the usual standard of Cherry Red reissues and box sets.

Released 30th April, 2021

Order from Cherry Red Records here:

Ray Fenwick: Playing Through The Changes – Anthology 1964-2020, 3CD – Cherry Red Records

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