Ray Andrews: was born on 7th January 1922, an only child of David and Ellen. They lived in central Bristol, in an area which is now known as the location of the City’s registry office in the Broadmead shopping centre.
From an early age Ray heard music, since his father played tenor and G banjo, mandolin, concertina, mouth organ, fiddle and phono fiddle. Ray first learned to play the banjo with his father. His mother was not known as a musician, but cousins on his mother’s side were singers or musicians.
When he left school at the age of 14 he became an apprentice fitter-welder, before signing up with the RAF and saw service in North Africa and Italy. On his return, he spent his working life fitting pipes and welding metal, often installing industrial boilers and commercial heating, his work taking him to factories and large buildings across the Bristol area.
During the 1920s, dozens of banjo, guitar and mandolin clubs existed across England. The Bristol BMG club was formed in early 1928, and one of its first members was Harold Sharp, who had played banjo since the early 1900s, and who became Ray’s first ‘proper’ banjo teacher. Ray played with his father at a BMG meeting in the autumn of 1928, when he would have been barely six years old! Having learnt by ear from his father, he ‘had to start all over again’ with Harold Sharp. This was Ray’s introduction to the world of the classic finger style banjo, learning from standard musical notation.
He played for much of his life in working men’s clubs, pubs, family occasions and community events. His repertoire reflected the context in which he played. He played in theatres in the last days of ‘variety’, singalongs in pubs, folk clubs, festivals, with the Bristol BMG Orchestra, concert parties, and for dance bands. Ray had a physically demanding working life as a fitter-welder; and often after a full day, starting early in the morning, he would go straight out to play until last orders had been called.
The label ‘traditional’ musician does not fit easily with him, perhaps because he learnt his classic banjo music from notation. He learnt most of his other repertoire by ear, however, especially old music hall and ‘community’ songs of the early 20th century. Unlike some other classic banjo players, he did not appear to need the notation in performance. Much of his popular repertoire is of the kind often easily dismissed by those of us weaned on ‘folk revival’ and/or rock music. But it could be argued that Ray’s music was more ‘connected’ to the local community than much of the folk club movement.
- Ray Andrews: Classic English Banjo Musical Traditions Records MTCD314 (CD, UK, 2001) 26 tracks CD and notes available as a digital download from Mustrad
- Ray Andrews Cassette: Banjo Maestro Foc'sle Records prob 1977
https://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/r_andrew.htm Long article by Geoff Woolfe 2001. All about not just Ray Andrews, but the the banjo in England.