Ray, from Wallsend, started on his musical path at an early age learning to play the mouth organ. His first instrument was one given to him as a present by his godmother. He had no formal training other than a few lessons from his grandfather who taught him traditional tunes from the Northeast and Scotland.
His first major public appearance was at the Gaiety Theatre, Butlins, Filey, on a holiday with his parents at the age of 12. He was awarded a silver cup for being the best act in all the talent shows for that season. Ray continued playing mainly as a hobby until one day at the age of 15 he was asked to join a band called The Zulus who played rock n’ roll and blues. By then he had crossed over from playing traditional style harmonica to emulating the R&B players of the time by listening to the records of Bo Diddley, Sonny Terry, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter and many others.
He was first attracted to the mandolin when he heard one of the members of the group The Dakotas, Billy J. Kramer’s backing band, playing mandolin on a version of Trains and Boats and Planes. After then seeing this performed on TOTP, he was hooked. He started playing mandolin in his middle teens when his parents brought him one back as a present from their Italian holiday. Later, he came across a Woody Guthrie record on an American Folkways LP import while browsing through the folk and blues section at J G Windows record store in Newcastle. Cisco Houston and Sonny Terry were featured playing mandolin and harmonica on the record, with Guthrie on guitar. Discovering the sound that they made together was the moment that caught Ray’s imagination and influenced him to reproduce the sound in the early Lindisfarne recordings.
Ray was at art school in the late 1960s in Newcastle when he met fellow student Ray Laidlaw and struck up a friendship with him when they discovered that they were both into blues music. Eventually Ray Laidlaw asked him to join his band Downtown Faction when their singer left. It was at a demo recording session where this band was introduced to Alan Hull through Dave Wood, his manager and owner of Impulse Sound studio based in Wallsend. Alan had been pursuing a solo career performing his own songs in folk clubs and liked the sound of the boys now known as Brethren who were also working the emerging folk scene on Tyneside. The joining of these two acts was inevitable and from that encounter a new band was born featuring Alan and Ray as front men and Rod, Simon and Ray Laidlaw taking up the rear, and Lindisfarne was born.
Along with a wealth of original songs from both Alan and Brethren, a most unusual and fresh sound emerged, which together with the strength of their north eastern influences, created a burgeoning following on the gig circuit. Thereafter Lindisfarne became successful recording artists both in the UK and around the world.
Ray came to the attention of Rod Stewart soon after Lindisfarne’s first album, Nicely Out of Tune, was released and he was asked to play mandolin on two tracks on Rod’s Every Picture Tells a Story album. It became an instant success when the track he wrote the mandolin hook for, Maggie May, became a No.1 worldwide hit and one of the most played songs of all time. Ray never achieved the credit he deserved for his contribution to the song which had been discarded by Rod due to being unfinished until Ray worked his magic, but it inadvertently gave Lindisfarne a helping hand as it was at the time that the band were just becoming known.
The first top ten success that Ray enjoyed with Lindisfarne was when the song written by Rod Clements, Meet Me On The Corner, was released from the Fog On The Tyne album. Featuring Ray on lead vocal and harmonica, it helped make it one of the best selling albums of 1972 and remained in the charts for 56 weeks.
Ray stayed in the band for twenty one years. There was a break in 1975. He continued playing at that time with his song writing partner Charlie Harcourt who had joined him and Alan to form Lindisfarne II when Rod Clements, Ray Laidlaw and Simon Cowe left to start Jack The Lad. Charlie and Ray joined forces again when Lindisfarne II split and formed a band called Harcourt’s Heroes, performing a blend of their own material and a selection of favourite blues and soul numbers by various artists. When Ray recorded his solo album, In The Night in 1980, released on the Mercury label, a number of the songs written with Charlie during that period appeared on the album, and also some of their material was selected for Lindisfarne’s Back and Fourth album, produced by Gus Dudgeon, when the original Lindisfarne reformed in 1978.
In 1990 Ray left the band and the music business to pursue other interests, working with a sports marketing agency and several major companies events departments including Guinness.
In 2012 Ray heard that the Newcastle City Hall was probably going to close due to council cut backs. It was suggested that it may help if he revived the famous Lindisfarne Christmas Shows. Within hours in 2013 the first show became a sell out and The Ray Jackson Christmas Shows were born. The City Hall continues to be a successful music venue to this day.
Tom Leary, a proud Geordie joined Ray’s band in 2013 and 2014 as fiddle player and the seeds of SilverBlues were sown.