Ray Hunter Smith (1934-2011)

9. 5. 2011 | Rubriky: Articles,Lives

[by Ken Hunt, London] Record shops held a particular status in the cultural to-and-fro of earlier times in ways that would be impossible to explain in the internet age. It was pretty much in order to go to a shop with minimal cash (remember, this is pre-plastic) and listen to a whole LP with only the flimsiest justification or intention of purchasing it.

Of all the record shops in London, Collet’s at 70 New Oxford Street was the one that shaped minds like mine the most. It had a folk department upstairs on the ground floor while downstairs was this strange domain, the jazz department run by Ray Hunter Smith. It was jazz bohemia central and Ray presided over it.

Born in Ealing to the west of London in 9 September 1934, Ray Hunter Smith could be really quite intimidating. Gruff would not be quite the word. He ruled the roost there. Negotiating the stairs to his lair might meet the stoniest of stares, one quite different from the reception above from Gill Cook and Hans Fried in the folk section. Actually ‘intimidating’ isn’t quite the word either. Yet he knew so much about jazz that it repaid facing him off.

To be honest, I never did it. Many years later, at Gill Cook’s instigation, I interviewed him for an article about Collet’s for Folk Rootss and he was as good as gold.

He really was capable of warming and he had a snarly sense of humour that repaid a bit of entraining with at times. He had fetched up with Collet’s in the mid 1950s; I read in 1956. Whenever it happened, he was the jazz department. The flow of jazzers through the shop and down the stairs could be quite alarming. The faces included, amongst others, Lol Coxhill, Evan Parker and Charlie Watts. Collet’s was not a place to be seen in: it was a place to go to. There is a distinction.

That ambiance was haloed in a way quite unlike the shop after its move in 1975 to the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue – wedged in at its intersection with Monmouth Street. Came the next changes, came the big changes. The Folk Department moved to Foyles at the northern end of Charing Cross Road. Ray remained, with the premises renamed Ray’s Jazz Shop. They were hard times in record retailing. The Virgin Megastore in Oxford Street had undercut their share of the specialist music market and the internet nailed down the coffin. In 2002 he retired, no longer arsed enough to continue, after selling the business in order to spend his last years wisely, watching cricket, enjoying music and breathing out.

He breathed his last on 17 April 2011.

Richard Williams’ obituary from the Guardian is at http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/apr/19/ray-smith-obituary

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