Ray Martin was one of the biggest names in British popular music during the 1950s. He conducted his orchestra regularly on radio and television, and was also an Artists and Repertoire Manager at EMI’s Columbia label, where he produced many hit records by their top contract stars. But today he is fondly remembered for his numerous recordings with his own orchestra, many of which were big sellers. His own compositions proved to be some of his greatest successes, such as Marching Stringsand Begorrah. To the confusion of discographers he used various pseudonyms, among them Marshall Ross, Chris Armstrong, Buddy Cadbury, Hans Gotwald, Gus Latimer, Harry Nelson, Lester Powell, Tony Simmonds and Ricardo Suerte ... there are probably many more.
Born in Vienna, Austria, on 11 October 1918, Ray Martin studied at the Vienna Academy of Music and Dramatic Art from 1933 to 1938, then came to Britain in 1938, touring with the famous Jack Hylton band in "Band Wagon", and also Carroll Levis as a solo violin act in his "Discoveries".
Upon the outbreak of war a year later, he joined the Intelligence Corps, and eventually served in Germany where he conducted a radio dance band on the British Forces Network (BFN). He wanted a larger, full orchestral sound, which he achieved through his ‘Melody From The Sky’ orchestra, which comprised members from the 30 Corps Orchestra (mainly American musicians) with the strings from the Hamburg Philharmonic. Gerhard Gregor was featured on the electronic organ.
Sergeant Ray Martin was also in charge of the Variety Department at BFN, where he worked with the likes of Paul Carpenter (one of the singers with Captain Bob Farnon’s Canadian Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces), Ian Carmichael (who became a top British comedy actor) and up-and-coming stars such as the comedian Frankie Howerd. He also booked Helmut Zacharias, the talented German violinist who later gained international acclaim with his ‘Magic Violins’.
Upon his discharge from the Army in 1946, Ray Martin returned to England where he wrote arrangements for Mantovani, Geraldo, Stanley Black, Peter Yorke and Billy Ternent, among others. He used his composing skills by contributing several pieces of mood music for Charles Brull’s Harmonic Music Library.
In 1947 he was given his first BBC Radio series "Reprise" featuring the Ray Martin Singers. The following year he was musical director for the Jessie Matthews stage revue "Made to Measure" for which he and colleague Johnny Brandon contributed several songs. Their number Once Upon a Winter Time was accepted by Vera Lynn for a Decca 78, with the benefit of a fine Robert Farnon arrangement. The backing was You Can’t Be True Dear, which became Vera’s first big seller in the USA.
He was chosen to conduct Danny Kaye’s UK tour. Also in 1948 he formed the BBC Northern Variety Orchestra, and held the post of conductor until 1951. His many broadcasts included "Fanfare", "Waltz Time", "Top Town", "Morning Music", "In the Still of the Night", "Mr. Music" and "Music in the Ray Martin Manner".
Ray Martin’s recording career began with Columbia in 1949, accompanying Steve Conway. Soon afterwards with his ‘Melody From the Sky’ orchestra he made his first orchestral 78, a selection from "Brigadoon" on DX 1652; he also cut two 78s for the small Polygon company, initially only for release in the USA. Very briefly he moved to Decca in 1951, and the following year he and Norrie Paramor were appointed joint A & R Managers at Columbia, replacing Norman Newell who had been recruited to run the new Philips label, which issued its first 78s in January 1953.
Television beckoned with popular shows like "Quite Contrary", "More Contrary", "The Toppers Show", "Ray’s Half Hour", "Roof Top" and "Isn’t it Romantic". Ray also found time to compose film scores, and his song You Are My First Love (from the 1956 film "It’s Great To Be Young") won him an Ivor Novello Award. Nat ‘King’ Cole recorded it in the USA. Other films included "Yield To The Night" (1956), "A Secret Place" (1957) and "My Wife’s Family" (1957).
Nat ‘King’ Cole wasn’t the only recording artist to accept Martin tunes: Geraldo, Sidney Torch, Edmundo Ros and Ken Mackintosh were among the many who were happy to record and broadcast his catchy melodies. Martin’s Blue Violins was a No. 1 hit for Hugo Winterhalter in the USA in 1953, and it was also recorded by the French maestro Franck Pourcel.
In 1957 Ray decided to try his luck in the USA, and signed with RCA Records. Thereafter he made occasional visits to Britain and recorded six LPs in Paris for the German Polydor label. He returned to live in Britain in 1972, then departed for Cyprus in 1977, settling briefly before moving on to South Africa at the end of 1978 where he built a new career in broadcasting. He died at his home in Johannesburg on 7 February 1988, at the age of 69 after a long battle against cancer.
Ray Martin has left us a legacy of many fine recordings from a period when catchy and melodic instrumentals were still much in favour with the record-buying public. Through his work as an A & R Manager, Ray Martin helped to launch the careers of many successful British singers during the 1950s. Somehow he also found the time to write and record many enjoyable pieces himself. His major presence on the British recording scene lasted well under ten years, but in that relatively short period he proved that popular, catchy instrumental numbers can also have many positive qualities which make them outlast their initial appeal.