From Birmingham to the stars
Ray Thomas burst into the world in an emergency ward set up during World War to in Lickhill Manor in Stourport.
He came from the working classes: his father came from the South West of Wales and a Grandfather from the Welsh mines before becoming a carpenter. His life in music began at the age of nine when his father taught him to play a harmonica and he joined a school choir later in the year.
By 14 he was done with school and took work as a trainee tool marker. Soon, though, he put down the tools and set out to follow his dreams in music.
While part of the Birmingham youth choir, Thomas plunged himself into Birmingham’s burgeoning blues and soul groups, providing vocals for the Saints and Sinners and the Ramblers.
Unusually, for a budding rock star, he played the flute. He’d been inspired to learn it by his grandfather but with little demand in blues line ups for flautists he turned to other instruments, especially the harmonica.
The first signs of success blossomed when he started his own band El Riot and the Rebels with bassist John Lodge. They set out to be a little different than others. They put aside the suits of other local bands and took up elaborate Mexican outfits.
Success of sorts came and they quickly built up a local following. A stint playing in Germany with the Krew Kats, with future Moody Mike Pinder, followed before guitarist Denny Laine asked him to join his new band. With Pinder, drummer Graeme Edge and bassist Clint Warwick, he formed the Moody Blues.
They headed to London and success came quickly. When Manfred Mann had to cancel a gig at the famous Marquis Club, the management gave them a call. They took the chance with both hands.
“One day Paul Jones got laryngitis so Manfred Mann couldn’t play,” Thomas recalled in an interview with StrangeBrew. “We got a call in the afternoon and the Marquee said ‘Will you come and step in?’ Fortunately, we hadn’t got a gig so we were in there like a shot. The Marquee was the prime gig in London and we went down a bloody storm. They liked the fact we were from the north and we were playing slightly different music.”
The Marquis club put them right at the heart of London’s swinging music scene. Decca records came knocking and in 1965 they scored a hit with ‘Go now’.
Having enjoyed success with their first album, ‘the Magnificent Moodies’, they split. Warwick and Laine both left. With the band in crisis mode they found replacements in the form of their old band mate John Lodge and Justin Hayward.
The classic line up of the Moody Blues was in place. The rest, as they say, is history.