When Damon Albarn came to Ilfracombe: Promoter Ray retires after 45 years

Sunlit picture showing Ilfracombe music promoter Ray Williams

Ilfracombe music promoter Ray Williams of First Step Management is retiring after 45 years in the business. - Credit: Ray Williams

A well-known North Devon music promoter has been reflecting on a career of almost half a century that was brought to an end by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

During his 45-year career Ray Williams from Ilfracombe has worked with countless bands and venues, bringing several big names to North Devon. 

This included a memorable Ilfracombe gig with Damon Albarn’s then latest band, The Good, the Bad and the Queen. 

The Good Bad and the Queen's Damon Albarn performs at the Hammersmith Palais, west London. PRESS ASS

Damon Albarn with The Good Bad and the Queen came to Ilfracombe thanks to Ray Williams of First Step Management. - Credit: Joel Ryan/PA Wire

But this September and with no end in sight to the Covid restrictions that had brought the live music industry to a shuddering halt, Ray decided to hang up his promoter’s hat and wind up his company First Step Management. 

He said it had become impossible to put on live gigs, tours or indeed any other events due to the pandemic. 

And he became increasingly frustrated with the lack of detail being provided by the government back in the summer on when or if some things might reopen. 

The 65-year-old said the choice to retire from the music business had been incredibly hard and although he may still have a couple of pre-arranged events for 2021, he would not be doing anything else. 

Jackie and Ray Williams at a gig in Ilfracombe.

Jackie and Ray Williams at a gig in Ilfracombe. - Credit: Ray Williams

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It brings to an end a long career that began almost by accident when his Suffolk secondary school science master decided it would be a good idea to create a radio station with his students. 

Ray said: “He wanted it on actual radios and we started, for want of a better word, a pirate radio station and I was one of the DJs.” 

When he left school Ray found work as a resident DJ at a London venue in Kingston and one evening the management suggested a live band might be nice. 

He said: “Being 18 and knowing everything, I said I can get you a band. The only band I knew was Blackfoot Sue, so we had them on and it was packed. He said, that’s great, can you get someone every week and I said of course I can, so I did. 

“We started at quite a high level and it just carried on from there.” 
Ray and Jackie moved to Ilfracombe 14 years ago and it wasn’t very long at all before his name was associated with live gigs in the town. 

He ran the Captain’s Cabin record shop for four years but also brought a host of big name bands to The Vault, including punk legends Eddie and the Hot Rods, Vice Squad and The Vibrators. 

Hazel O'Connor on stage at the Greatest 80's Party event at Blickling Hall. Photo: Denise Bradley

Hazel O'Connor appeared at Jacs club in Ilfracombe. - Credit: Denise Bradley

Folk legends Hawkwind played in Ilfracombe four times thanks to Ray, including as headliners at South West Birdman, where Ray organised the music side of things for 10 years. 

The Marlboro Club hosted Reef, Emilie Autumn and amazingly also landed Damon Albarn with The Good, the Bad and the Queen. 

Ray said: “It was a warm up show for The Albert Hall and that was the only warm up they did. And it was probably the only gig in Ilfracombe that sold out before we advertised.” 
He said perhaps the highlight for him had been the chance to hear his favourite band – American rock band Love – play in Ilfracombe. 

The legendary band had called and asked if he had a slot at the then Club Phoenix in the town – unfortunately a tribute band was booked and had to play because they’d been cancelled once. 

Ray said: “They rang back and said if you get us a gig, can we play and so they came and played on the second stage, one of my favourite bands ever. They played their whole album the night before they played the Albert Hall, it was stunning.” 

More venues followed, including a seven-year stint at The Chill Bar and most recently Ray has organised several gigs at the Pier Brewery Tap and Grill. 

Eddie and Hot Rods

The legendary Eddie and Hot Rods also played in Ilfracombe thanks to promoter Ray Williams. - Credit: Contributed

He said: “I have worked with touring bands from all over the world and they have all played in Ilfracombe. 

“I would like to thank all the venues I've worked with, plus all the bands and I hope the scene returns for you all. 

“I'd also like to thank all the friends I've made all round the world, I've been very lucky and I'll miss you all. A big thank you to my wife Jackie for driving the tours, cooking on the road, being tour guide and generally being there when I needed her to keep me going.” 

The band Zamba, pictured here at Littlebridgestock, a festival organised by Ray for Children's Hospice South West.

Ray Williams also worked with many local bands such as Zamba, pictured here at Littlebridgestock, a festival organised by Ray for Children's Hospice South West. - Credit: Contributed

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