Ray Dorset on the hit song that catapulted him to fame and life in Westbourne
PUBLISHED: 15:44 31 July 2015 | UPDATED: 15:22 03 November 2017
Hattie Miles 07907 645897
He shares his surname with the county and now he lives here. But Ray Dorset has never forgotten the iconic hit he wrote in 1970 which celebrates the carefree days of summer and catapulted him to fame
With his trademark frizzy hair, sideburns and gap-toothed smile it’s hard to imagine that singer-songwriter Ray Dorset is 45 years older than he was when he first wrote Mungo Jerry’s foot-stomping, life-embracing song In The Summer Time.
Wearing jeans, fringed leather jacket and carrying a custom-made guitar he may be 68-years-old and a little weathered by the passing years but he remains instantly recognisable. We wander down the road from his Bournemouth home for a photo shoot. Cars slow down, people wave. “How are you doing Ray?” a woman asks. Ray smiles in response and stops for a brief chat. He’s used to this. It’s the price of fame, particularly when your image is your brand.
Written in just 10 minutes four and a half decades ago, In The Summer Time became the ultimate good-time anthem. It was an instant hit and stayed at number one for seven long weeks throughout the summer of 1970. It has now sold a staggering 40 million copies and continues to appear on the soundtracks of movies, commercials and TV shows across the world.
The song changed Ray’s life almost literally overnight. One moment he was a part-time pub and club musician with a day-job in the Timex watch factory. The next he was being feted as a rock star. Helped by a misunderstanding in the music press which portrayed Mungo Jerry as a radical underground West Coast band, they could do no wrong. The fact that they were utterly English and had adapted their name from a poem in TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats was immaterial. Audiences went wild and In The Summertime proved a game-changer.
His wild Afro hair-do and mutton chop whiskers made Ray all too recognisable. “I’d never thought about giving up work, I really loved my job but it only took a week before I knew that I had to go,” he told me. “Everything changed. As soon as I was on TV there were all these people, really high up bosses at work who had never spoken to me before who suddenly wanted come and say hello. I was getting mobbed in the street and there were offers pouring in from all over the place to play festivals. I’d already had to ask for the afternoon off to perform on Top of the Pops and I quickly realised that I really couldn’t stay.”
However Ray says his pride at having written one of the most enduring hits of the hippy era is tinged with sadness about lost fees and royalties that may run into millions of pounds. For the past 12 years he has been locked in legal battles in an attempt to claw back some of the money he says he should have been paid.
Sitting in the plush open-plan bar, kitchen and living area of the Westbourne home he has shared with his third wife Britta for more than 20 years, he told me that back in the late 60s getting a recording deal seemed more important than anything else: “I’d been playing in pubs forever. I got my first guitar when I was 10 and was playing regular gigs by the time I was 14 or 15. Doing that you learn a huge amount about music and playing to an audience but you don’t learn about the business side of things,” he shrugs.
“You think you’re getting all your royalty cheques but then you realise how many hundreds of thousands, probably millions of pounds have disappeared,” he told me. “I was naive. I didn’t realise that there would be people in the music business who were unscrupulous and deceitful. It was easy to get taken for a ride.” He is now planning to tell all in a book which he hopes will be published at the end of the year.
With some kind of resolution in the courts now in sight Ray says he’s finally able to start really enjoying the pleasures of the Dorset home which he and German-born Britta first discovered in the early 1990s.
When they bought the house it was a run-down late Victorian guest house with nine bedrooms and a dining room. It’s now a spacious, modern looking, high-spec, five bedroom home with it’s own lift, a state of the art kitchen, a Bentley in the drive and a recording studio in the garden. Ray and Britta’s sons Philip and Miguel are currently living at the Westbourne house too and with four more adult children from his two other marriages, Ray has a large extended family.
“We’ve done an awful lot to this place,” he says. “We seem to have spent forever dealing with builders, structural engineers and planning regulations.” Initially Ray and Britta divided their time between Bournemouth and Germany but now the Westbourne house is very much their full-time home. “It’s a brilliant place to live,” says Ray. “It’s a 10 minute walk from the sea, there are great shops nearby and there are four or five different airports you can get to within a two hour drive. If you do what I do it’s absolutely perfect.”
Ray says they consciously chose to move to Dorset - the county that shares his surname - because he had such happy childhood memories of holidaying in the Bournemouth and Poole area. “I was about 11 when I came down to stay at a B&B with my mum and dad. It was such a brilliant holiday. The people who ran it, John and Iris, were so nice. They took us everywhere - Hengistbury Head, Badbury Rings, the Blue Lagoon, the Tank Museum, Poole Harbour. I loved it. I had a crab claw that I kept for years as a momento.”
Now he says he’s enjoying rediscovering some of the hidden secrets of Dorset. “I’ve become really attached to the area. It’s beautiful, the air’s clean and it has a fascinating history. Even right here in Westbourne there are connections with people like Marconi, Winston Churchill and Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s nice to have time to look into these things. Spending 12 years in litigation sort of held me up. It’s very time-consuming.”
Though the original Mungo Jerry split years ago, Ray retains the name and continues to gig with an ever-changing roster of musicians. Despite an international profile, he loves nothing more than being at home in Bournemouth, strolling through Alum Chine to the beach and supporting his local community. Last December he was a big hit when he performed at the switching on of the Westbourne Christmas lights.
“I feel really comfortable here,” he says. “It’s a lovely place to live and a good place to hang-out.”
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