Born in Glasgow, Ray Fisher is one of three out of a family of seven children whose musical talents have made the name Fisher synonymous with Scottish folk music. Ray, her brother Archie and sister Cilla have trodden their own distinct musical paths, each carving out an international reputation. Archie and Cilla did that from home bases in Scotland whereas Ray has spent most of her life in England. She has been a champion of Scots folk song over a generation and for a long time was the voice of Scots song in England and a constant at The National Festival.
In her early days Ray performed together with her brother Archie as a duo appearing regularly on television. When doing a folk club booking in Newcastle, Ray met and subsequently married Colin Ross, a member of the High Level Ranters, a decision that spelled the end of any lingering thoughts of her being a school teacher. Song would be her life, and so it has been.
The move to England turned her towards being essentially a solo performer and was a spur to concentrate on ‘the muckle sangs’, the big ballads which helped to establish her reputation as an artist.
Ray has been an essential link between an earlier generation of singers and the present. She is an effective tradition bearer, careful to acknowledge her sources and appreciative of what has been given to her. “I really treasured the material from earlier generations. Those people were giving us part of their heritage, part of themselves. It’s a way of saying, ‘we’ve been given a precious thing, here it is, and ‘thank you’.”
Even though we are in a scene which tends to shun stars, for many Ray is in a special category. She is good at relating to audiences, something that didn’t happen automatically, but by a combination of good Scots nous, experience, intuition and hard work. Not only inspirational as a performer, Ray encouraged people on a very personal level. Not many are brave enough to be judges or critics – and then have the strength to say the honest thing. Ray did that when others shied away. She has been an encouragement to countless singers and showed a commitment to singers at every level, not least through her hosting over many years at the late night Ceilidhs at Newcastleton.
She has taught for Folkworks and although finding it difficult to explain her reasons for choosing a song to sing, she did know the importance of singing with the right spirit. “You have to be true to what you are and what you think and feel. I think of Sheila Stewart of the great Travelling family and ‘the coineach’, that’s a Stewart family word for singing with passion, depth and belief. Anyway, I’m told I’ve got the coineach. Margaret Bennett thinks it might be from a Gaelic word meaning ‘sensitivity to the words you’re uttering’ – a sort of Celtic X-Factor?”
“Personally, if I’ve made some contribution in my life and maybe moved people to laughter or tears, that’s what it’s all about. I haven’t had any big nationalistic drive, you know, for Scottish independence or things like that; but I’m part of Scotland and it’s part of me as well… And if people out there have got half the joy I’ve had, well, I’m happy.”
Ray died on the 31st August 2011.