Mungo Jerry’s Ray Dorset to make rare appearance in America at Salmon Days
September 29, 2009
By David Hayes
Back in 1970, when the city of Issaquah decided to throw a little shindig in honor of the migrating salmon, a little-known British artist also penned an innocuous song as an ode to summertime.
As the Issaquah Salmon Days Festival celebrates its 40th anniversary in October, it also welcomes Ray Dorset, aka Mungo Jerry, who’s making a rare appearance in the United States to perform what some call the greatest song about the summer, “In the Summertime.”
Like many English artists who have that one big tune hit it big in America, Dorset never caught lightning in a bottle again after his bluesy ode to the summer spent seven weeks at No. 1 in the U.K. and shot up to No. 3 in the U.S. But it was in Europe that Mungo Jerry, named after a character in T.S. Eliot’s “Book of Practical Cats,” would go on to enjoy continued success. “In the Summertime” would also go on to be recorded in more than 40 languages, including Chinese.
In a phone call from Germany, where Dorset makes his home, he said he is continually amazed by the song’s staying power.
“I am surprised and overwhelmed and grateful,” he said. “I never wrote it to be a summer anthem, rather more about a celebration of life. Do things in moderation. I do think the lyrics have held up well over the years.”
Throughout the years, Mungo Jerry would have numerous personnel changes, but has always been fronted by the distinctive Dorset, renowned for his gap teeth and impressive “mutton chop” sideburns.
Fast-forward several decades. David Harris is in charge of the music scene in Issaquah. Always a fan of the classic tune, Harris said he looked up contact information for Dorset, inviting him to come to the U.S.
“About four or five years ago, he writes back and we become Internet pals,” Harris said.
Over the years, the two met and became good friends, with Dorset performing every year at a festival in California that Harris puts on.
Harris said he also left an open invite for Dorset to come perform at Salmon Days. Finally, an opening appeared this year in Dorset’s busy touring schedule and he’s flying himself over to join an all-star band of local musical celebrities from 4-6 p.m. Oct. 4 on the Rainier Stage.
Dorset said it doesn’t matter the size of the stage he performs from — he’s played behind the former Soviet block broadcast to an audience of millions and for a handful in a dark bar — as long as the crowd ends up grooving to the vibe.
“I like playing anywhere,” he said. “I’m not into stadium gigs. I’m more used to that old, smoky blues club atmosphere. It’s the groove that counts. I come from the days of no sound check, no rehearsal, no set list.”
Just to be safe, Harris has worked at a formidable set list, with former Yes drummer Alan White, of Newcastle, playing on several songs. Dorset will be backed by Seattle classic rockers, Black Velvet 4. Saxophonists Neil Rush and Jerry Zu will also sit in, filling out the roster.
Harris said the Salmon Days crowd will be in for quite a treat.
“Ray’s a pretty big catch for the festival lineup,” he said, “especially since he doesn’t come to this country very often.”
Dorset added it doesn’t even matter if the audience knows his songs.
“The key is to get the audience enjoying themselves,” he said.
Facts About Mungo Jerry
“In The Summertime” went to No. 1 in 26 countries, sold 6 million copies worldwide and has to date sold 30 million copies. One morning in May 1970, the band sold 72,500 copies before lunchtime in the U.K.
“Alright Alright Alright” reached a chart high of No. 3. To promote the single, Mungo Jerry went on what was believed to be the longest tour of Northern Ireland by an English band during the troubles.
“Lady Rose” reached No. 5 in the U.K. singles chart despite being banned by the BBC and taken off sale.
Mungo Jerry was the first western rock band to play behind the Iron Curtain. This was a show at the Golden Orpheus Song Festival, in Bulgaria, which went out live on TV to the entire Eastern Block.
Mungo Jerry have had nine U.K. hit singles and songs written by leader Ray Dorset that have spent more than 100 weeks in the U.K. singles chart.
Shaggy spent nine weeks in the U.K. chart with “In The Summertime” and went to No. 1 stateside with his version.
David Hayes: 392-6434, ext. 237, firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.