Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” was an international hit in 1978, a large part of its success attributable to the saxophone solo, which for many years was thought to be played by Bob Holness, the host of ITV’s Blockbusters. This myth evolved from a spoof column by Stuart Maconie in the New Musical Express as Holness had nothing to do with the recording.
The solo was played by the session musician, Raf Ravenscroft. “It is a wonderful solo,” said Gerry Rafferty in 2003. “The song is about how lonely a big city can be and the saxophone adds to that feeling.”
Raphael Ravenscroft was born in Stoke-on-Trent in 1954 and he studied music, having a great interest in the saxophone. Rather than emulating jazz classics, he chose to play Jimi Hendrix’s records and then attempted to transfer the guitar parts to his instrument. When only 21, he arranged Maxine Nightingale’s album, Right Back Where We Started From, including the title song, which became a hit.
In 1978 he was recommended to Gerry Rafferty and worked with him on his City To City album. Rafferty had written a bridge for “Baker Street” and then he asked Ravenscroft to improvise instead. Ravenscroft’s fierce, impassioned solo sharply contrasted with Rafferty’s laconic vocal as if to show the character’s inner torment. It became an international success, selling millions of copies, but Ravenscroft always complained that he only received a £27.50 session fee.
Contrary to belief, he did not part company with Rafferty over this as he played on his subsequent albums, Night Owl (1979) and Snakes And Ladders (1980), and was part of his road band. In addition, he made a solo album, Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway, in 1979, with the title coming from one of Rafferty’s songs. He released two solo singles, “Maxine” and “Lifeline”, but his role was primarily as a session musician.
Ravenscroft contributed to albums by Kim Carnes (Romance Dance, 1980), Chris Rea (Tennis, 1980), Alvin Lee (Free Fall, 1980), Robert Plant (Pictures At Eleven, 1982) and Bonnie Tyler (Goodbye To The Island, 1982). He was featured on Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut (1983) and the following year, Roger Waters’ The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking. Retaining the Floyd connection, he toured with Dave Gilmour and also played in Roger Chapman’s Shortlist and Willie And The Poor Boys, a prototype for Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings.
Ravenscroft taught music, spending many years at York College, and starting in 1990 he began a series of instructional manuals, The Complete Saxophone Player. In later years he moved to Exeter, and he played at Rafferty’s funeral in 2011. He wrote music for Andrew Marr’s documentary series, The Diamond Queen, in 2012.
In August Ravenscroft performed the music for his daughter, the artist Scarlett Raven’s exhibition of 33 poppy paintings at a Mayfair gallery.
Raphael G Ravenscroft, saxophonist: born Stoke-on-Trent 4 June 1954; married three times; died Exeter 19 October 2014.