Tributes paid to Crewe rock club founder who 'brought people together through the power of music'

By Gwyn Griffiths

4th Jan 2022 | Local News

TRIBUTES have been paid to a Crewe rock music legend who established the town's former Limelight Club.

Ray Bispham, who passed away over the New Year's weekend, was renowned for promoting music events locally over five decades, as well as his passionate support for up-and-coming bands and musicians from the area.

His vision for a venue operating across the week with almost daily shows, as well as a hub for local groups to practise and socialise, saw him set up the Limelight in a converted Methodist church in Hightown in the mid 1990s.

It became a magnet for bands on the tribute circuit and drew on acts paying homage to the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Status Quo, Pink Floyd, Bon Jovi and even the Jam.

The Limelight also attracted its fair share of original bands through the doors, including Wishbone Ash, Lindisfarne, Stiff Little Fingers and the Chameleons.

But it was its reputation as a "Sanctuary for Tribute bands" that stood it apart and earned a loyal following of gig-goers, as well as a BBC documentary 'Into the Limelight' (see above).

After nearly 15 years brightening up Crewe's night-time scene, the Limelight closed in 2009 after Ray had moved on to the former Jolly Tar public house in Wardle, where he also promoted live music nights.

There have been numerous tributes paid on social media, including from musician Graham Beardsmith, who posted: "Ray was one of those rare people that didn't have an ego or an agenda. Just a lovely man who really would help anybody that needed it.

"I will miss seeing his face in the crowd and miss hearing him shout 'tune' when you announce one of his favourites, and always miss watching him do his drunken slow head banging."

Long-time friend Suzan Jones said: "He was such a warm-hearted man, not a bad bone in his body and truly loved everyone. He was so dedicated to making sure live music was played, he was the loveable dad of all the local bands."

Anthony Chalkley, posted on Facebook: "Ray worked tirelessly in bringing live music to pubs and clubs in Crewe and Nantwich as well as the now legendary Limelight and Jolly Tar."

He was joined by Elinor Darlington, who said: "Ray looked after everyone who crossed his path and made sure that all had a good time in his presence."

Nik Romanov-Thomas said: "You'll probably never fully know just how many people's lives you touched, influenced and made better for knowing you.

"Bringing everyone together through the power of music and friendship - and giving budding musicians a chance."

After hearing of Ray's cancer diagnosis, former Limelight customers staged an Appreciation Day at the Railway Hotel in Nantwich last September when they hosted a day-long gala of tribute bands.

You can read a great article here by local writer Jules Hornbrook, published in his book 'Crewe and it's People', which details how Ray Bispham turned the Limelight into a phenomenon.

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