A Cardiff cabbie who once charmed passengers with a karaoke system in his taxi has revealed he now lives a quieter life after being forced to shield in the pandemic.
Lucky travelers who managed to hail a ride with Ray Barbrook, better known as ‘Cabbyoke Ray’, will have fond memories of belting tunes into a microphone in the back seat of his Uber taxi, flashing disco lights and all.
The 72-year-old from Ely first took up cab-driving to keep busy during his retirement when he was 69. But six months in he found it a “bit boring” and so he decided to jazz up his rides with a karaoke system .
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Over the course of about a year, he amassed thousands of followers on his dedicated Facebook page, where he shared videos of passengers singing their hearts out.
Achieving nationwide recognition for his legendary rides, he even made it onto The One Show. He also had some famous faces sing in his car – including TV presenter Bradley Walsh, singer Wynne Evans and Emmerdale actress Sian Reese-Williams.
However when Covid-19 took hold, Ray, who has asbestosis from previously working as a carpenter for 50 years, was forced to isolate, and announced his departure from his karaoke cab in September 2020.
He has since swapped his keys for gardening tools and busies himself making plant boxes and hanging baskets.
Speaking about his innovative idea, Ray joked that it was “never easy trying to figure out how to get 240 volts into my boot”, but his effort was worth it in the end.
“I soon realized that I’d hit on something by putting a microphone in the car, because I was the only person in England and Wales that ever put a microphone in their cab – I was the only one who ever did it. There was no-one else doing it and I don’t think there’s anyone else doing it now,” he laughed.
Recalling his favorite memories, he admitted being on The One Show was “really special”.
“That and having good singers – it just made my night,” he said.
“Sian Reese-Williams, at one o’clock in the morning, was singing this amazing song. I said to her: ‘I usually work till about three, but I’m going home now.’ She said, ‘Why?’ and I said, ‘I’m not having someone spoil this moment for me.'”
The talented crooners in Ray’s cab included some up-and-coming young singers, such as Jolie Stevens, an 18-year-old singer from Cardiff who appeared on BBC’s Little Mix: The Search.
“The youngsters on their way to the club at night used to go crazy – absolutely crazy,” he continued.
“One time I had four guys from Liverpool. They paid me to drive around for about three quarters of an hour – just driving aimlessly around Cardiff. They didn’t want to get out of the car.”
Ray admitted he felt “quite lost” when he was forced to stop his taxi service when the country went into lockdown.
“It gave me something to do – I used to do about 40 hours, maybe 50 hours a week, and go out in the evenings, Friday and Saturday night. It kept me busy,” he said.
But having already lost one of his brothers to asbestosis, he explained it was vital for him to exercise caution when the pandemic began.
“Asbestosis is a progressive terminal illness. There’s no cure for it, and every year you just get worse and worse,” he said.
“It was devastating [to have to stop]. But to be honest with you, I was scared to go working anyway, with the virus around because you get 20 to 30 people through your cab, and sometimes they’re from abroad.”
Now Ray, who lives alone, whiles away the hours “pottering about” in his greenhouse.
“I grow petunias and make hanging baskets. Last summer, I gave about 80% of the street three hanging baskets to put outside their door. I’m going to do the same this summer – I’ve already got the seeds ready to plant .”
He admits he wonders what would have become of his story if the pandemic hadn’t cut it short – and even thinks his karaoke cab could have made it to TV screens.
“I’ll never know where it was going to end. I’ll never know after the One Show what would have happened next. There would be no telling where it would have led,” he said.
“I always thought that would be a good TV show, just a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes. There were people I was speaking to about that, and they all thought it was a good idea.
“There was a possibility it might have happened, but then Covid started and everything stopped abruptly.
“I’m sure people would’ve loved to have seen celebrities like football stars being pranked at one o’clock in the morning with a microphone. It would have been great fun.”
Asked if he’ll ever make a return to his karaoke cab once the pandemic is over, Ray doesn’t rule it out as a possibility.
“If I know that it’s all gone, it’s all behind us and it’s safe to go out again, I wouldn’t mind having another couple of years. I’ve still got a few years of work left in me yet,” he said .
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