Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Neil plus one; Tony Blackburn at the BBC.

The big secret I’ve been keeping from you?

It doesn’t happen very often but I won tickets to see something special;


Yes – the celebration bash BBC London threw to mark his 50 years in broadcasting.

There was an exclusive and secret location – their old studios on Marylebone High Street.

We had to promise not to give it away.

There was a sprinkling of showbix stars;

There was music, there was glitter, there was even a proper cake;


The message on the photo is from Smoky Robinson who was interviewed last week for the show.
As you’ll know by now this wouldn’t be my kind of thing at all – I’m cynical and I hate all that stuff, but this really was a special night.

And no, I haven't sold out either!

Tony Blackburn has been around as long as anyone can remember – he was the original cheesy, embarrassing DJ of the 1960’s; he invented the whole smaltzy routine.

As he joked he’s about the only one who hasn’t been arrested and some of them are in jail now.
Around 1981, Radio One had had enough of all of them and he got banished to those parts of radio you really don’t want to end up in; BBC Local Radio

It was then that his story starts to get really interesting because London’s local radio is a little bit different. It’s been messed about, cut back, neglected, ignored and had its name changed more times than St Petersburg.

Another week, another image.

But it just can’t help being a big city station all the same; irritating, annoying but sometimes edgy and even risky too.

And Tony Blackburn the original ‘all round entertainer’ could have just carried on doing his same old safe and boring routine until he ended up with Alan Partridge on Radio Haystack.

That didn’t happen, he reinvented himself.

He went back to where it all began – Soul music.


As a result in the 1980’s, his London shows attracted a cult following, an underground movement of soulboys and girls, Mods and groovers attracted by the sound of that sweet soul music.  



And word got out – there was a scene.

At the time I was working in a record shop and we’d check out his morning soul shows every day to catch the new releases (along with Blues and Soul Magazine and word of mouth) and then we’d get the orders in early so that the people who’d caught the sounds today would find the records already waiting for them tomorrow.

It was cool, I can tell you and we were a chart shop too.

When we sold a record it had an influence on the charts and in those days we played a small part in the resurgence of British Soul.

I could have been cynical about it all and written a sharp and sour piece about last night but it really was a pleasure to be there.

And it was nice, as a Mod, to pay homage to someone who stuck to what he believed in and played some amazing soul music over the years. KTF.

And then there was the music too;


Yeah really; me and Robyn in the front row, just by the microphone watching Cy Cranstone and his 7 piece house band. He was playing some of Jackie Wilson’s hits mixed with his own tunes; he’s got an album out and a massive record company plugging him like mad at the moment.

Then we got the cream of British Soul from the 1980’s – these were the acts I sold in our shop; lots of memories for me and some great numbers too.

That’s Jaki Graham blasting it out.

And that was Denise Pearson from 5-Star, really big in the 80’s and frankly, giving it some tonight.

There were some real highlights for us; The greetings from The S.O.S band in the States which made Robyn gasp and I'm guessing that Tony probably quite liked being called "Soul brother No. 1".

We also enjoyed Junior Giscombe (Style Council, Red Wedge, Soul Deep - not forgotten junior); he used a backing track with his duet with the late Tupac Shakur which was a hit for him in America.

Who wouldn’t like that morphing into ‘Mama used to say’ which was a cover hit for him here.

I liked that, but the real highlight for both of us was Leee John of ‘Imagination’;


Robyn hadn’t come across ‘Imagination’, they may have been big here but they didn’t cross the water so well.

But we both hate backing tracks and he sang it for real and alone. The pianist he brought with him was something special and Leee had that voice. All the acts should have had the confidence to do it alone too – they’ve got the sound and the soul to carry it off.

And so we drifted away at the end of a really special night.

I was thinking back to all the shows I’d heard coming out of those studios – deserted and abandoned now, come alive again for just one night.

All around us the old monitors and vinyl, the odds and ends of a technology that has been left behind for new sounds and new studios.

BBC London allowed in a small audience of people like us, real fans who’d loved that music over the years.

The kind of people who don’t normally get a glimpse behind the curtain. It was nice.

It was a unique audience too – a good mixture of black and white people who wouldn’t meet up together for any other broadcaster than Tony Blackburn.

And some very special sounds as well.

Thanks for all that.

Oh, by the way you can hear it all yourself (edited version) on all BBC Local radio stations when they all link up together at 7 pm on Friday night. Click on a picture for a slideshow and better quality.

Neil Harris

(a don’t stop till you drop production)

Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

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