“It’s nice that an older audience can get out and enjoy themselves because everything is usually geared towards a younger audience,” says radio disc jockey Tony Blackburn about his touring show, BBC Radio 2’s Sounds Of The 60s Tour. “It’s good to see them getting up and dancing!”
The show features Tony talking about the golden decade of music in the sixties and his experiences together with music from a live band and singers under the direction of Leo Green from the BBC’s Friday Night Is Music Night radio show. After a phenomenal demand for the show in 2019, the touring schedule has been extended into 2020 and, for the first time, some Northern dates have been added in Bradford, Warrington, Bolton and Sheffield.
“I’m really proud of the show,” Tony told me, “We were meant to finish at Christmas but it’s done so well that Live Nation asked if I’d like to do it for another year and I said I’d love to. If we can do the year after that I’ll be happy to do that, too.”
There is always a great demand for events linked to the music of the sixties, a fascinating period of development for music and still influential in the broad spectrum of music produced today. So who better to tell the story than Tony who was in the thick of it, creating his own slice of history and became such a loved character by the British public.
“Absolutely!” he laughs. “I started as a singer and guitarist and it’s really nice to be back working with musicians again, I’m having a lot of fun with it and the sixties music? I just love it!
“We take you through the sixties, from the early days when I was a singer down in Bournemouth through to pirate radio, Radio 1, and link it to some medleys of sixties hits. In the course of an evening there are over 100 hits and it’s all live, no records! It’s not a serious show but full of memories and we have a lot of fun. After the show I’ll come out into the foyer and meet everybody, it’s nice to meet the audience. We do get some younger people but it’s mainly the older ones who remember the sixties.”
Back in the early sixties, music was at the forefront of cultural revolution but, unlike today, the BBC had a monopoly on the airwaves with limited opportunities for the new wave of music to find an audience. The 21-year old Tony Blackburn was singing with a dance band while at college but answered an advert in New Musical Express for DJs on the new pirate ship Radio Caroline.
“I applied for it and I got the job. Everything came about from that, really. I went on to Radio Caroline in 1964, then the other pirate ship Radio London, and then to Radio 1. I’m really lucky, I’ve only ever done one audition in my whole life!
“Most of the songs in the show I would have played as a new release in the sixties, all great songs. It was an interesting time on the pirate ships, flower power and Radio 1 opening up. There was a great revolution in radio at that time and I’m really proud to have been a part of that. This is my era and it’s an evening I love doing. Now, I can’t remember what I was doing last week but I remember everything about the sixties!” he laughs again.
The most notable event in Tony’s career came at 7am on the 30th September 1967 when he created history, becoming the first DJ on the BBC’s new popular music station Radio 1, recognising the impact made by the pirates.
“The BBC got us on board,” Tony explained, “and Kenny Everett and I designed the studio. We suggested that they use the American-style jingles and I still use mine, now, on Sounds Of The Sixties on Radio 2. They were the best jingles ever. It was a kind of copy of the pirate ship Radio London because, although people tend to remember Radio Caroline, it was Radio London that most radio, nowadays, is based on. Caroline was ok but not the one that we base today’s radio on.
“That first show all went very smoothly. I chose Flowers In The Rain by The Move as the record to open with because of that crashing thunder at the beginning and while I’m talking to you from my office at home, I’m looking at that actual record now, they presented it to me when I left Radio 1.
“This was really pioneering stuff and I’ve been on the radio right from the word ‘Go!’ I started as a singer but I became a disc jockey so I could get really close to the music business and make records, which I did. I made 21 singles – but they didn’t do very well!”
Never mind, Tony and his colleagues found their own stardom in the new radio format, becoming household names and a longevity of career that few, of those whose records they promoted, ever did.
“Absolutely, yes,”says Tony, still with that infectious enthusiasm in his voice. “In those days there weren’t as many radio stations as there are now. When we first did Radio 1 there were 21 million people listening, you wouldn’t get that now. Radio 2 still does very well, that’s now the biggest station and still has 15 million people listening and Radio 1 still does well but there is so much competition.
“I now work for 4 radio stations, myself, BBC Radio Berkshire on Fridays, the Golden Hour on Radio 2 on Friday evenings and Sounds Of The Sixties on Saturday mornings and a 3-hour soul music show on BBC Radio London on Sunday afternoon. I do all those shows live and on Wednesday I record a show for a commercial station in Kent. I’m very lucky because, apart from the one in Berkshire, I can choose all the music on these shows.
BBC Radio 2’s Sounds Of The 60s Tour Featuring Tony Blackburn visits St George’s Hall Bradford on Thursday 16 January 2020, Warrington’s Pyramid And Parr Hall on Saturday 21 March, The Albert Halls, Bolton on Saturday 11 April and Sheffield City Hall on Sturday 25 April.