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Lancashire Times
A Voice of the North
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Graham Clark
Features Writer
2:02 PM 16th September 2020

Interview With Bob Harris Ahead Of Charity Single Release

For many broadcaster Bob Harris will be associated with The Old Grey Whistle Test, now he is also known for his Country Music Show on Radio 2. Bob is now putting the final pieces into place for a charity single, a cover of the Ben E. King classic Stand By Me which will be released 60 years to the day of the song’s original release.

I asked Bob about the single, his career to date and as you will discover, one of his favourite venues is in Harrogate!

Tell us a bit about the charity single that is coming out on 27 October.
It has all come about because of the lockdown. No one can tour at the moment. I’m the ambassador of the charity Help Musicians, which is a musicians benevolent fund. So many are struck financially now so I reached out to some friends such as Mark Knopfler, Peter Frampton, Rosanne Cash, Rick Wakeman, Paul Rodgers, Leo Sayer, The Shires, Ward Thomas, Kiki Dee, Judie Tzuke and others to appear on the single. The song is Stand By Me which is going to be released on the 60th anniversary of the track which is one of my favourite songs of all time. It is also my 50th anniversary of broadcasting. I have to say that this version we have recorded sounds absolutely fantastic. If you have a look at my Instagram account you can see it all coming together on there.

I always associate you with the Old Grey Whistle Test, the show did introduce a lot of new artists.
It did and I try to do that now with Under The Apple Tree on my radio show. It is the same idea of capturing young bands that are coming through. We have our own YouTube channel to support these musicians who are trying to break through too.

Why don’t you think there is not as many music programmes on TV these days?
I agree with you in that there isn’t anything really these days apart from shows like Later .. with Jools. The TV commissioners say that there is not an audience for it now. In 1976 the Old Grey Whistle Test was getting 5 million viewers a show, but you have to remember that back then there was not as many TV channels as there are now. We thought then that the best thing we can do now is do it ourselves, which we have done with the YouTube channel, which shows to me that people trust week on week the bands and singers that we showcase.

A lot of the so called Prog Rock groups are still going today, why do you think that is?
It’s incredible really. I joined the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1972 and it was such a golden age for music. So many fantastic bands were on the show such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Genesis, Yes and the like, then you had the singer songwriters from this country such as Elton John, Cat Stevens and then from America acts like Jackson Browne. I think it shows the test of the music and the artists and that is why they are so popular still today.
There was just so much good music around and you knew it was a special period in music. In 1965 my record collection consisted solely of singles, then the Beatles released Sgt Pepper and the age of the album arrived and you had groups such as Pink Floyd and Genesis releasing concept albums, even groups such as Fairport Convention started to push the boundaries.

You are celebrating 50 years in broadcasting, has it changed for better or worse?
It certainly has changed. I would say it’s changed about 50/50 for better and worse. I wish that record labels still stuck with artists and bands. If you remember A&M records they signed artists and let them develop. They signed Joan Armatrading in 1972 but she didn’t have her breakthrough until 1976 with Love and Affection. Same with Supertramp who were signed years before they had their first hit with Dreamer in 1975.
Now everything is so instant and shallow. One thing though that we didn’t have which we have now is that you now have the biggest record shop in the world on your laptop. In many ways we have lost something and gained something, the opportunities are out there for bands to break through - the opportunities in fact are wider than they ever were.

Do you have a favourite act or group that you have met that lived up to your expectations?
Oh gosh - there are so many. Within Country music there is an amazing community feeling. If you go over to Nashville everyone seems to connect with each other, Emmylou Harris might see a new act she likes and will phone up Lee Ann Womack and tell her all about it. You tend to find that Country music is populated by nice people, obviously you get exceptions though.

Do you have any particular venues you like to see bands in?
When I am up in Yorkshire I like to visit the Harrogate Theatre, although they might not have bands on there it is a beautiful venue. A lot of my favourite venues are in Nashville such as The Station Inn, closer to home The Bullingdon in Oxford is good as it puts on up and coming acts.
The o2 in London might be a huge concrete pit but I love the atmosphere there when I walk on stage to introduce a band. We are all missing the live experience and cannot wait for it to return when the time is right. I just love discovering new music. I still get enthusiastic about it and enjoy sharing the music with my listeners.

Stand By Me is released on 27 October 2020 - details here:
https://www.gofundme.com/f/standbyme2020