Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Indispensable: 'Whispering' Bob Harris

Over the years there has been one constant in my musical life. The radio. OK, it may not have the influence it once had - see Queen's Radio GA GA - but I am from an era where radio was a constant source of enjoyment and information. If you loved music - you listened to the radio. Simple as that. Those were the days where you listened to the charts and it would be talked about in the school yard the next day. Radio 1 was essential listening - and in the night, it was Radio Luxembourg. On the AM frequency, it used to fade in and out but would play records that you just never heard on Radio 1, let alone Dial-a-Disc (remember that?)
I used to be a massive fan of Alan Freeman. During the 70s, he used to have a Saturday Show that used to play all the great Rock Music of the 70s.
On TV, there was the usual pop shows, Top Of The Pops, Supersonic, etc. but the one beacon of light for the serious music fan was BBC 2s The Old Grey Whistle Test.

The programme ran from 1971 to 1987. And for it's glory years, from 1971 to 1979, it's host was the inimitable 'Whispering' Bob Harris. Bob had already been a DJ for Radio 1 when he hosted Sounds of the 70s on Radio 1. Bob was like your big brother who was into music. His laid back style and obvious love of music shone through. Danny Baker, another man with an immense knowledge of music, gives a nice tribute to Bob on OGWT.
With the explosion of Punk in 76-77, Bob carried on with his Whistle Test duties but handed it over in 1978 to fellow DJ Anne Nightingale. Through the 80s, Bob was 'lost' to a national audience when he started work for various local radio stations including GWR, GLR & LBC. 
In 1997, Bob returned to BBC Radio where he broadcasted in a late night slot and a weekly Bob Harris Country. Both continue to this day.
Bob's shows have provided me with a multitude of great new music. He is a champion of new bands, similar to that of John Peel in the 70s. He has been a great supporter of American music and has introduced many a great new British band including The Dreaming Spires, Co-Pilgrim, Nick Capaldi,  Lisa Redford and many, many others.
Bob with Lisa Redford

Bob with Nick Capaldi

I sometimes listen to his Saturday Show live, which is on from Midnight Saturday until 3am Sunday morning. But more often or not I record it on my PVR and listen on Sunday morning. But you can always catch it on Iplayer. He also has great sessions every week from artists who come in and play live.

 Bob with Ethan Johns
Bob's reputation has a quality broadcaster has meant that he has access to may of the world's top music stars, which is a testament to his unique style and music knowledge.

He has also been the subject of his own tribute song!
Bob also has a show called Bob Harris Country, in which he plays all of the best Country music and has introduced many a great artist to British audiences, such as Kacey Musgraves. He makes regular trips to Nashville to track down the best and most interesting artists such as the excellent John Fulbright.
Bob was also awarded the Americana Music Association Trailblazer Award and it was presented by the one and only Emmylou Harris (No Relation!!)
 Bob with Kacey Musgraves
Bob's autobiography is also well worth a read.
So, more power to your elbow Bob and keep bringing us some great music.

Twitter - @WhisperingBob


  1. I love Bob. I've done a couple of Radio 1 sessions for him and one GLR interview when I turned up to the studios for the 4 hour show only to find out that my interview was in the last hour; after midnight I think. GLR was based in Marylebone High Street and I kept popping down to the off license below. By the time I hit the airwaves I was a bit of a mess. Bob had seen it coming and tried warning me off my Special Brew but what does he know about broadcasting? A real gent though. I seem to remember that he was raw at a fellow DJ (was it Bruno Brooks?) nicking his vinyl collection when they house swapped...

  2. Great post Macwood! Love Bob and his passion for his music. Thanks for including a photo of me and him, definitely the highlight of my career!