Gary Davies, a British broadcaster, BBC Radio disc jockey, and a previous presenter of Top Of The Pops chats with Kevin Cooper about streaming all of his music, hosting Top Of The Pops, getting the call to join Radio 1,and his Sounds Of The 80s: The Live Tour 2023 heading for Nottingham.

Gary Davies, is a British broadcaster, BBC Radio disc jockey and a previous presenter of Top Of The Pops.

He became a DJ when he was asked to cover for other DJ’s at Placemate 7, a club in Manchester, where he regularly hosted artists in the music rooms. He began his broadcasting career at Manchester’s Piccadilly Radio in 1979 before he joined BBC Radio 1 in 1982 to present a Saturday late night show, making his debut on 4th December 1982. Within weeks he was placed on the roster to present Top Of The Pops alongside his Radio 1 colleagues.

In 1993 he was dismissed from Radio 1. He was also the last Radio 1 DJ to host Top Of The Pops before the show’s revamp in October 1991. In 1994 he moved to Virgin Radio to present their Sunday morning Classic Tracks slot. Following a stint with Century Radio, he joined BBC Radio 2 in 2017. From July 2023 he can be heard on the radio presenting his Saturday night show, Sounds Of The 80s, as well as regularly standing in for other presenters.

Whilst busy preparing for his latest live show Sounds Of The 80s: The Live Tour, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Gary, good morning, how are you?

I’m very well thanks Kevin, but more to the point how are you?

You know how it is; I could complain but then again, who would listen (laughter).

(Laughter) I know exactly what you mean when you say that, I often find myself in that exact same position (laughter).

Well, before we get bogged down with each other’s ailments, let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

You are very welcome, very welcome.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

I have to be totally honest with you and say that at this precise moment in time life couldn’t be better. I am currently having a hell of a lot of fun, so life really is great thank you (laughter).

You and I really must speak about your Sounds Of The 80s : The Live Tour 2023.

That’s right; we really must (laughter).

I have to ask; just how has it been received so far?

Beyond all expectations, I think is the only way that I can describe it. It really has been totally amazing. I think that we have done about six shows so far and they have all been absolutely jam packed and the reaction has been phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal.

For those of us who have yet to see the show, and without giving too much away, talk me through the format?

As you know I do a Sounds Of The 80s show on the radio every Saturday night, which runs between 8pm and 10pm. So basically, we are taking that show out live on the road. So, it is what you hear on a Saturday night, but this time around it is live in the theatre. Obviously, it will not be broadcast on the radio, but basically, we create the show live on stage. It really is just a massive 80s party. The great thing is that although everyone has a seat no one sits down (laughter). Everyone is simply dancing all night.

That must make a welcome change for you as whenever anyone goes out to a concert, they usually sit down all night (laughter).

(Laughter) I know exactly what you mean but 80’s music is just irresistible; it is very hard to sit down when you have got a great 80s song playing. What’s great is that opposed to being in a hot and sweaty venue, and we have done a couple of those which were brilliant, what is great is whenever you are in a theatre you have your own space, you can put your coat down, and you have got the room to move in which is great.

You are here in Nottingham at the Royal Concert Hall on Friday 22ndSeptember, and I have to tell you that there is limited availability on tickets already.

Really, well what can I say, that really is fantastic. I can’t wait to be up there in Nottingham. I have always found that the city of Nottingham really does have a nice vibe to it, especially where music is concerned. I guess that you could put that down to the huge student population up there.

Whose idea was it to put the live show together?

I have to put my hands up and say that it was totally my idea (laughter). I had always wanted to take the show out on the road. I have to be totally honest with you and say that it stems from when I took over the Sounds Of The 80s back in May 2018. The third show that I ever did was a live show from the Hard Rock Hotel in Ibiza, where every Friday night they do a show called Children Of The 80s. I took it over and I broadcast Sounds Of The 80s live from there and ever since I saw the reaction to the crowd in Ibiza, I thought ‘oh my word, we really do need to take this show out on the road and do it live in front of people’. So, it basically stemmed from there.

I have to say that it would have happened a lot earlier but of course the pandemic hit, everything then got delayed by a couple of years. But now, finally, we are up and running. The first few shows have gone amazingly well, and all being well, we have got a whole host of new dates which we will be announcing a little later on in the year.

It is at this point that you and I differ (laughter).

Really, why’s that?

I would have gone for the 70s (laughter).

Really (laughter). Listen, the 70s really was an amazing decade; in fact the 70s was the decade that I grew up in. It was towards the end of the 70s when I first started working on radio. So, yes, an amazing decade but I think that for the variety of music and the fact that there were so many groundbreaking genres that actually came through, I personally feel that the 80s just about tops it, but then again, I’m biased (laughter).

If you take the funny clothes out of the equation, then I have to say that the music in the 70s really wasn’t that bad (laughter).

That’s right, I can remember wearing flares, high heeled boots, and penny round collars (laughter). Having said all of that, let’s not forget that the 80s also had some interesting fashion looks.

Who chooses what tracks you are going to play on the live show?

That is down to me, I do, every single one.

Are they constant throughout the tour or do they change nightly?

You have to remember that it is a show and I have put it together so that I play the strongest music that I possibly can and songs that I know that the audience are going to love. Songs which I know are going to go down well. Each show is in a different place, so I guess that in a way it is the same as whenever you go out to see a band on tour. They will be pretty much playing a similar set every night. We also have dancers who have learnt dance routines, and stuff like that, so in answer to your question, yes, it does change. Every night I will swap two or three records out from another show depending upon how I am feeling. I also have to take into consideration just how the crowd are reacting to the tracks that I am playing. But, in the main, it is a pretty slick show.

Staying with the subject of tracks, how many did you start off with before dwindling them down for the show?

The track listing has come from a lifetime of experience of playing 80s music live; I know all of these songs intimately. I also know just how well these songs can go down or maybe they may not go down so well. It is basically a lifetime of experience that has allowed me to whittle it down. There were also situations when certain tracks were massive in the 80s which don’t go down so well now, whilst there were other tracks that didn’t go down too well in the 80s that really are huge now. The right song at the right time is what it is all about.

Now the big question is CD or vinyl?

Neither, streaming (hysterical laughter). I will tell you why. Obviously, I started off with vinyl and I broke my back carrying vinyl in the early days of DJ-ing, hauling massive 12” singles up and down stairs every single night in the clubs back in Manchester. When I started on Radio One, I was still playing vinyl. Then CD came along which was a lot lighter than vinyl and so I welcomed the arrival of CD with open arms; the sound was phenomenal, and then we went digital. I’m big into technology and in particular the fact that I can now go and DJ and have my entire music collection on a USB drive.

I played vinyl for many years back in the day; I’ve had cassettes, I’ve had eight track cartridges, however coming right up to date, I love streaming. The fact that I can now put my whole set onto a tiny memory stick and have every single 80s song in my collection on that stick actually makes a lot of sense (laughter). I guess that if I had never played vinyl, never played CD I would most probably have to say vinyl.

Who could have envisaged when you were looking at a vinyl album back in the day that you would one day have your entire music collection right there in your pocket.

Never, absolutely never.

You mention that you have new dates coming up in the future. Can you ever see the time when you will do the show but perhaps visit different decades?

(Hysterical laughter) no. If I am doing a live DJ gig and it’s not a 80s gig, then of course I play everything. However, if I am doing a 80s gig, then I have to play 80s music. There are many gigs that I do throughout the year that are not 80s where I will play 70s, 80s, 90s including stuff that is right bang up to date. My hobby and my passion is Underground House Music, and I absolutely love the latest Underground Afro House, Tribal House, Deep House; that really is my hobby so I often find myself playing that. Whatever the occasion demands, I will play it. What you have to remember is that I don’t host Sounds Of The 70s and I don’t host Sounds Of The 80s and it really is something that I doubt that I will ever do.

Taking both the live show together with the radio show out of the equation, what is your favourite decade for music?

I actually think that it would actually be the 80s. The 80s are so special to me; the 80s are when I got my job at Radio One, which really was my dream job. It was something that I had always wanted but I was never too sure just how I would get it, but it eventually happened towards the end of December 1982. It was during the 80s that I was hosting Top Of The Pops plus I was doing Radio One road shows in front of thousands and thousands of people. Genuinely, the 80s is the decade that totally changed my life together with the music that changed my life.

You mention Radio One, how did it feel when you got the call to join them?

I have never had a feeling like it in my life. It was the most incredible feeling I think that I have had in my life when I got that call. When I got the call I got a call to do a Saturday night show just for three months, and that was it. There were no promises and no guarantees after that. However, for me to get that call and to get that opportunity, when you have dreamt of something for so long, and then finally it happens, it was simply quite incredible. To say that I was on Cloud 9 was an understatement. I didn’t come down off Cloud 9 for about two years. It was just unbelievable (laughter). It was the station that I listened to, it was the station I grew up with, all of my favourite DJ’s were working on the station, so I had to keep pinching myself as I simply couldn’t believe that I was there.

Radio One put you up as their ‘poster boy,’ did that bring with it any added pressure?

(Laughter) I don’t think that anyone put me up as a poster boy at all (laughter). At least, not that I was aware of (laughter). It certainly wasn’t anything that was intentionally planned or what have you. At that time, I was young, free, and single and let’s just say that I was having a good time (laughter).

Do you ever get tired of people shouting out to you ‘Woo Gary Davies’ after all of these years?

I personally find it the biggest form of flattery to be totally honest with you. I think that it is amazing, and I never get tired of it. Why would you (laughter). People know you; people recognise you, and they sing your jingle. What more could I ask for (laughter).

Did you always want to be a DJ?

I think so, pretty much, yes. My cousins ran quite a legendary night club in Manchester in the 60s and early 70s called The Twisted Wheel. I can remember when I was around nine years old when they would sneak me in to watch these incredible artists who were playing there, people like Wilson Picket, Jr. Walker & The All Stars, Rod Stewart in the early days, and I would be watching these legends from the side of the stage as I was far too young to go into the main club. I have to say that it simply blew me away. However, The Twisted Wheel closed and so they opened another club called Placemate 7 and when I was seventeen years old. I started working on the door at Placemate 7.

Please don’t get me wrong I was collecting the money, not as a bouncer I wasn’t big enough or brave enough (laughter). One night the DJ didn’t turn up, and as you know, I had always been a massive fan of music, and I volunteered to DJ for the evening. And that is how I started DJ-ing. I absolutely loved it so I was DJ-ing in the club, and I used the give the DJ’s their hour break. The club eventually had five different rooms all playing different types of music. So, I would find myself DJ-ing quite a lot every night. I thought that out of everything that I was doing at the club, DJ-ing was the one thing that I loved. It was then a case of ‘how do I take it further, let’s see if I can break into radio’.

Was there ever a plan B just in case?

(Laughter) well my dad bless him wanted me to be a lawyer. However, I was never academically minded so that was never going to happen. I had various jobs, the first being working in a textile mill in Lancashire, which to be honest only lasted a couple of months. Then, I found myself working for a mail order company in Manchester, J. D. Williams, for eighteen months, which is still going today despite my best efforts to close it down (laughter). All of the time I was still working in the club at night so I really don’t know what I would have done. I actually ended up working in the club full time as the entertainments manager; booking all the shows, doing all the special nights, doing private parties, and stuff like that. So, I was doing all of that together with my DJ-ing at the club so I guess that had I not found myself working on the radio maybe I would be running a club somewhere.

You have mentioned Top Of The Pops, were they good times or bad times?

Amazing times. This is the show that from being a kid you are watching it, thinking ‘oh my word, I just want to be in the audience’ (laughter). Not even thinking about presenting it, you just wanted to be in the audience. You wanted to be there with the top bands, the top artists, loads of cute girls in the audience, and I thought ‘I just want to be there’ (laughter). To actually end up hosting the show it was simply fantastic (laughter).

Do you have anything funny that you can tell me about your time at Top Of The Pops?

I can remember a certain Shane Patrick Lysaght MacGowan who was then lead singer of Celtic punk band The Pogues who had a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry underneath his piano during rehearsals (laughter). I recall that the BBC bar was always extremely busy after every show (laughter).

And very cheap apparently?

Yes, very cheap indeed (laughter).

Putting you firmly on the spot, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

Oh gosh, you are coming out with some great questions. There have been far too many highlights for me to choose just the one. Here goes, getting a job on Radio One, doing Top Of The Pops, doing the Radio One road shows, which as I said earlier were totally unbelievable, and then coming back into Radio Two which was never part of my plan, and was never expected and to this very day I still don’t know how that happened (laughter).

Looking back over your career, do you have any regrets?

No. Listen, there are always a few regrets when you think ‘I should have done this’ or ‘I could have done that’ but I have been very privileged to have had an unbelievable career and thankfully, it is still going strong. In fact, it is now as strong as it ever was. The fact that I can take my show out on the road, and we can sell-out theatres, is unbelievable. It really is unbelievable. So, I have no regrets whatsoever.

How does it feel whenever you are asked to step-in and host one of your colleagues’ shows whilst they are away from the station?

Whenever I step into anyone’s shows in order to do their show, I love being on the radio. I love challenges of all sorts. I love being out of my comfort zone. Whenever you are doing a quiz like Pop Master, then technically it is a massive challenge simply because there are so many things going off at the same time, but you still have to speak to people and ask them questions. Hopefully you can press the right buttons at the right time, stuff like that (laughter). I used to love doing Pop Master and I love doing Ten To The Top now, whenever I sit in for Vernon Kay.

You have interviewed some amazing and interesting people over the years. If you had to name one as your favourite interviewee, who would it be?

To be honest with you, there have been quite a few that I have really enjoyed. Most recently I would have to say Bono and The Edge. I interviewed them for the Radio 2 piano room. I have been a massive U2 fan right from the very beginning. I have seen them live many, many times. I have met the band on quite a few occasions, but I had never interviewed them, and it happened this year. So that really was quite special. When I joined Radio 1 U2 were a specialist band; they would be played in the evening. They weren’t really played on daytime radio. I love the band so much that I used to champion every single one of their records on daytime radio.

So, it was even more special when at the end of the interview, Bono said to me “thanks for everything that you have done for us in those early days, we know that you are a big fan” and I just thought ’whoa’ (laughter). That really is pretty special. I once interviewed Pavarotti at his home in Modena, in Italy. And I have to say that was something that was pretty surreal and very, very special. He lives in what can only be described as a traditional Italian ‘Godfather’ type of compound with lots of different houses with a courtyard in the middle. When I walked in there was this amazing opera music which I thought was being played on the hi-fi.

When I sat down, I said “I love the opera music that you have been playing just before.” Pavarotti’s son said to me with a smile on his face, “that was not opera music that was my father warming up” which I have to say really was amazing (laughter). We talked about Moderna where he lived, which also happens to be the home of Ferrari, and I asked him “do you have a Ferrari” to which he replied “yes”. I then went on to ask him “what is it like to drive” to which he replied, “I have no idea as I can’t fit in it”. He actually had a London taxi, a black cab, parked in his courtyard, which is what he used to get around in, simply because he could fit into it comfortably.

What was the first record that you bought?

That would have been They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa! by Napoleon XIV which I don’t think that you could get away with in this day and age (laughter).

Who did you first see performing life?

Well, apart from the times that I would sneak into my cousins club The Twisted Wheel, the first live gig that I saw on my own was in Bournemouth when I was seventeen and it was Marc Bolan and T. Rex.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

Oh, my word, I honestly can’t remember. There are movies that make me cry, but as for music, I can’t remember.

What next for Gary Davies?

More live Sounds Of The 80s shows. They really do work, and they really are so much fun. I want to take the show everywhere.

On that note Gary, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been delightful.

Thanks Kevin it’s been nice speaking to you. I’m looking forward to seeing you up there in Nottingham.