Behind the mic – 50 years ON AIR

Jun 2019 Behind the mic – 50 years ON AIR

DJ MIKE READ talks about his long and diverse career when I asked him how it all come about.

By Ian D Woolley

“JULIE ANDREWS’S mum and aunt taught dancing lessons in their house and so I was tap dancing and singing at a very early age. I was on stage at six or seven performing, and played the part of Lysandra in A Midsummer Nights Dream.

“My big love was always song-writing. I used to think ‘that’s a great tune but the words aren’t right’. The words were OK, but they weren’t a marriage. You could destroy a good tune by average words and vice versa.

“So I was writing songs at a very early age. I got my first cover in 1973 by a Maltese guy called John Lucas before bigger names recorded my songs, including David Essex’s Myfanwy which made the charts. As any songwriter knows, there are three thrills to writing a song – one you have an idea and write it, secondly when someone says ‘yes I’ll record it’ and thirdly, when it’s a hit.

“I wrote More to Life for Cliff who has covered three of my songs; Colin Blunstone’s covered two, and Don McLean, Gene Pitney are some of about 45 major artists who have covered my songs.”

Even from a young age, Mike always took great interest in seeing the names of the songwriters below the song name.

“Tepper & Bennett under The Young Ones were one such duo who fascinated me. Then I saw their name under ‘Travellin’ Light’ and ‘Angel’ by Elvis, and it soon became clear they were writing so many great songs.

“Not many people would probably know that they wrote more than 50 songs for Elvis. Years later I got to meet them when I was writing my book ‘200 years of Songwriting in America’. After talking to Roy Bennett on the phone, he said that, despite the many songs they wrote for Cliff Richard, they never got to meet him.

“A short time later I was doing a video with Cliff on a song of mine he was recording and he said: ‘I never met those two guys Tapper & Bennett who wrote all those hits’. He just assumed they had died.

“So I flew Roy up to Birmingham to surprise Cliff at one of his shows and walked on to the stage unannounced. When I announced that one of those great songwriters is here today and Roy walked out, Cliff hugged him and then they sang The Young Ones.”

Mike’s radio career started in Reading 210 with Steve Wright. The station’s boss Neil French-Blake said: “I want you on my radio station for three reasons: one, you are mildly eccentric, two you are very English and three, your a bloody good opening bowler!”

With their Read and Write Show (a play on their names) they instantly formed an on-air intuition on what the other was going to do.

“Neil fired us once a week saying ‘you boys are amateurs I’m going to fire you…listen to the professionals’, he would say. We had a jingle on their called ‘Read – Read and Wright. Read – Read and Wright’. It wasn’t until the end that he realised I got four mentions to his!”

Fellow broadcaster Peter Powell asked him to get a tape into Radio Luxembourg which he never did. He did, however, do a live interview at the station HQ – one of some 2,000 applicants.

Mike recalls: “The very next day they put me on a plane to the Grand Duchy. I was thrown in at the deep end as the desk looked like something out of the flight deck of Concorde!”

A year later he got a call from Radio One and met controller Derek Chinnery who gave him the much-coveted job of being one of their presenters.

“I was lucky – being at the right door when it was opened. I knew a lot of really good presenters who never got the opportunity, or came up at the wrong time. You also have to do a good job.

“You could find yourself sitting next to Prince Charles at some dinner party, or at Buckingham Palace with the Queen, so you have to be an ambassador for Auntie Beeb.”

Combining his TV appearances with radio presenting, not many people may know but he did Top of the Pops before Radio One. In 1978 (his last TOTP appearance was in 2006), he went on to do Pop Quiz and Saturday Superstore which was the longest live TV show in the World (more than three hours). With in excess of 10 million viewers at its height, it was compulsive weekend viewing for many of us.

Mike’s nemesis was Relax. by Frankie goes To Hollywood. Dare I ask him?

“I used to repeat the chart on Wednesday morning and Adrian John was in the studio. Having had little time to play all the songs and Frankie being on a 12-inch, we were looking at the record cover and Adrian said ‘have you seen the cover on the back?’ I said, ‘if I drop one it will be that one’. Obviously their manager capitalised on it but the record got banned by the BBC not me – oh, and the video didn’t help.

“Some years later, the director of the video told me he was told to make the video really over the top”.

How many know that Mike did a voice-over on Frankie’s first album?

“Trevor Horn, of course, was the mastermind behind their sound,” said Mike. “Two Tribes was my favourite though”.

He has recently written his 40th book called ‘100 Blue Plaques’ (he is also chairman of the British Plaque Trust) and the next one is in July when they’ll be erecting one for Lonnie Donegan’s 65th anniversary of ‘Rock Island Line’. A special evening is planned at the Cadogan Hall which he’ll be hosting, with guests performing including Van Morrison, Billy Bragg, Joe Brown, and Chris Farlowe, among others.

Mike has just signed a six-book deal on famous streets associated with music. The first one will be Denmark Street where, at one time, David Bowie lived in a camper van on the street for six months trying to get a record deal. Paul Simon walked up and down this street trying to get a deal on two songs – Homeward Bound and The Sound of Silence.

He was flatly turned down.

“An amazing street that’s just 300 feet long, with so much musical importance,” added Mike. People working on that street who could hear a hit from a flop, and sometimes on the flip of a coin, took a chance on what would later be heard as some of the most famous songs in the history of pop music, Rock Around The Clock and Heartbreak Hotel being just two.

“Joe Meek, Mickie Most, Peter Waterman and Jonathan King could spot a hit on first listen,” added Mike. “That was the real art of success or failure as a promoter.”

His songwriting is still going strong and only recently he wrote a song with Rubettes Steve Everington, which has topped the US charts beating Ariana Grande and Janet Jackson. He also wrote all the songs for the upcoming Great Expectations.

“I asked Neil Sedaka once what was his favourite record. He replied; ‘They are all my little babies. I send them out into the world and they send me home money… they’re all my babies’.”

These days, you can hear Mike on the morning Breakfast show of United DJ’s Radio. I asked him about how it all come about.

“We started last year when we felt there was a need for DJs to go back to being more creative and not being told what to play and what to say. The station seems to be going from strength-to-strength with a lot of big radio names broadcasting to 11 countries around the world.”

Lastly, I asked him what was his favourite song…”Survival by Yes, off their first album in 1971. Loved Jon Anderson’s lead vocals on that song.”