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Radio legend Bob Harris on the songs the Beatles gave away, country’s resurgence, and the football team that lives in his head

© ShutterstockBob Harris.
Bob Harris.

Having grown up enthralled by the glow of the radiogram in the corner of his childhood home, ‘Whispering Bob’ Harris has now repaid the favour of introducing new music to multiple generations of listeners to his BBC radio shows.

From the likes of David Bowie and Elton John to modern country stars like Kacey Musgraves and Luke Combs, he’s always looked to the future and watched acts flourish from the beginning of their careers to super-stardom.

For his latest show, though, he’s looking to the past and one of the most influential acts he’s had the privilege of watching from start to finish – The Beatles.

Bob, who met and interviewed all of the Fab Four across his broadcasting career, is touring Scotland with a show focussed on the songs written by members of the band that were given away to other artists or projects.

The Songs The Beatles Gave Away

The Songs The Beatles Gave Away live show is based on Bob’s Radio 2 documentary and the subsequent book by Colin Hall, the custodian of John Lennon’s former ‘Mendips’ home in Liverpool.

It tells the story of works penned by Lennon and McCartney and, to a lesser extent, Harrison that were given to other artists, as it made artistic and economic sense at the time of the Merseybeat boom in 1963-4.

These included Jackie Lomax’s Sour Milk Sea and Peter and Gordon’s chart-topping A World Without Love, as well as several hits for Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas.

© David Magnus/Shutterstock
The Beatles

Other famous examples include The Rolling Stones’ first UK top 20, I Wanna Be Your Man, and Cilla Black’s debut single Love of the Loved.

Towards the late 1960s, Paul’s developing musical mind on tracks with complex arrangements like Yesterday and Eleanor Rigby was noticed by George Martin, and the pair worked together on the soundtrack to the film The Family Way.

“It’s amazing how many different shades there are to this particular palette,” Bob said. “There are nearly 30 pieces of music that members of The Beatles had a hand in writing, but which the group itself never released.”

Some of the tracks…

  • The Rolling Stones – I Wanna Be Your Man (1963)
  • Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas – Bad to Me (1963)
  • Peter & Gordon – A World Without Love (1964)
  • The Applejacks – Like Dreamers Do (1964)
  • John Foster & Son Black Dyke Mills Band – Thingumybob (theme to comedy series of the same name) (1968)
  • Cilla Black – Step Inside Love (theme of TV series Cilla) (1968)
  • Mary Hopkin – Goodbye (1969)
  • Plastic Ono Band – Give Peace A Chance (1969)

Magic of the Beatles

The group’s song-writing strengths were evident from the early days, with one giveaway emanating from their famous tour across Scotland in the 1960s in support of Johnny Gentle, while still the Silver Beetles.

“They were in Inverness and Johnny had been trying to work out the final bit of this song that he’d been trying to write,” the former Old Grey Whistle Test presenter explained.

“He played it to John and he just came up with a little middle eight that fitted perfectly.”

That song was I’ve Just Fallen For Someone, and became the first of many tracks that The Beatles would be a part of creating.

Colin Hall and Bob Harris. © Mark Tipping Photography
Colin Hall and Bob Harris on stage.

Whether performed by the band or not, the music has stood the test of time and spanned generations.

“What comes across is the strength of the songs,” said Bob. “Paul in particular has an amazing ear for a melody, they stick in your mind.

“The key to the prolific burst of creativity was not overthinking anything. It was just sort of coming out.

“When Paul and John wrote the first line in I Saw Her Standing There: ‘Well, she was just 17,’ the original lyrics went: ‘and she’d never been a beauty queen’.

“Paul said it was terrible and they couldn’t get past it, but then one of them said what about: ‘you know what I mean?’ Suddenly it was so simple and it was Beatley. That moment was when they thought, right, we won’t ever overthink anything.

“That began the incredible run of almost 200 songs in no time, which just happen to be some of the best ever heard.”

A part of the story

Bob has been at the heart of the Beatles’ story, in the privileged position of seeing their early beginnings and also their huge cultural impact.

“My first time seeing The Beatles and my only time seeing them play live was at the NME Poll-Winners Concert concert in Wembley in 1966,” he said.

“It was amazing, you couldn’t hear them really because of the screams!

“You got a sense, genuinely, that you were seeing something very special. The first time I was really aware of them was when they did Sunday night at the London Palladium. Older listeners will remember that! It was phenomenal.

“You just felt this lightning strike go through you. So many fans has come from all over the country, thousands of them in the streets around the Palladium, it was gridlock and and you began really to realise that something very big was happening.

The 78-year-old reflects fondly on being at the epicentre of the late ’60s counterculture, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Bowie and Marc Bolan at an early stage.

Seeing artists blossom still feels as rewarding today, with country acts he’s championed in recent years hitting the mainstream.

“I’ve been very lucky to be at the heart of music for a very long time and be at the beginning of careers of people I really admire.

“The engine of my shows is new music – it’s the future. Every week there’s somebody I’ve just discovered that I can’t wait to play. I’m really proud of that.”

Love of country

Having fallen in love with the music culture of Nashville, Bob has become a huge part of the country scene and its resurgence on these shores.

Pop superstar Beyoncé turned to the genre for her current chart-topping album, and country stars are now consistently packing out arenas across the UK.

The Country 2 Country (C2C) festival has also become an annual event in Glasgow’s OVO Hydro.

“Country is going through a massive moment,” Bob, who hosts C2C London, said.

“It’s the fastest growing genre in the UK. The audiences are getting younger, the enthusiasm bigger. They’re there because of the music, probably wearing cowboy boots and a hat. It’s fabulous.

“It’s a lot to do with community. This is our football team, we all wear the same colours and it’s very bonding.

“The artists are very aware of that feeling – the bond with fans is really strong. It’s a beautiful full circle that pulls everyone together.”

That bond even led to Bob making the newspapers for his first ever tattoo – the result of a few tequila cocktails backstage at C2c alongside country artists Alana Springsteen and Jackson Dean.

“There’s a tattoo parlour backstage, we wandered in and I had this idea,” Bob recalled.

“It finished up being four little lines that look like a railway track just on the inside of my right wrist and they stand for the word skylight because I always think it’s important to keep your skylights open, keep an open mind. That’s what that represents.

“Every time I look at it, I think of that idea but also with great memories now of that fabulous time with Alana and my daughter Flo and Jackson Dean and crazy madness.

“The story made the national papers and they said how amazing it was to get this tattoo late in life and the other two people that had tattoos done in their 70s were David Dimbleby and Winston Churchill.

“I’ve never been in an article where my name’s alongside Churchill, it’s very funny!”

Radio and podcasting

Bob’s latest edition of the Country Show on BBC Radio 2, broadcast last Thursday, was a special 25th anniversary celebration.

“I feel really blessed,” Bob said. “They’ve been predicting the demise of radio forever. They said it would be the end when talking movies came in, then TV, music channels, MTV, digital and podcasts.

“Radio is thriving as much, if not more so, than any other time in its history. It’s still vibrantly alive.

“I think of being on the radio like when my friends used to come over in my early teens, seeing the expression on their faces when I played them a record they liked.

“That’s what I’m doing on the radio – just a bigger version of that.”

Bob has also recently launched a podcast, A Game Of No Halves, based on his fantasy football team North London FC.

The team exists entirely in his head, and has done for a staggering 35 years, with players ranging from real-life footballers to friends and family.

“People look at me with incredulity,” he laughed. “Romesh Ranganathan came up to me at a Radio 2 thing and said ‘let me get this straight, you’ve been kicking a ball around and making stats up about it for 35 years?’ It does sound a bit far-fetched doesn’t it!

“My son and co-host Miles is convinced that I invented Football Manager before it existed, because effectively that’s what I’m doing because I’ve got my team, my formations, I play in real time. I take the fixtures of, let’s say this season Luton Town, and I play their fixtures.

“It’s evolved over the many seasons into a mixture of the big players of the world and Miles and his brother Dylan’s mates. It’s evolved into this lovely organic thing. I play through the fixtures and wherever we are in the league at the end of the season, that’s where we are.

“It takes you to a nice place. If you feel a bit stressed or something, you can just begin to drift and think about the match and what you’re gonna do. I love it, it takes me to a completely sort of different place.”

The Songs The Beatles Gave Away takes in various dates across Scotland, visit