Exclusive interview: Bob Harris on his new festival & his Harrogate plans

Legendary music broadcaster 'Whispering' Bob Harris.
Legendary music broadcaster 'Whispering' Bob Harris.

“Musicians were saying to me that I should turn them into a festival. It didn’t seem like a practical idea at first. We stood on the edge of the pool for a while but eventually decided to take the plunge.”

Bob Harris is talking to me about Under the Apple Tree Festival, his own family-friendly, roots music event which runs at the end of May in the glorious outdoors of Northamptonshire.

New music festival - Under the Apple Tree.

New music festival - Under the Apple Tree.

Even more excitingly for music fans closer to home in the Harrogate district, Bob is also to run music sessions of the same name in a new Harrogate studio run by local musician and producer Dan Mizen.

But more of that later.

When Under the Apple Tree Festival takes place four stages at Silverstone Woodlands Campsite over the Spring bank holiday weekend from May 27 to May 30, it will be the first time Bob has done this sort of thing.

The legendary music broadcaster known for his influential support of Americana and country music, in particular, is almost a one-man music industry, despite fighting prostate cancer since diagnosis in March 2007.

Bob, 69, has his own BBC Radio 2 shows, his own company Whispering Bob Broadcasting Company, even his own YouTube channel, he's presented TV Shows, produced rock albums, managed rock bands, written books and been a champion of the Teenage Cancer Trust, he's been awarded the OBE but he has never held his own music festival - until now.

Starring the likes of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Gretchen Peters, Ethan Johns, Martyn Joseph, Danny and the Champions and Harrogate singer Holly Rose Webber, if Bob with his contacts and knowledge can't put on a great festival, possibly no one can.

Bob said: "I knew we were on the right track when I asked Martyn Joseph if he would like to play and he said straightaway "count me in."

"Everyone I've called has said the same thing. I'm thrilled with the reaction so far from the audience and artists.

"I'd love Under the Apple Tree to become an annual event. It would be an incredible legacy."

Once all the halluabaloo of the new festival is out of the way, Bob also plans to start recording Under the Apple Tree sessions at the Harrogate studio owned by Dan Mizen.

Formerly known as Active Audio, the new, all-singing, all-dancing studios off Wetherby Road only opened recently and will shortly be renamed Warehouse Recording Company.

Dan said: "It's been a very exciting month. Not only is is great that Under the Apple Tree will be recording here, we recently welcomed the Tom Gee Band back. We did their last album which reached number two in the blues charts."

It’s big news for Harrogate, a town packed with music talent but a little of music industry.

Bob Harris explained the thinking behind this major development.

The former Old Grey Whistle Test presenter said the idea for both the festival and the studio had grown out of the music sessions which his son Miles records in his back garden for his YouTube channel, WhisperingBobTV.

Bob said: “My studio sits under an apple tree in the bottom of my garden. We must have filmed 300 sessions there to date.

“Musicians were saying to me that I should turn them into a festival. It didn’t seem like a practical idea at first. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to go ahead with it."

Leaving nothing to chance as befits a man who may be known for his 'whispering' voice but is always utterly professional, it's unlikely the Harrogate sessions would be happening without the veteran broadcaster’s friendship with Harrogate musician Roy Webber.

The Wally frontman also owns successful design agency Works, a hugely successful company he set up with his wife Karen which is involved with Under the Apple Tree Festival in terms of its branding and website.

The two of them have been close ever since Harris helped secure Webber’s Harrogate-based countryesque folk-prog outfit a contract with Atlantic Records in the early 1970s, co-producing both their classic albums.

Famed for his support of Americana, Bob said: “Roy is such a good friend. Our friendship goes back to when I first saw his band in a competition at London’s Roundhouse organised by the Melody Maker .

“We both want to capture artists we really like in the Under the Apple Tree sessions. The Harrogate studio means we can welcome touring artists who, perhaps, can’t stop off to record in Oxfordshire.”

Under the Apple Tree Festival will also see Squeeze's Chris Difford curate a set.

And among the many acts on the bill will be Roy Webber's daughter Holly, a gifted singer with a superb band of Harrogate musicians behind her.

Bob said: "It's incredible that artists like Mary Chapin Carpenter are playing exclusively at the festival but I was also keen to support new acts. Holly is a terrific singer. I'm certain she's going to do good things in future."

As we sign off, it's clear Bob has a lot on his plate. No wonder. Set near lovely bluebell woods near the Silverstone F1 circuit, the main stage alone at Under the Apple Tree can hold 30,000 people.

Should the weather fail, there's a fantastic marquee with a 5,000 capacity.

There will be a dedicated food village with input by the food expert on Simon Mayo's BBC Radio2 drivetime show.

There will he plenty of 'glamping' and a lot of children's activities.

Why, there's even a genuine pub on the festival site with fine real ales including Bob's own brew.

Nothing seems to be being left to chance for his exciting new festival, I tell him.

Bob laughs: "My wife Trudie is doing such a great job in the organisation but we keep on thinking of things we hadn't thought of. It's been full on for the last year. But we've got am incredible line-up and it should be a terrific event."