That's 60s logo with ossi and pod

Legendary DJ Tony Blackburn on new music channel That’s 60s

We were lucky enough to speak with legendary DJ Tony Blackburn on the new music channel That’s 60s where we'll look back at one of music’s most iconic decades with the very best tunes of the swinging 60s.

That’s 60s on Freesat

image of Ossi and Pod with Tony Blackburn for That's 60s

Launched on Freesat channel 506 this month, That’s 60s is the first ever TV channel dedicated wholly to the ‘swinging’ 60s, playing live performances from iconic bands and musicians from the 1960s.

Tune in for round-the-clock performances from some of the era’s best artists, with specially curated shows hosted by legends who were really there to capture the spirit of the 60s.                 

As well as Tony Blackburn, other hosts of That’s 60s include Blackburn’s fellow former Radio 1 host, David ‘Diddy’ Hamilton, as well as ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris.

As he did when he launched Radio 1 back in 1967, Tony chose the song Flowers in the Rain by The Move as the first track to play on That’s 60s.                                                  

Who is Tony Blackburn?

Tony Blackburn with that's 60 merchandise

Tony Blackburn has become synonymous with 1960s music following his time on the pirate stations of the 60s, including Radio Caroline, Big L Radio London and Radio Luxembourg. These pirate stations defined the era in many ways, breaking away from the established BBC to play banned records. In Tony’s own words, his time on pirate radio defined his career, moving from the high seas to become the first disc jockey of BBC Radio 1 when it launched in 1967. Even nearing his 80th birthday, Tony’s life is still all about his love of music. To this day he hosts programming on BBC Radio 2, sharing collated playlists of all his favourite tunes and hosting Sounds of the 60s.

On launching the channel, Tony said: "I loved the 60s because I was young and I was having a ball. I was a singer in a dance band in Bournemouth, then I went on to be a DJ on Radio Caroline, Big L Radio London and Radio Luxembourg and I opened up Radio 1. On That's 60s I'll be playing some of the wonderful music we had and talking all about it. I mean it's the 60s - what more could you ask! It's the best decade ever!" 

So of course, Tony is the perfect fit for the new music channel That’s 60s! Read on to find out more about the channel from Tony himself, as well as some of his top picks of the ‘60s.

Interview with Tony Blackburn

Hi Tony! Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. So the channels up and running now, so how’s it been going so far, and what can viewers expect?

I thought it was an obvious thing to do a 60s channel properly. I do Sounds of the 60s on Radio 2, and I'm touring with a 60s show at the moment as well, which I've been doing since 2018, and we've packed places out everywhere with an older audience. I come out and talk about the 60s and joke around with the audience, and we have the band play over 100 hits from the 60s. So it's just an obvious thing, people love it!

In the 60s they didn't make the music videos we’re used to now, so on That’s 60s you’ll be seeing live performances filmed in the 1960s. You'll see The Rolling Stones as they were, along with bands like The Dave Clarke Five, Freddie and the Dreamers, Marvin Gaye and Neil Diamond – you'll see them as they were doing live shows in the 60s.  A friend of mine rang me up a couple of days ago actually, someone I was on the pirate radio ships with, and he said: “it's amazing. I'm looking at my early life now.” So, it's taking us back to the days when we were young - and that's, that's what it's all about.

So how does hosting That’s 60s compare with your time on pirate radio?

I loved being on the ships. I was on Radio Caroline for two years, and then I went to a boat that I loved even more which was called Big L Radio London - that's where I learned how to really do it properly. My career has been based around that ever since. I loved what we were doing out there, because we were trying to break the BBC monopoly, which we eventually did, and really, we changed the whole of broadcasting in this country. I'm really proud of that – we changed it all for the better. It was a very exciting time, and in many ways, it was the golden age of radio. I was very lucky to be a part of that.

What do you think it is about the 60s that makes it stand out from other decades?

Well, Tony Hatch, who wrote a lot of music, particularly a lot of early 60s music, once said to me that in the 60s they had a knack of writing very short, two and a half minute long songs. They’re catchy, they’re memorable, and clearly they’ve stood the test of time. I mean, there was some terrible stuff that came out in the 60s too! But we’re obviously only playing the best of it. Back when I was out on the pirate ships, you’d get records that came out every week, and out of 100 there were probably four or five really good ones. So even then we were playing the best of the 60s.

If someone doesn’t know much about 1960s music, what bands would you recommend to help them fall in love with the era?

I think a lot of 60s music has stood the test of time, and that’s clear, even with younger audiences. At Glastonbury Festival in 2022 Diana Ross performed, and the whole crowd, mostly made up of young people, knew all the words. They knew all of Paul McCartney’s songs too, all The Beatles songs. So it really isn’t just nostalgia for people who were there, it’s just really good music, and I think young people recognise that too.

Looking back at the music videos, it’s amazing seeing artists like Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell again. Neil Diamond, Freddie and the Dreamers, The Animals and Mick Jagger with The Rolling Stones prancing around the stage (though I guess he still does!) So even if you’re not aware of the 60s and aren’t a fan of the music, watching That’s 60s is a great way to catch up and to look back – I think it would be very hard not to be aware of a lot of these songs, but to see them performed live at the time is something different. I think people will really enjoy it. It’s designed for an older audience, but I think younger people watching will see The Supremes and whoever else dancing and performing, they’ll see the Motown acts and understand that it was the musicians of the 60s who really taught modern-day musicians how to perform on stage.

It does seem like the 1960s never really go out of fashion. Not only are younger people listening to these classic records, but pop artists now are also trying to capture some of that. Are there any current musicians you think have managed to capture some of the spirit of the 60s?

I'd say mainly the soul artists. I think Alicia Keys and Beverly Knight both have amazing voices. Soul acts too, like Rumer – what a beautiful voice. She’s very much like Karen Carpenter.

I think a lot of the music now is very overproduced - you can't hear the words. That's the only problem – if I want to know the lyrics I’ll have to Google it, but in the 60s you could actually hear the words, and that’s a huge factor for a pop song.

Another thing I liked about music in the 60s is we had fun with it. I've never really been interested in people who speak in depth about music - it‘s there to be enjoyed!

So is there is there a song or album that always takes you straight back to the 60s when you hear it?

I think anything by The Four Seasons. The first record I ever played on radio was Rag Doll by The Four Seasons. At the same time, I love The Beatles’ stuff as well, of course. One of my favourite records of all time is by England Dan & John Ford Coley called Love is the Answer - I love the lyrics of that. And, of course, the record that I got released as a single is I'm Still Waiting by Diana Ross. I heard it on an album and I called Motown up and I said “you’ve got a hit here, you should release it.” So they did, and it went to number one in the UK and in America.

On that note, we’ll leave you with one of Tony’s favourite songs from the 60s. Tune in to That’s 60s on Freesat channel 506 for more nostalgic hits and amazing performances from the swinging 60s!

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