Radio 2's Sound of The 80s live tour with Gary Davies is coming to Portsmouth: ‘Every song is a total banger’ | Interview

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Ooh Gary Davies!’ was a jingle heard coming out of radios across the land throughout much of the 1980s.

​The DJ joined Radio 1 in 1982 from Manchester's Piccadilly Radio, initially hosting a late-night Saturday show, but took over the prime lunchtime slot in ‘84, holding the position until early in the next decade.

As a regular host of Top Of The Pops alongside the likes of Steve Wright, Mike Read and Bruno Brookes, he was one of the biggest DJs on the nation’s biggest radio station.

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He can now be heard continuing to celebrate the music of that era on his Saturday night Radio 2 show – Sounds of The ’80s.

Sounds of the 80s: The Live Tour with Gary Davies is at Portsmouth Guildhall on April 14, 2023Sounds of the 80s: The Live Tour with Gary Davies is at Portsmouth Guildhall on April 14, 2023
Sounds of the 80s: The Live Tour with Gary Davies is at Portsmouth Guildhall on April 14, 2023

And he is now taking a live version of the show on the road – which comes to Portsmouth Guildhall on Friday, April 14.

He is also currently the temporary host of Radio 2’s mid-morning show, keeping the seat warm since Ken Bruce’s departure for new host Vernon Kay who takes over in May.

On the day we speak, shortly after the live broadcast has finished, he’s had U2 on in the Piano Room segment.

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‘I'm really enjoying it, it's lovely being on every day and it's a fabulous show to do,’ he enthuses.‘To do it for the next few weeks is a lot of fun – especially when you've got people like U2 in the Piano Room, who are my all time favourite group, so I'm super happy about that.

Gary DaviesGary Davies
Gary Davies

‘It was great to interview them – I'd never interviewed them before. I met them a few times in the ’80s, went to gigs and used to play them loads on the radio, but never actually got the chance to interview them and they were really lovely.’

Speaking with Gary it’s clear his love for the Irish megastars runs deep – a band who broke through into the mainstream and scored huge hits in the 1980s.

‘I remember when I started on radio they were very much being played on specialist shows to begin with, and then when I got to Radio 1 and started doing the day time show, because I loved their music so much, I thought, this is not just for the night time, this is for day time, so I'd start making all of their singles my records of the week and playing them loads!’

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Nowadays all major radio stations’ big shows run to strictly controlled playlists, and the songs each show plays will be thoroughly scrutinised before airing.

Radio 1 Roadshow with DJ and presenter Gary Davies at Scarborough
Picture by Andrew HigginsRadio 1 Roadshow with DJ and presenter Gary Davies at Scarborough
Picture by Andrew Higgins
Radio 1 Roadshow with DJ and presenter Gary Davies at Scarborough Picture by Andrew Higgins

Back in the ’80s, the DJs had more of a free hand in what they played.

‘In the early days of doing my shows on Radio 1 I could literally play whatever I wanted to. We didn't really have a playlist, as such, it was basically the top 40 chart that was on rotation, so they would allocate you the chart songs to play and then everything else was a free choice which was just brilliant.’

He is particularly proud of helping to break new acts to a wider audience.

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‘When I took over the lunchtime show I started championing a lot of new music and breaking new artists, playing songs before anyone else, I guess that's what I'm most proud of.

The Sounds of the 80s dancersThe Sounds of the 80s dancers
The Sounds of the 80s dancers

‘Whether I was the first person to play U2 on daytime radio through to supporting people like Chris Rea, Deacon Blue, Tears for Fears, Nik Kershaw – all these guys, I was a big champion of their music.’

Looking back on the time, he recalls: ‘It was wild! Radio 1 when I was there had something like 19m listeners – it was huge and of course doing Top of The Pops as well got you pretty well known as that got about 13m viewers a week.

‘I guess at the time, it was the closest thing that a DJ could feel to being a rockstar.’

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He was also a regular host of the station’s roadshows, which would draw massive crowds wherever they turned up: ‘Over the 11 years I was at Radio 1 there was nowhere that I didn't go! We went everywhere.’

Of course all things must end, and Gary’s end at Radio 1 was part of major, and at the time controversial, changes brought in by new controller Matthew Bannister which saw many of the long-standing presenters leaving and new faces like Chris Evans, Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley being introduced.

‘The one thing we all know, and that every DJ now knows, is that when you work for Radio 1 you're not going to be there forever, because it's a young person's station. I was always very aware of that, and always aware that at some point it's going to come to an end.

‘Possibly the way it happened wasn't the nicest way it could have been done,’ he says diplomatically, ‘but at the end of the day, I only have really fond, happy memories of my time being there. It was just an amazing time in my life, and it was a great radio station to work for.’

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Having worked for the biggest radio station in the land, what do you do next?

‘That's why I made the conscious decision that when I left Radio 1, radio wasn't going to be my main focus because basically nothing else was as big or as good!

‘At that time the gap between Radio 1 and Radio 2 was so huge, I felt way too young to go to Radio 2, so I decided, I'd always loved new music so I went into the music business and started signing songwriters and artists, and that's basically what I did. I did a bit of radio on the side, but that wasn't my main focus.’

Gary ran a publishing company, Good Groove with his brother, entertainment lawyer Mark Davies, for nearly 20 years.

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In 2017 he began regularly covering for other DJs on Radio 2 when they were on leave – including his old Radio 1 colleague Steve Wright. A year later he took over Sounds of The 80s.

‘It is purely by fluke and accident that 20-odd years later I am at Radio 2 and back on the biggest radio station in the UK and I’m loving every second of it!’

The Sounds of the 80s live show debuted at Stoke-on-Trent's Regent Theatre last year to a packed crowd of fans dressed up to the nines in Lycra, leg-warmers, headbands, and Frankie and Wham! statement T-shirts.

‘Last Friday we were in Birmingham and that was the first night on this tour. Oh my word – it was phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal. I can't wait to bring the show to Portsmouth. We had an absolute blast. The Symphony Hall was packed to the rafters and people didn't stop dancing for almost three hours, it was crazy.’

So what can people expect in the live show?

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‘It's all the things people love about the radio show – we put mastermixes together, specially created by my producer Johnny Kalifornia, who is on the tour with me as well. Not only that but we have a massive Sound of The 80s dance troupe we bring on the road with us and so they're performing to those mastermixes. One of the mixes we have is ’80s movies so the dancers are recreating classic scenes from all of these fantastic movies, whether it's Dirty Dancing or Ghostbusters, or Footloose, or what have you. Then we have an ’80s icons mastermix as well where they're recreating classic videos – think Queen’s Radio GaGa, think Michael Jackson's Thriller, that sort of thing.

‘We may have a surprise guest as well – in Birmingham we had Jaki Graham come on and perform a few songs. And we do the little features we have on the show – there's a segment called The Sloppy Bit, the love song, and we grab a couple out of the audience and play it for them.

‘But the main thing is that it's just a massive ’80s party, every song is a total banger and it's a joyous evening.’

Of course there were many types of music in the charts in the 1980s, and the radio show reflects that.

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’The joy of Sound of The 80s is that we reflect everything that was happening in the ’80s, whether it was rock music, whether it's synth, whether it's hip-hop, whether it's dance, whether it's soul, whether it's just out-and-out pop – there were so many amazing genres in that one decade, we reflect all of it in the show.

‘With regards to the live tour show, then it's going to be very much more party-based, but there's still a little bit of rock in there as well!’

While this is just a short run, Gary hopes there’s a future for the live show. ‘We've got six shows in this first run and we're already talking about doing some more. It's just such a fun show to take on the road, and the fact that you're doing it in lovely theatres as opposed to sweaty clubs makes a nice difference!’

Sounds of The 80s: The Live Show is at Portsmouth Guildhall on Friday, April 14 at 7pm. Tickets £25.05-42.50. Go to

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