Piccadilly Radio – the stories behind the sounds

Tony Hawkins worked for Piccadilly Radio as a producer and presenter in its heyday of the late 1970s and early 1980s. When Tony left the station he made sure that his tapes made it safely to the North West Sound Archive to be looked after for future generations.

Radio recordings are particularly vulnerable to being lost or recycled. At least with oral history interviews or live music recordings, the whole point of the recording itself is posterity. But once radio shows had been broadcast and the libel period was up, there was often no business need for the stations to keep hold of the tapes.

We are very grateful to Tony and others like him who have together ensured that we now have over 1,500 Piccadilly Radio tapes of everything from sports reporting to science fiction. Last year Tony found a handful of tapes in his house which hadn’t been transferred to the archive and deposited them at Archives+. We recently digitised these ‘basement tapes’ as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project.

We try wherever possible to speak to the creators of the collections we’re digitising and to record conversations with them, which are added to the archive alongside the original tapes. Tony is now self-employed as a voice-over, narrator and media trainer. Last year UOSH volunteer Stuart Monk recorded an interview with Tony about his time at Piccadilly Radio. Earlier this month I sent digital copies of the new batch of ‘basement tapes’ to Tony and we had a chat about them over Skype. Some of the clips below are taken from these conversations.

Piccadilly Radio provided a range of output from popular music to in-depth documentaries to cutting-edge drama. So how were they as a new commercial station able to produce all this material? It turns out that the Independent Broadcasting Authority had a fund to support creative radio production…

Tony explains the IBA’s secondary rental scheme (UOSHNW/1)

So what’s on the newly-deposited tapes? They include three of Tony’s interviews with musicians, recorded with his trusty Uher tape recorder, as well as two tapes of sound effects and one tape he made for a DJ friend.

Before interviewing the singer-songwriter Roy Harper, Tony was apprehensive because of Harper’s reputation.

In fact the interview went fine – even if Harper did end up writing off England as a ‘bingoland’ where not enough people are intelligent enough to appreciate his music!

Roy Harper on Bingoland, 1980 (PICC/779)

Tony explains that the surviving tape of Frank Zappa was actually his second interview with him for Piccadilly Radio. The first had to be destroyed along with a live recording.

The rapport the two had struck up allowed Tony to ask questions about difficult topics, like drugs, he otherwise might not have felt able to raise. Zappa explains why he does not let drugs interfere with his art.

Frank Zappa on drugs and creativity, 1980 (PICC/780)


Tony interviewed Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead in a very busy London hotel room while Garcia was lying down on a sofa.

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, 1981 (PICC/781-782)

Listening back now, Tony is frustrated by how far Garcia is from the mic, and how the background sounds of the traffic and the band’s entourage bleed into the recording. But for me the atmosphere these off-sounds lend to the recording make it all the more interesting. An additional frustration for Tony is the wish that he’d had more time to prepare for the interviews than his hectic working schedule allowed.

Tony sets the scene in the Kensington hotel (UOSHNW/3)

‘Lord’ Tim Hudson was a friend of Tony’s who sadly passed away last year. The last tape of Tony’s recent deposit is a promo mix showcasing Lord Tim’s legendary radio career, produced by Tony in 1996.

‘Lord’ Tim Hudson’s Theatre of the Mind (PICC/785)

On the tape ‘Lord’ Tim takes the listener on a trip through London and America in the 1960s with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, ending with his interview with John Lennon at Shea Stadium in August 1965.

‘Lord’ Tim Hudson introduces his interview with John Lennon (PICC/785)

Tony reflects on how the tapes have brought back access to lost memories for him, even if listening back to them was a sometimes frustrating experience!

Tony reflects on what it was like to listen back to the tapes (UOSHNW/3)

Tony’s commentary helps us to contextualise the recordings in ways we’d never be able to do ourselves. You could almost say that the tapes themselves are only ever part of the story. In order to understand them properly we need to know why and how they were recorded, and what their creators were trying to accomplish.

Digital copies of all these tapes, and many more, are available to listen to in the Archives+ search room at Manchester Central Library. Please book ahead of your visit.

Clips from interviews with Tony Hawkins published with permission. Short clips from broadcasts by Piccadilly Radio and KCBQ Montreal featuring Roy Harper, Frank Zappa, Jerry Garcia, Tim Hudson, John Lennon and Tony Hawkins are re-used here under the ‘fair dealing’ exclusion for news and review. If you are a copyright holder and you would like to speak to us please get in touch.

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