GARY Crowley has spent the past 40 years interviewing music legends such as David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Keith Richard and Oasis – and the TV presenter and DJ’s star-studded career all started with a phone call to Woking.
As a London schoolboy with the idea of starting a fanzine, he called Paul Weller’s house and asked to speak to the then frontman of The Jam.
“I got the number from an ad in the back of Melody Maker and I just went to this phone box and rang it,” he recalled. “Paul’s mum answered and I started gabbling 20 to the dozen about how I’d started a fanzine (The Modern World) and named it after a Jam song and could I speak to Paul. I was so nervous.
“She was saying ‘Calm down, calm down’. Eventually I made her understand what I wanted and she just called Paul from the other room.
“He came on the phone and I got excited again and he had to calm me down too. Then he just said ‘What are you doing tomorrow? Do you want to come down to the record company offices?’ It went from there.
“I still remember the phone number – Maybury 64717 – as I reminded Paul when I bumped into him the other day.”
Gary went on to write for the NME before getting his big break as a DJ on Capital Radio, then moving to TV to present Poparound, Fun Factory and The Beat. He later compered the first national tour by Wham!, became a DJ for XFM and introduced Oasis at their legendary Knebworth gig, eventually ending up in his current Saturday slot at BBC Radio London.
The 57-year-old is now heading out around the country to appear at Q&A sessions to talk about his career, the stars he’s met and his latest compilation album, Gary Crowley’s Lost 80s, a collection that includes the likes of Grandmaster Flash, Wham!, Depeche Mode, The Redskins and Bow Wow Wow.
“The overriding factor is that I’ve been on the radio since 1982,” he explained. “All these 80s nostalgia albums have the same tracks and same bands. Much as I like The Human League singing Don’t You Want Me, or Soft Cell’s Tainted Love, there’s a whole raft of other stuff that I love.
“I have an affection for the first half of the 1980s. It was an exciting time, we’d had punk and we’d had new wave and we’d had post-punk . Then the emphasis was beginning to be on the dancefloor as well, so you had a lot of these bands like Haircut 100 or Blue Rondo a la Turk making records you could dance to, as well as the guitar pop bands of the time, like Aztec Camera or Prefab Sprout.”
All of these acts are included on Gary Crowley’s Lost 80s, but there were one or two who got away.
“Yeah, there were a few I couldn’t get,” Gary said. “Like Orange Juice – apparently Edwyn Collins just won’t do it. But, overall, we’re really happy, the reaction has been great.”
Lost 80s follows a previous mammoth collection he put together of punk and new wave acts such as Alternative TV, The Nips, Eater and Girls at Our Best! – again concentrating on great songs usually overlooked by mainstream compilations.
“It’s been relatively easy,” he said. “All I had to do was think about the stuff I was playing on my radio shows at the time.”
It’s been a long time since that phone call to the Weller household in Woking and he’s come a long way since, but he still remembers it with affection.
“Me and my friends had a lot of youthful exuberance at the time,” he laughed.
And the fanzine interviews continued to come easily.
“One day I came out of school [Rutherford School, Marylebone] and Joe Strummer of The Clash was walking in the other direction,” Gary recalled. “I didn’t need any encouragement to go up and say ‘Can I interview you?’ I was 15 and in my school uniform but we had a lot to chat about.” Gary Crowley will also have plenty to chat about when he comes to the Fiery Bird, Woking, on Thursday 30 May for a Q&A and album signing session. Full details on the Fiery Bird website