THE first thing to say about DJ Mike Read is that he has an amazing head of hair for a man of 66. Thick, black, voluminous and with no signs of any shrinkage going on about the sides.
The second thing to say about him is that he comes across as incredibly laid back. When we meet in Hot Gossip for a coffee he strolls in, wearing beige shorts and a navy blue and white striped rugby shirt, and stops in the doorway to pat the head of a whippet that’s on its way out with its lady owner. His daily show on BBC Radio Berkshire starts at 1pm, and it’s now 11am and he looks far from ready to go on air, but he seems unperturbed, saying with a boyish grin: “I always cut it fine.”
The former Radio One DJ moved to Henley 18 months ago. He was planning to move back to Surrey where he grew up, but decided to opt for Henley because he has many friends already living here and because of the town’s close proximity to London. But in that short time he has already become very much part of the local scene. Hardly had he got his feet under his newly-installed coffee table before he got a knock on the door from film producer Ed Simons, a neighbour and chairman of the trustees at the Kenton Theatre, inviting him to host a fund-raising music night, which takes place this Sunday.
“Ed and I knew each other in the business but obviously I’ve got to know him a bit better since living across the river from him,” he says. “He asked me if I would do the show. The Kenton is a great venue, so I said yes.”
But when asked what the order of play is for Sunday he shrugs and says: “I’m going to wander on stage and we’ll see what happens, it’s generally best.”
Within half an hour of chatting it’s clear, though, that Mike Read’s easy-come, easy-go persona is only half the truth. He is charming and chatty, but in fact he also is quite a grafter, and admits that the previous day, for his radio show, he had spent three hours at Reading Museum doing research.
Take this Sunday. The event is called Mike Read’s Anything Can Happen Night and he claims he’s just going to rock up, pick up his guitar and play a few tunes to open the show before introducing the guests. He says he doesn’t yet know what he’ll sing or if anyone else will be playing with him, saying: “If someone wants to join in, great!” But actually he has put quite a lot of work into preparing the show. It was he who organised the line-up, including old friends from his days at Radio One, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, whose best-known hit was I’m The Urban Spaceman, and the Jive Aces, a swing and jump-jive band he has worked with on several occasions and whom he calls “infectious”.
Another of the guests is veteran songwriter Barry Mason, whom he describes as “one of our most successful songwriters ever”. Among his greatest hits are Delilah made famous by Tom Jones, and The Last Waltz. Mason is a friend who goes back even further.
“He used to live near me in Surrey when I was in my twenties,” said Read. “So one day I went and knocked on his door. I told him I was a local lad writing songs and he said to come in, and made me a sandwich. He looked at my stuff and said, ‘You write good songs! Come back next week and we will record them.’
“I had been writing songs since I was at school, but you need that inspiration, someone already very successful to say, ‘these are good’. The wonderful denouement to that story is that a few years later I was able to invite him on to Pop Quiz, and he said, ‘Here you are inviting me on to your Saturday night programme. I knew you would do it.’
“He was so helpful to me as a young songwriter, and that set the benchmark for me and other people.”
Read had always wanted to be a songwriter and musician — in fact he still plays guitar every day and regularly writes new songs — but he has made his name as a radio DJ, and started life on Radio 210 in Reading in March 1976 with Steve Wright, on The Read And Wright Show.
He says: “There were not that many radio stations in those days, so all sorts of big names would drop in. David Cassidy would fly into Heathrow and then come over to do an interview. We had Queen in the studio. Marc Bolan would drop in with his guitar and play a few tunes and jingles on his guitar, and now I think, ‘Why didn’t I record them?’”
Not long after moving to Henley he got a call from BBC Radio Berkshire to present the weekday afternoon show, and says he’s loving it.
“It’s great fun, it’s so varied with interviews and stuff. Recently I did a series of shows on the towpath from Wallingford to Windsor, and had all sorts of people joining me — Sir Steve Redgrave and Uri Geller — and we did a bit of the towpath each day and talked about what we saw along the way, Agatha Christie’s house and so forth.”
As well as being a DJ and songwriter, he has also written 36 books and various musicals, and is involved in a number of charities, including English Heritage’s blue plaque scheme in London.
He says: “There are 36 hours in a day, you know. I’m very lucky that I enjoy all the things I do. I get up in the morning and look forward to whatever I’m doing that day.”
On Tuesday, the things he had to look forward to were Nicholas Parsons’ 90th birthday party in Portman Square, and — naturally — Sunday’s big bash at the Kenton.
“We will make it a fun party night,” he said.
lMike Read’s Anything Can Happen Night is at the Kenton Theatre on Sunday, October 13 starting with a drinks reception at 7pm with canapés provided by the Crooked Billet. The full line-up includes the Jive Aces, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band All Stars, Mike Hurst, Luke Upton, Barry Mason and Rebecca Poole. For tickets visit www.kentontheatre.co.uk or call (01491) 575698. Proceeds will go to the Chiltern Centre for disabled children and Kenton for Keeps campaign.