You can smell the vinyl when Bob Harris walks in. It doesn't matter that he’s been a bit delayed by roadworks somewhere. The warmth and nostalgia is immediately infectious.
Actually, the nostalgia all comes from the audience. Even though ‘Whispering’ Bob is of the same certain age as most of the little crowd gathered in Blackwell’s Norrington Room, he’s still forthright in his championing of new musical talent.
But he’s not averse to reminiscence – he’s here to promote his book, after all – and he charms us for an hour with stories from an enviable career. Not all come from Still Whispering After All These Years, his second volume of autobiography. But every one of them is recounted with the engaging self-deprecation that has secured his place in the affections of music fans.
The conversation is hosted by David Freeman, who worked with Harris at BBC Radio Oxford and still champions jazz and blues with programmes on Jazz FM and The Wireless. He has the rare quality of letting his interviewee speak, gently coaxing the tales along without intruding.
Not that Bob Harris needs coaxing. He’s eloquent, funny and forthright, recalling a toe-curlingly difficult encounter with a monosyllabic Van Morrison, and an alarmingly cocaine-drenched after-broadcast party with Keith Richards.
He’s also very frank and touching on the subject of his cancer and some of the more difficult periods of his career. Gentle whisperer he may be; timid and acquiescent he most certainly is not.
But if anything defines what Bob Harris is all about, and what he represents, it’s his uttering of a single, evocative word: record. Not because music is not sold on records anymore (even vinyl albums are called vinyl, not records), but because he pronounces it “rec-ud”, the way proper DJs always used to pronounce it.
As those velvet tones discuss the Duane Eddy “rec-uds” he collected, you can feel the likes of Stuart Henry, Dave Cash, Kenny Everett, and the mighty Alan Freeman all chiming in from that great Pirate Radio ship in the sky.
Those were the days. And while Bob Harris and David Freeman are broadcasting, they still are.