What would my 14-year-old self say? My most recent Saturday ‘big night out’ was spent with a 50-something gent at a 50th birthday party, with a playlist solely supplied by BBC Radio 2. But this was a special party: the 50th year of the nation’s broadcasting favourite, which launched September 30, 1967. 

My musical tastes evolved from Radio 1 straight to 6Music. Of late, however, the Radio 2 Saturday night slots have begun to pique my interest. Now these funk, soul and disco shows – Trevor Nelson’s Rhythm Nation, The Craig Charles House Party and Ana Matronic’s Disco Devotion – have transferred to the Manchester Apollo and are accompanied by a host of live acts. I’ve been a fan of Nelson since his Kiss FM days, Charles is a legend with an extensive knowledge of funk and soul music, and I’ve seen Matronic in her previous incarnation as one half of the Scissor Sisters, so I was looking forward to what they had lined up for us during the six-hour bash.

Trevor Nelson, image credit BBCThe evening kicks off with VIP guests being escorted to a drinks reception by golf carts before joining Nelson for his show. His set covers all types of soul music and – as his special guests – he invited longtime friend Jazzy B with his group Soul II Soul. As it turns out, they are celebrating nearly three decades together, which means it’s around 28 years ago that my friend Vanessa and I went into Footprintz record shop in Finsbury Park and tried to sing the chorus of one of Soul II Soul’s tunes to the guy behind the counter. For such a special occasion, a Soul II Soul performance wouldn’t have been complete without the presence of Caron Wheeler. They played all the hits, transporting me back to being 16 again. Nelson’s next guests were 80s disco act Shalimar who managed to get my date up and dancing.

The Apollo was full by the time Charles took to the stage just after 10pm. He’d invited his Fantasy Funk Band along which – just for tonight – features Omar, Lisa Stansfield (sadly, I managed to miss her while in a lengthy queue or the bar), the amazingly-smooth Shaun Escoffrey, and finally one half of North East’s finest, John Turrell from Smoove. Charles’ set ends with everyone singing a massive Happy Birthday (the MLK version) sing-a-long. Matronic begins her set just after midnight, with tracks chosen exclusively from 1979, and she was joined by M-People percussionist Shovell on the drums. His energetic bongo playing perfectly complimented some of those extended disco tracks, and at times Matronic was so carried away with the music she forgot she was actually DJ-ing.

I’m afraid we didn’t make it to the 2am finish – that’s way past Mr 50-something’s bedtime – but we had an exciting evening. Getting to see a radio show behind the scenes was a real treat. The BBC technical team managed to go from DJ set to concert venue several times over and with great ease. I urge you all to download the shows. They’re available on the BBC website for the next month and well worth a listen.

By Michelle Nicholson

(Main image: Radio 2 All Star Party, BBC)