As Ken Bruce’s Chart Hits, conducted by orchestral supremo David Arnold, gets set to wow audiences in Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow, the veteran DJ reveals why his love of music is as passionate as ever. 

In the current celebrity-obsessed culture, there are a fair few people known by a face rather than what they actually do . . . if they actually do anything. It is comforting, therefore, to know that a familiar voice on the radio can still connect with millions of people on a daily basis – a warm and friendly presence relying only on a talent for communication.

The reaction to Ken Bruce leaving his morning slot on Radio 2 and joining Greatest Hits Radio was an example of this – and how we can regard favourite presenters as friends.  Ken Bruce also has a genuine and deep love of music of all genres and all eras, as well as an extensive knowledge, and this makes him the ideal presenter for this month’s RSNO concerts of pop hits. Ken Bruce’s Chart Hits, under the baton of David Arnold, comes to Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow and offers a selection of huge pop hits, from the Rolling Stones and Queen to Coldplay and Take That through to Lewis Capaldi and Dua Lipa.

“We’ve done a couple of these concerts before,” says Ken. “The songs chosen are slightly different this time, but David Arnold’s orchestrations are breathtaking. I am consulted up to a point but I tend to leave it to the expert. I bow to his superior knowledge as he always knows which pop songs will work with an orchestra.”

Ken adds that there are arrangements that don’t reproduce the sound of the record. “There are a few surprises: arrangements that are completely different in style. A familiar song but perhaps in a different tempo. What it does show is just how well written all of these songs are.”

If anyone should be able to judge the quality of a pop song, it’s Ken Bruce. He will at some point have played every song featured on his long-running Radio 2 show.  Now 72, he has been a music fan since his boyhood days in Glasgow, where he attended Hutcheson’s Grammar before working as an accountant for a couple of years. “I’ve been listening to the radio all my life – and music of all types. When I was young you didn’t hear that much pop music on the radio. There was quite a lot of orchestral music. So to have these two blended together in these concerts is a beautiful thing.”

The experience of how music is heard is important, too, he says. His first concert was Gerry and the Pacemakers and, while it wasn’t the most rock ‘n’ roll gig ever, it gave him the flavour of how dynamic the live music experience can be. As a young teenager at the birth of The Beatles, he was also shaped by the explosion of music being made for young people by young people.
“I hear music in the most amazing way, every day,” Ken adds. “The studio speakers are just incredible and allow you to hear music in the most incredible way. 

“But nothing could ever beat the thrill of listening to Radio Luxembourg on a crackly transistor radio. The kind of music that was coming out then was very exciting and raw and being made by just a few people, with no great studio tricks. 
“The energy was something else.”

Ken’s own journey to broadcasting began with hospital radio, which he believes is still great training.  “It’s not only experience behind a microphone but it’s getting to know an audience and how best to provide what they need.”
Since 2018 he has been patron of Stoke Mandeville Hospital Radio and champions hospital radio all across the country.

Ken was part of the BBC Radio Scotland launch team in 1978 after working for the Radio 4 Scottish Home Service. He credits Ray Moore in particular as a great radio mentor and inspiration but also, of course, learned a great deal from working along Terry Wogan for many years.
Like all broadcasters who work across decades, Ken has had to embrace multiple generations of new performers, but even for those music fans who don’t know their George Michael from George Ezra, the songs will be recognisable to the audience.

“There’s a place for everything,” says Ken. “No matter what era a song is from, no matter what style of music it is, if it’s good it’s good. You should never have a closed mind about music. That’s what has kept the job so enjoyable for me for so long.”

Ken adds that the biggest lesson he learned from Moore and Wogan was to be yourself and not to make it too much of a performance.  “That appeals to people much more. Radio isn’t an intrusive medium, but someone is there in the corner of the room. That’s why it works so well; it’s a very natural form of communication. I think it has a great future.”

Ken’s future was definitely assured with the highly publicised move to Greatest Hits Radio – a move that not only seemed to take the majority of his audience but the phenomenon of Popmaster.

“It’s quite amazing how people have responded to it over the years. It was also really pleasing that so many people made the move with me over to Greatest Hits Radio. Again, it’s back to what we were saying about hospital radio. Knowing an audience and being a real person in presenting that to them.”

The move to BBC in London means that Ken has been far from his home country for many decades, even though he’s maintained a certain Scottish lilt. “I do get back when I can. Two weeks ago we spent family time in the Highlands and, although I won’t have much time, it will be good to be in three cities for this tour.  I do miss Scotland; it’s still the biggest part of me.”

The RSNO present Ken Bruce’s Chart Hits is at Caird Hall, Dundee, Thursday December 14, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Friday 15, and Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Saturday 16.

Here is sneak peek of the chart hits that the RSNO will perform in Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh

Coldplay Viva La Vida
Take That Shine
Pet Shop Boys It’s a Sin
Bonnie Tyler Total Eclipse of the Heart
Adele Make You Feel My Love 
Stormzy Blinded by Your Grace (Part 2)
Lewis Capaldi Someone You Loved
Sam Smith Writing’s on the Wall
George Ezra Budapest
Deep Purple Smoke On The Water
Kiki Dee & Elton John  Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 
McFly Lies
Tom Jones It’s Not Unusual
One Direction What Makes  You Beautiful
Ed Sheeran Shape Of You
Rolling Stones Paint It Black
Ellie Goulding Love Me Like You Do
Jess Glynne Rather Be
Dua Lipa New Rules
Queen Bohemian Rhapsody
Queen We are the Champions