'Whispering' Bob Harris this weekend celebrating his 70th birthday with an all-day music festival pulling together new talent and and established stars. He tells Tim Hughes how it came about

HE has partied with many of the biggest names in rock, and is revered as a music icon everywhere from here to Nashville, but today Bob Harris is doing what he enjoys most, in the place he loves best.

"I am in my home studio, going through old recordings," he says, sat at the mixing desk of his Steventon HQ – an Aladdin's cave of CDs, vinyl and mementos of his decades-long career.

"It would have been the 80th birthday of Buddy Holly, so I am exploring some of his old tapes for a show we are doing for Radio 2," he purrs in that trademark mellifluous tone, which earned him the sobriquet 'Whispering' Bob.

"I have always loved Buddy Holly. He was professional for less than two years but what he did was incredible. It's intriguing to think that he had the potential to become one of the world's great songwriters," says, Bob. "He sort of was anyway. "

Bob, the face – and voice – of The Old Grey Whistle Test, pioneered serious music broadcasting in the 1970s, and has lived a life replete with more hair-raising exploits than the actual rock stars he presented.

He has hung out with John Lennon, George Harrison, Marc Bolan and Led Zeppelin, and talks candidly of crazy nights with Arthur Brown (during which the wild man torched his own hair), singing backing vocals for Bowie, a confrontation with the Sex Pistols, getting spiked with LSD while watching Bob Marley with Alexis Korner, searching for reclusive Beach Boy Brian Wilson in California and touring America with Queen.

Awarded an OBE in 2011 for services to music broadcasting, Bob has more recently become a darling of the Nashville country music scene, and is respected as much as a national treasure in Tennessee as he is over here.

Earlier this year Bob celebrated his 70th birthday, and, as you might expect from a man with an untouchable rock pedigree, he decided to celebrate in style.

He came up with the idea of staging a music festival for 35,000 people, majoring in roots, country and Americana, and taking place over three days in the Northamptonshire countryside near Silverstone.

Sadly the festival didn't come off, Bob admitting it was a bit ambitious, but a replacement bash, taking place at the stunning Cadogan Hall, in London's Kings Road, will spring into life on Saturday, becoming the first of what he hopes is a series of events at the Chelsea venue.

Called Under the Apple Tree – in tribute to the home studio from which he compiles his radio shows – it features a glittering bill of country talent, with sets by Patty Griffin, Ward Thomas, Dan Bettridge, Lewis & Leigh, Sunderland's The Lake Poets, Welsh singer Judith Owen, Andrew Combs, Squeeze’s Chris Difford with Boo Hewerdine, and Scott Matthews.

"We were disappointed the festival didn't happen," he says. "We hoped it would all burst into life, but, on reflection, it's safe to say we were slightly over-ambitious.

"With three days, four stages and 'millions' of artists we were asking a lot quite frankly. What we want is something we will gradually build up to – so we have distilled three days into one, with two stages and an amazing bill of artists."

And who is he looking forward to? "Everybody," he chuckles. "Parry Griffin is flying especially and doing this exclusive show for us, which is wonderful. She is amazing, as we know.

"Then we have Ward Thomas, who could not be hotter right now."

He is right. The 22-year-old twin sisters, Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas, are set to see their second album Cartwheels steam to the top of the charts.

Bob says: "Their album is going to be a smash, no doubt about it. We are catching them at exactly the right time."

Of course, the biggest name there will be Bob himself, and he will be there meeting fans, selling bottles of his own Whispering Bob IPA and signing copies of his autobiography Still Whispering After All These Years. He will be joined by his wife Trudie, and their videographer son Miles, who both help run Bob's Whispering Bob Broadcasting Company – a boutique production house based, at their Under the Apple Tree studio.

"I want to meet everyone," he says. "It is going to be a really interesting day.

"The building itself really lends itself to this kind of event. It's lovely there. There are some venues where music is crowbarred in and others which are made for it – and Cadogan Hall is a natural home for what we are doing. And it couldn't be easier to get to."

He goes on: "We'd like to do this on a fairly regular basis, maybe with concerts every couple of months for three or four artists. But obviously we want to see how the first one goes.

"Being a concert promoter is slightly stressful and scary. You are always looking at the numbers and hoping everything will add up. At first we were biting our fingers worrying whether everything would be okay, but it has picked up nicely and we are looking forward to having nearly a full house.

"I am looking forward to this. This is what I wanted to do and I love it."

Any they plan to party. He says: "The first festival would have been closer to my birthday, in April, but it is still my birthday year – so let's celebrate!"

Under the Apple Tree , Cadogan Hall, Chelsea, on Saturday. Tickets £45 from undertheappletreefestival.com