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Photography by Katie O'Neill and Grace Schofield

Karen Gabay is a journalist, TV producer and podcast host. Karen’s producer credits include the iconic BBC Four series Black Legends of America, BBC2’s How Bob Marley Changed Britain, ITV’s The Nation's Favourite Motown SongsThe Nation’s Favourite Beatles Songs and The Story of Stock, Aitken & Waterman. She has also worked on a number of landmark series including, I Love 70s/80s and the iconic Queens of Disco. Her work often leads to collaborations with musicians, producers and creators of global significance.

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Karen is a radio host presenting one of the BBC’s longest running radio shows, BBC Radio Manchester's The People and has interviewed a diverse range of guests from the world of music, film, arts, beauty and politics including Lauryn Hill; Mark Ronson; Gregory Porter; Amy Winehouse; Bobbi Brown; Bethann Hardison and Brandy; Rowetta; Shaggy and Neville and Doreen Lawrence. She has also reported for Kiss FM, WWNO & NPR, Radio1 and Radio 5 Live, and the World Service.

Karen Gabay at the old BBC Radio Manchester studio on Oxford Road, Manchester.jpg

Karen at the old BBC Radio Manchester studio on Oxford Road, Manchester

Karen interviewing US based music academic Prof. Mike Alleyne at the Purple Reign Conferen

Karen interviewing US based music academic Prof. Mike Alleyne at the Purple Reign Conference.

Karen with The Hitmaker Nile Rodgers of Chic at Abbey Road Studios, 2019.jpg

Karen with The Hitmaker Nile Rodgers of Chic at Abbey Road Studios, 2019

Karen is an award winning filmmaker and curator specialising in music and popular culture - Manchester histories and Caribbean histories. She has also created and curated exhibitions on Disabled Living, Manchester’s Belle Vue, Strawberry Studios and North American artist Emory Douglas of the Black Panther movement.

Karen is passionate about profiling women in music, encouraging opportunities for children's accessibility to music education and eradicating racism in football. Her broadcasting work in this area led to the introduction of 'The Rooney Rule' in the UK as a direct result to Karen's work with US lawyer Cyrus Mehir.

In January 2022, Karen was invited to become a member of the Greater Manchester Music Commission, championing music and arts throughout the city. The initiative was launched by Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA).

THE SHOOT: 02 Apollo Manchester & Apsley Cottage Pub

The theatre, stage door and the pub nextdoor where as a teenager Karen met the visiting artists and discovered a passion for popular music and  music culture


Q & A with Karen Gabay

Q: Where were you born and where were you raised?

A: Born in London, raised in Longsight and Stretford.

Q: Which High School did you attend?


A: Whalley Range High School for Girls for two years and then Stretford Grammar.

Q: Can you give an insight into the work you do?


A: I have worked on landmark radio and TV shows including working on pop culture TV documentaries, popular Radio 2 music series with Denise Williams, Music documentaries on disco, girl groups, Bob Marley, Janet Jackson and also worked on royal documentaries. I have been a music journalist for Kiss FM and a presenter and producer of a weekly BBC show focusing on social affairs, music film and arts. I have interviewed a wide range of personalities including John Boyega, Wunmi Mosaku, Tori Amos, Will I Am, Lionel Richie, JP Cooper and Amy Winehouse. I have conducted interviews with Doreen and Neville Lawrence, fashion designer Ozwald Boateng and Prime Ministers and Presidents of the Caribbean - such a huge range of people from all walks of life.

Also I am passionate about music and social history in Manchester and so from 2010 I have produced my own short films on the area in collaboration with local archives, and I have also curated for exhibitions on Manchester Histories, Urbis, Stockport Galleries. I love to investigate and document untold stories

Q: You chose the Manchester Apollo as your special place for the photography... can you explain why?

A: I have always been a real music fan and loved all kinds of music. As a teenager I would try to sneak a peek of bands inside the Apollo so I could say hello or just observe what was going on. Funnily enough I did buy tickets to get in, so it wouldn't be about going in for free. I met too many to mention - meeting Culture Club is a strong memory, although I have interviewed the guys a few time since then. Also I saw so many great indie and reggae bands. 

Q: How did these experiences at the Apollo affect/influence your subsequent career in music and music culture?


A: I love the feeling of being around live music from sound checks to the live performance, and also I knew I always struck up a great rapport with artists as I would often be asked to sit and chat with band members and one day I just felt that I had the knowledge to make my music knowledge a career, Although I come from a family that has successful musicians in its midst, actually reporting on music and working within the industry wasn't an option and one day I just thought why not!

Q: When did you first broadcast on Radio? And how long has your show on BBC Radio Manchester been running?

A: I first broadcast on Radio in the early 90s although I made my first TV appearance as a 5 year old and have been broadcasting on Radio Manchester since the early 90s. I have co-presented The People since that time and during lockdown I have been presenting the show. I have reported for 5 Live, Radio 1, Radio 2 and worked for all 5 UK channels and Netflix.

Student reflection: Grace Schofield


This was my first Greater Mancunians shoot and l have to admit I was a bit nervous. I needn’t have been because Karen was easy to work with. She knew how to pose and her colourful clothes made it a great photoshoot. The Apollo is such an important location for Karen and it made a great backdrop for the photos. 

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Grace in action

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Katie, Karen & Grace

I had to make sure I adjusted my camera settings as the light changed as we moved around the outside of the theatre. I am glad I accepted this photography challenge and in my opinion my final work came out really well… in particular I love how the bright colours Karen was wearing, the dark backgrounds and the diffused lighting came together to produce some great pictures.

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