Small pleasures. People who know me will probably say that’s just the way the cookie crumbles and I should make the best of it. But I prefer to ignore their mocking and explain that what I mean is the pleasure memories give us. Yes, the epic nights out, spectacularly successes, unforeseen laughs – they are all recalled with fondness and affection but, and maybe this is an age-thing, I find myself lingering more often on moments which, at the time, often appeared insignificant.
One of those moments, or more accurately, series of moments, involves Thursday evenings during the late eighties and early nineties, and didn’t really involve me at all. With the instant access to music and information that the interweb now gifts us, it’s easy to forget just how difficult it was to hear good music on the airwaves. By good I mean, non-chart, non-commercial, non-Radio 1 playlist. My musical tastes had been moulded by the album orientated Radio Caroline and then, following its merger with Radio Mi-Amigo, Caroline Overdrive with its heady mix of American new-wave and post-punk oddities (I can’t be the only one who remembers the Mutant Surf Punks album, Hang 11, can I?). On the mainland decent listening involved lots of dial twiddling. Orwell’s Headbangers’ Ball was a good listen (what happened to that young DJ? He showed some promise.) and whatever show Johnny Walker was presenting, whether for GLR or Radio 1, usually had something to recommend it. And then, of course there was Peelie. Whilst JP tends to be remembered for playing punk when no one else would touch it, it is his later shows shows, when his eclectic tastes would mean The Four Brothers’ Uchandifunga could be followed by Dreadzone’s Fight The Power, without it seeming at all peculiar, which I remember most fondly.
And Peel led to Kershaw. Back then Andy Kershaw presented the two hours prior to Peel’s show on a Thursday night and those hours, particularly the hand-over when one show would gradually drift into the other over the course of forty minutes or so, sit strong in my memory. Small pleasures – but great memories. In truth, and I know I am close to committing heresy here, I preferred Kershaw’s show to Peelie’s, although this was in the days before AK became obsessed with World Music and his playlist was full of obscure old blues and alt-country crossovers.
Whilst his profile may not be quite as prominent nowadays Andy Kershaw is still active as a journalist and broadcaster. I saw him approximately three years ago when he appeared in Ipswich as part of the book festival, publicising his auto-biography, No Off Switch. It was a highly entertaining and enlightening evening, which did not shy away from addressing some of the less savoury moments of his life – not least with his well-publicised spell inside for breaking a restraining order regarding his ex-partner. Kershaw certainly has his demons, the drink and mental illness not being the least of them, but it appears that he is winning his battles with them.
His involvement with music commenced as Entertainments Secretary for Leeds University where the bands he booked included The Clash, Ian Dury, Elvis Costello and Dire Straits. He also helped organise the Rolling Stones concert at Roundhay Park in Leeds and, after his first – short – stint as a broadcaster, famously became Billy Bragg’s roadie and driver – a job which led directly to him becoming a presenter on the Old Grey Whistle Test. Presenting at Live Aid and his hiring by Radio 1 followed, with his placing in room 318 of Egerton House with Peel and Walters, becoming a fulcrum moment in his life.
Andy recounted all of these events with eye-watering candidness when I saw him but it was the stories from his radio journalism in some of the world’s trouble-spots which were the unexpected highlight. The Angolan civil war, Rwandan genocide, and Red-Shirt Revolution in Thailand all appear on Kershaw’s broadcast CV, as well as the accolade of being the person who tracked down the man who shouted “Judas” when Bob Dylan picked up his electric guitar in 1966.
Andy Kershaw brings his audio-visual prensentation, Adventures With Andy Kershaw, to The Apex on September 4th with tickets priced at a reasonable £13. It will undoubtedly be an enjoyable evening, and one full of highlights. His memory is certainly spot on as I found out in Ipswich. Approaching him afterwards with a mate who wanted to get his book signed I asked him if he could remember a tune he’d played on his show which my friend and I had played endlessly on a tape we’d made. “It was about a guy who picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be Jesus and ends with the line ‘The Lord moves in mysterious ways and…”
“Tonight son, he’s going to use your car! – Give Me a Ride to Heaven Boy, Terry Allen and the Panhandle Mystery Band.” Kershaw exclaimed with genuine glee before I’d finished. A small pleasure, and a great memory.
His full-tilt approach to life has probably gained Andy Kershaw as many detractors as it has fans but my guess would be that he would quote John Walters’ motto as justification “We’re not here to give the public what it wants, we’re here to give it what it didn’t know it wanted.” The Adventures of Andy Kershaw fits that maxime perfectly.
[box type=”info” align=”” class=”” width=””]Andy Kershaw is at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds on Sunday 4th September. Click here for tickets.[/box]