I had a free hand in choosing music – Zimbabwe was overflowing with bands

A bluffer’s guide to Andy Kershaw on his website offers a wealth of information about this iconic broadcaster’s eventful career.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 21st October 2013, 2:20 pm
In the shadow of giants. On stage at the Hay on Wye Literary Festival, June 2012
In the shadow of giants. On stage at the Hay on Wye Literary Festival, June 2012

The 53-year-old has seen his fair share of dramas and TV, radio and print firsts, many of those covered in acclaimed autobiography No Off Switch.

It’s been a full-throttle career for a motorbike-mad Rochdale lad, set to give a glimpse into his hectic on and off days in The Adventures of Andy Kershaw at The Continental in Preston.

Andy’s appearance follows a series of Tuff Life Boogie dates at the venue to mark the anniversary of the death of his close friend, revered DJ John Peel.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

And from his days promoting gigs at Leeds Uni to time as a driver and roadie for Billy Bragg and his TV presenting break on Whistle Test then Live Aid in 1985, it’s been a busy life for this music enthusiast.

He also worked for The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, and has amassed a record collection weighing more than seven tons, now being re-located to his home in Todmorden, not far from his Lancs roots.

“The CDs are here, the vinyl’s in storage until I get the shelving done, a work in progress.

“There’s a huge book collection too. CDs alone cover two walls floor to ceiling in my office.”

So why Todmorden? “I’m in a lucky position, able to live anywhere, determined only by price. This fulfilled 100% of what I was looking for... and was also a steal.

“But I didn’t need a kitchen sink ‘60s drama set to get back to my Northern roots.”

Andy has become a world-roving reporter in recent years, including on-the-spot news reporting from Haiti, North Korea and Thailand’s Red Shirt Revolution.

But he’s as happy doing one-man shows in the UK, including his Conti date.

“I feel an affinity with Bob Dylan, on a never-ending tour. If anyone wants me to do a show at a literary festival, small theatre or arts centre, we agree terms then I just go and do it.

“Unless it’s Devon and Cornwall or Edinburgh, I can do a gig and drive home at night on quiet motorways.

“I’ve also realised in the last 12 months the ubiquity of things like Facebook. It’s wonderful, I no longer need a booking agent!

“People pop up and leave messages asking if I’d do a gig. It’s wonderful.”

Andy’s website suggests he’s visited 97 of 194 countries, his love of World Music and compulsion to cover breaking stories taking him to new horizons.

“The roots of everything, whether the music or war reporting, is journalism – if there’s a good story, something I find fascinating and want to immerse myself in.”

One of the first examples were found in Kershaw’s championing of various African bands during is spell on Radio One in the 1980s, not least Zimbabwe.

He added: “That was irresistible, the music there at the end of the 1980s was especially brilliant.

“It was the honeymoon period following independence, with Zimbabwe over-flowing with world-class bands.”

Did he ever think growing up he might end up on Radio 1, let alone 3 or 4?

“The extraordinary thing was I had a free hand to choose my music.

“Very few on Radio 1 had that freedom.

“I became a Radio 1 DJ without ambitions to become one, and as far as I know I’m the only one in the station’s history who can claim that distinction.

“I was already presenting Whistle Test when Radio 1 offered a programme.

“As a kid in Rochdale you didn’t think those sort of things were possible. It was a series of happy accidents.”

As his show at the Continental follows its Un-Peeled series, I ask about two late broadcasters that shaped his on-air career, John Peel and John Walters.

“They were more than just colleagues, they were like soul brothers, almost like family, especially Walters, who took if not a paternal, an avuncular attitude towards me.

“He wasn’t just my protector, he safeguarded the Peel and Kershaw programmes, justifying them to the BBC.

“In all aspects he was a great source of wisdom and guidance, an amazing man.

“And Peel broadened my musical tastes and horizons.

“I learned so much – sub-consciously – listening to him. One of the great naturals of broadcasting.”

That Radio 1 era has since come under the microscope through the Jimmy Savile investigations, something that led Kershaw to hit out.

“I reached a point of exasperation with a lot of the nonsense and lies people in the media were spewing about Savile, rewriting history and their own part in that history.

“Almost as soon as I arrived at Radio 1 in 1985, Walters told me to steer clear of Savile. It was widely known. not just at the BBC but all over the media and throughout showbiz circles, that Savile was a wrong ‘un.”

For many, the revamped Whistle Test offered a first sight of Andy, who was quick to play up its importance.

“This, along with Peel on the radio, was formative in shaping my taste, introducing me to so many artists I wouldn’t have known.

“In the ‘70s, with Bob Harris presenting, that was the only place!

“There wasn’t a proliferation of music programmes and TV channels.

“I was introduced to so many artists and with many formed life-long relationships, like Little Feat, Kevin Coyne, Rory Gallagher, Bob Marley and the Wailers.”

He’s not so complimentary about today’s equivalent, adding: “What they did was re-invent Whistle Test, give it a presenter, a studio audience and call it Later with Jools Holland.

“There’s room out there to bring back Whistle Test. There’s still an appetite and demand.”

Andy has more Sony Awards than any other broadcaster, but of his accolades, he is keener to trumpet the praise received for his autobiography, not least from his own heroes, like Stephen Fry.

He added: “The things Stephen said, I thought by God, because I’m as huge admirer, he’s been making me laugh like a drain for more than 30 years.

“Then from the rock’n’roll world, Pete Townshend, and from the foreign correspondents’ world, to have Fergal Keane say such kind things, and Dame Ann Leslie, for whom I’ve huge admiration.

“I’ve worked in the field with Ann in a difficult place like Haiti, she’s the goddess of foreign correspondents. So that means the world.”

One hero he won’t be catching up with during his forthcoming UK tour is Bob Dylan, adding: “The proper time to see him was in 1966, and I was too young then.

“I went to see him in 1978, and I’ve tried several times since.

“He was absolutely dreadful, beyond self-parody, like watching someone who finished eighth in an ‘impersonate Dylan’ competition.

“It’s one of my great regrets that I wasn’t old enough to see him in ’66. If I were able to travel back in history, I would see him on that electric tour with his band, at the peak of his powers.”

Andy remains forthright on many subjects, including Courtney Love after his blind date with the rock star and actress many years ago.

He also turned down a chance to feature in I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, and added: “I didn’t even know what it was.

“The kids had to tell me.

“When I turned it down they were absolutely astonished.

“I don’t think they were accustomed to people saying, ‘I’m not even interested in being in your crappy television programme’.”

So is life back on track again after his well-documented bad times, the dad of two imprisoned in 2007 in relation to family matters.

“Yes, of course. Self-evidently I’m reporting regularly for the One Show, written a well-received autobiography ...

“I might add, none of that scandalous stuff would have happened in the UK.

“My crime was to want to see my children.

“Oh, and by the way, my children wanted to see their Dad.”

And will he be nervous before his Preston show?

“No. I enjoy them.

“Almost by definition of people coming along, I’m among friends and supporters. I love just going out there and giving them a good time, regaling them with a few robust anecdotes.”

Tickets for The Adventures of Andy Kershaw, including a live set from ‘80s Glasgow garage rockers The Primevals, are priced £10 from various outlets. For details go to http://www.newcontinental.net/