As part of his ‘No Off Switch’ book tour of the UK, Andy popped to the Dorchester Festival. I say ‘popped’ as I cannot imagine Andy doing anything other than popping about. His enthusiastic but manic demeanour suggests somebody who has been on the go for so long that he has forgotten what it is like to be still. As he detailed his life so far I did wonder how he managed to sit still long enough to actually write about it. So who is or was he? Broadcaster! Journalist! Raconteur! Pioneer! Global traveller! Billy Bragg’s driver! Leeds University student union entertainment secretary! Liz Kershaw’s brother! However, what I suspect most people will want to discuss (even if they lack the courage or the opportunity) will be the 12 years spent sharing an office with the irrepressible John Peel.
The evening was organised around a busy festival schedule and Andy’s nicotine fix (Marlboro if you want specifics). Andy delegated a man in the front row as time keeper and later ‘Buster’ minder (Andy’s dog). From a musical perspective the audience were treated first to some of the songs forgotten at the time of his preparation for his appearance on Desert Island Discs (hosted by Kirsty Young in 2007). This included ‘Promised Land. Things I Used To Do’ by Chuck Berry which in less than three minutes takes us around the southern states and the mid west of America. This continued into the four moments in his life when he genuinely thought ‘what the **** is that?’ These included the first hearing of Bob Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ in 1972 and his introduction to the Bhundu Boys ,whilst sat opposite John Peel, in 1986.
Andy had chosen the university he intended to attend off the back of seeing The Who at Leeds University in 1970. This gig was later to become ‘The Who: Live in Leeds’ album. Amongst his favourite gigs of all time was The Clash (again at Leeds Uny), on the London Calling tour of 1980. In his words they had never been so good before and were never as good again. The original line up fell apart just over two years later. He followed this by becoming Billy Bragg’s driver; delivering him to the venues whilst introducing him to folk, including Woody Guthrie. Apparently Billy had not been that enamoured in those days and ‘Mermaid Avenue’ was certainly an unforseen forthcoming event. It was at this time that Andy asked rather cheekily, and certainly rhetorically, ‘where is Billy, he lives close by doesn’t he? He could have come along to support me.’ He then became a presenter on The Whistle Test on BBC2 – one of the greatest music programmes made by mainstream television, in my very humble opinion; lost his outside broadcast virginity at Live Aid; teamed up with the two John’s: Peely and Walters; and opened up on his Radio 3 debut with ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ by The Ramones.
As wonderfully engaging as all this was the most emotional moment was the telling of the story of the meeting with the soul singer James Carr who all but disappeared from the musical soul scene after 1969. When he met up with Andy in the late 1980’s, James could not even afford to purchase his own recordings. Andy having rang around to at least eight ‘J Carr’s’ in the telephone book, from his hotel room, to find him had to pay for the taxi as James did not have enough money. Another would be legend became simply a footnote of history because of the debris of poverty .
We then had a whistle stop tour through the deprivation, genocide and oppression of the Persian Gulf; Haiti; Rwanda and North Korea. Then time ran out and we were moved in to another room for the book signings that followed his obligatory cigarette. The open demeanour continued, as apart from the constraints of time, people queued and conversed. Then it was over. I bought the book so I must have been impressed. I don’t part with £15 easily so thanks Andy and please come again.