Twitter brought me the very welcome news last week that Andy Kershaw is making a return to music broadcasting, via a fortnightly podcast series – ‘AK Plays Some Bloody Great Records’ – produced in conjunction with ‘Songlines’ magazine as media partner and released to his website as well as, soon, at all the usual podcast sources. Following Nos. 3 and 4 in ‘The Kershaw Tapes’ in Radio 3’s ‘Sunday Feature’ series, showcasing Kershaw’s legendary field recordings, and broadcast earlier this month, this is AK not just dipping his toe back in the broadcasting water but making quite a bit of a splash in it.
Kershaw’s programmes on Radio 1 in the 1980s and 1990s did more to shape my musical tastes, and purchases, and gig attendances, than probably any other DJ. I heard his first show, a one-hour slot early one Saturday evening in 1985, when I knew him as Billy Bragg’s driver/tour manager/roadie and whose programmes were, by association therefore, likely to be well worth a listen. Apart from a fascination with Paisley Underground psychedelia in the early days – there was a time when Rain Parade and Green on Red seemed to be on every week – he’s never let me down whether it be with sparkling African guitars and rhythms, downhome Cajun stompers, soul-searching alt country, traditional Celtic and Anglo folkies or slices of long-buried US southern soul. His weekly programmes were required listening and I rarely missed a single one over the following years without having a grump about it. A glance at his wiki and at the live guests on his radio shows at the time is like a tour through my record and, ahem, cassette collection. He’s even a Springsteen fan, too. It’s truly great to see him back and re-enthused about music. One Easter Sunday at the back end of March in 2013, I went to one of his gigs promoting No Off Switch, his autobiography detailing his life up to the loss of his first radio career, and the saddest response of the night, before I wended my way back north by train to Perth via a 45 minute change of trains at Croy, in the snow, was when a questioner asked him what he was listening to on the drive to Edinburgh. ‘Nothing,’ came the ever-honest and somewhat apologetic reply, ‘I was enjoying some silence and a bit of my own company.’ Well, given where he’d been to, getting back on the rails again can take a bit of time and, I suspect, enjoying your own company occupies a key role in that, too.
A two-fer of Little Richard and the Mighty Grynner kicks us off with a statement of rockin’n’rollin’ Calypsonian intent and the programme blends a never-flagging two-hour-plus path through old and new: African horns and guitars, blues and country, acoustic and toasting reggae, the Staples Singers, a bit of Dylan in celebration of today’s landmark birthday and some new folk. There’s even a live session socially-distance recorded in his Todmorden kitchen, re-creating the best bits of his halcyon days when touring Americans and Africans would stop off on his Crouch End porch, sample some food and drink, feel absolutely at home and record a few gloriously settled, authentic tunes while they were at it. Sprinkling a mixture of tunes and enlivening the bits in between with reminiscences, solid information and humorous, self-deprecating observation, delivered in his forthright, matter-of-fact manner and with apparently-rejuvenated enthusiasm as well as an interview technique that continues to be gently under-stated – informed and focused questions, but determined to let the subject speak – this is a right proper radio show perhaps only missing a bit of audience interaction. He’s on fairly familiar musical ground throughout, perhaps, but his one man war on musical mediocrity is off to a sound start and I’m looking forward to more of his broadcasting mission – you never quite know what’s coming next – in future episodes. And, as the best African bandleaders always knew – if something worked well the first time around, it’s likely to work just as well the second time, too.
It’s a bit too early, of course, but, should he ever fancy the gig, there’s a vacancy for A Kershaw in the 6Music schedules these days and, if ‘Radio John Peel’ wants a living connection with the man himself, what better choice than he who shared a room in Broadcasting House, and a producer, and several musical genres, with Peel?
Whatever the future might hold is irrelevant, however. And flights of such fancy may play no part in it. And that’s fine, too: the broadcast world is now much, much wider than formal homes-of-music alone, and professionally-produced podcasts can build a sizable following and generate their own momentum. For now, the podcast is a sure sign that AK’s got his mojo back. Next episode is out on 31 May and you could do a lot worse than spend two hours of your bank holiday in his company to soundtrack your BBQ. A hearty welcome home, Andy.