Book review: No Off Switch by ANDY KERSHAW

Virgin Books

Andy Kershaw is best known by many for his time as a Radio 1 DJ, along with later in his career working on Radio’s 3 and 4. Then there is his work presenting ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ and being the co-host on Live Aid with fellow Mark Ellen. That’s before you even get into his documentaries for TV and radio from some of the world’s most dangerous places and eccentric leaders.

For me the highlights were his time at Radio 1 and demystifying some of the John Peel myths in particular. He also pays fitting tribute to Peels’ long time producer John Walters and mores the pity he never got to write a memoir. His days at Leeds Uni and running the live music are fascinating insights into how big gigs like the Who often ran on a wing and prayer. The theme running through the book is his love of music and introducing what may have been obscure artists at the time to a wider audience. For instance, the Bhundu Boys are a band I always associate with him and there is a sad tale to the band related sympathetically by Andy Kershaw.

There are in depth looks at his many trips to Haiti and a harrowing account of his visit to Rwanda and the carnage he witnessed firsthand. He is also one of the few Western journalists invited to North Korea. The scrapes he can sometimes get into add a thriller element to his memoir.

Andy Kershaw does touch upon his recent family issues and marriage breakdown, which are handled in a frank and fair way, doubtless to the disappointment of press hacks after some juicy insights.

I will forgive him for disliking ELO and giving metal fans backhanded compliments as like many of us rock fans he loves his music, no matter where it comes from or what form it takes. Three things come through reading his memoir, his obvious love of his children and music, but also humanity, particularly the friendships he has struck up through the years and how important these have been at various key points in his life to date.

Written in a highly readable (the travel and dodgy dictatorships chapters are real page turners) and self-depreciating style makes for a fascinating and at times, moving read. Highly recommended to any music lover, and readers who enjoy travel writing from unexpected parts of the world.

Jason Ritchie

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