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Thursday, 1 September 2011

Recommended: Andy Kershaw - No Off Switch

Mention the name Andy Kershaw and a couple of things will be said, I guarantee. Firstly, "he's the bloke who played all that jingle jangle guitar music back in the 1980's!" and secondly, "Oh him, didn't he just play unintelligable music from Africa and other places and after his show we had to endure that awful racket from John Peel!"

Well, those things are partly true and of course they do get spoken about in Andy Kershaw's Autobiography 'No Off Switch', but there is actually more to the man than just music as I discovered reading the book (it arrived on Monday and I finished it today - totally captivating).

The first part of the book deals with Kershaw's time at Leeds University and then his time on Radio 1, The Whistle Test and doing Live Aid (which is such a funny tale...poor old John Hurt!). A lot of that stuff I probably knew about before reading but what I hadn't known was that Kershaw was so madly passionate about the music he played on his shows. He was nothing like the usual daytime jocks and whilst the BBC thought they were getting a "Rock DJ" Andy was able to bring to the world's attention music that spanned the globe.

I will forever be indebted to Andy Kershaw for introducing me to the music of Ted Hawkins and I love it how Andy tells the tale of Ted's first show at the 100 Club in Oxford Street.

It is actually the second part of the book that made me sit up and take notice because not being a person who listened to Radio 4 or Radio 3 I had no prior knowledge that Andy Kershaw had been a travelling man. The tales from Rwanda, North Korea and other parts of the world were incredible to read about. Kershaw's brutal honesty about the sometimes dicey situations he found himself in were often humourous but also quite thought provoking. His experience of being in Rwanda and discovering dead bodies and of the devastation caused by landmines is both shocking and insightful.

One of the things that really stood out in the book for me was the honesty of heart that Andy Kershaw displayed in this book. It would be so easy to write a book that left out all the "warts" but it would not have been an authentic book! When he made a mess of things in his life he comes out and says "I messed up".

The final two chapters of the book though I think actually make the book as good as it is. It is gut wrenching and heartbreaking to read of the difficulties that he went through dealing with not being able to see his kids, and though he doesn't say a lot about it, his time in prison I'm sure added weight to that situation. So it is with a huge sense of relief to the reader (and even bigger sense of relief to Andy Kershaw) that the book ends on a high note with Andy back in touch with his children (his boy living with him) and him back in the world of Radio 3 and broadcasting.

If you read only one Autobiography this year, make it this one. It's time well spent.

Buy "No Off Switch" from Amazon

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