Andy Kershaw’s on his travels with tales from adventures in TV and radio

Andy afloat with Buster. Picture: Vic Bates
Andy afloat with Buster. Picture: Vic Bates

Much of Andy Kershaw’s life, he says, has happened by chance.

That includes his move to Todmorden, where he has been resident since late summer last year, and takes in a breathtaking amount of experiences packed into a career that has seen Andy present music on television and radio, sharing an office with his hero John Peel, undertake numerous foreign assignments as a journalist and try and summarise as much as he can of it in his acclaimed autobiography, No Off Switch.

But as we meet, with his dog Buster, in Todmorden’s Hartley’s cafe as the town was about to be wrapped up in a snowstorm, it’s clear he works hard at it too.

Organising extra publicity for upcoming shows in Scotland off his own bat and the way he wrested back the rights to his autobiography after being singularly unimpressed by their efforts to promote it demonstrate he is a “doer” as well as being a good talker.

The enthusiasm with which he introduced pioneering punks the Ramones on 70s and 80s rock show Whistle Test - the first time this writer came across him - is clear in the way he draws you into his stories, something the audience at his upcoming gig at Hebden Bridge Trades Club on Thursday, April 18 (doors open 8pm) will soon discover.

Andy carries with him a fascination for life from childhood (he’s now in his early 50s) and a desire to see the world out there.

“I was lucky to grow up when it seemed every morning something really dramatic had happened.

“I was eight or nine and may not have understood the significance but it was very, very clear and exciting,” he said. “It climaxed in June 1969 with man leaving the planet and setting foot on the moon. How could you not get excited by that? It was incredible progress, the speed of it.”

It was the same in music, which he grew to love, a mere ten years spanning Tommy Steele to Led Zeppelin via the Beatles and the Stones. “I feel so lucky to have been aware of a lot of it.”

A student at Leeds University with an eye on eventually working in journalism, Andy secured the job as the student union’s social secretary at a time when Leeds was booking some of the best gigs around.

“To be part of that at 19 or 20, booking bands, organising gigs and running the organisation with all the different responsibilities, as well as being exciting it taught me a lot about myself and I recognised a quality I didn’t know I had, leadership.”

There followed an unorthodox route into television and radio, beginning with Andy’s finding musical maverick Billy Bragg’s debut album in a record shop bargain bin. He became Bragg’s tour manager and an appearance by the Barking bard on Whistle Test had the programme’s office soon quizzing Kershaw about screen testing for a job as presenter.

Andy says they were getting what they saw: “People used to say I was a TV natural, which is nice, but doing TV or radio, I can only be myself. It’s not an act. They let me loose on the TV studios as me.”

Whistle Test duties led to Live Aid, which he says was unbelievable in terms of its informality - only six to eight weeks from Bob Geldof’s announcement to show, and a remark from producer Trevor Dann one morning: “Could you keep a weekend in July clear..?”

Television led to radio and - again, without any planning, says Andy - a note saying he was being sent to John Walters, John Peel’s producer.

“Within a few weeks of being there I was working in a tiny chaotic office with John Peel, who I’d met a time or two when he was doing the utterly baffling John Peel Roadshow, my broadcasting hero, and the genius John Walters,” he says.

Walters protected his charges from the Radio One hierarchy who had difficulty understanding the appeal of Peel and Kershaw’s shows, with an uncommercial, but ultimately lasting, influence marketing men today would probably understand even less.

“They regarded us as a necessary nuisance. We were like a radio station within a radio station. Walters used to say, and I’ll never forget it, ‘we’re not here to give the public what they want, we’re here to give the public what they don’t know they want.”

Andy completed his autobiography, which has received excellent reviews, through 2010 amid making six major overseas trips to make programmes for Radio Three’s Music Planet and looking after his son, Sonny. Having finished the book, with Sonny continuing his education in Scotland, the TT races over (Kershaw is a long time motorbike fanatic) he felt it was time to sell up in the Isle of Man.

Coming to Todmorden is not, he is keen to stress, some sort of return to his Rochdale roots. It’s just that having been convinced by his sister Elizabeth, after a visit to their cousin Rebecca who lives in Todmorden, that it contained exactly the house Andy was looking for, initially to his surprise.

“My memories of Todmorden come from childhood when it was a main Pennine route. This valley was black with soot. She said ‘don’t dismiss it, it’s got everything you’re looking for in a house.’ It ticked all the boxes.”

With good transport links Andy is glad he came here. “I’ve really enjoyed it since I came here and everyone’s been lovely. I can count the occasions I’ve needed to get in the car on one hand and I love the market,” he said.

Andy is not on a tour - he likens it to the occasional but continuing series of gigs akin to Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour, with social media like Facebook producing invitations to perform it at halls and venues up and down the country.

He’s not playing music, though elements will be included, but there will be plenty of stories. Even a brief perusal of his “bluffer’s guide” would provide enough material for a series of features - one reason why No Off Switch has come into being. “It’s an illustrated talk about my life, career and adventures in radio and television,” he said.

Tickets for The Adventures Of Andy Kershaw at Hebden Bridge Trades Club on April 18 are now available and tickets are £15 (£12 for members) - see www. thetradesclub.com for more details.