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HE’S on our screens these days as the roving reporter on BBC’s The One Show. But he’s familiar to a generation for his eclectic taste in music. He was Billy Bragg’s roadie and driver, worked for the Rolling Stones, and championed world music in his weekly radio shows from the 1980s for 25 years. He presented the iconic Old Grey Whistle Test and Live Aid. And he worked for 10 years as a foreign correspondent on Radio Four, covering stories of crisis, corruption and tragedy in many of the world’s most dangerous and troubled locations. Now Andy Kershaw is gaining another reputation altogether.
“I’m called the Bruce Springsteen of literature festivals,” he says remembering how he first received the label after an event in Leicestershire, stepping off the stage, with the organiser’s hand on his shoulder. “I thought he was referring to the huge distances I’d travelled. But no, it was because I’d been up there for two-and-three-quarter hours.”
The Bruce Springsteen – or, indeed, the Ken Dodd – of literature festivals will be in Suffolk this month, the guest of Aldeburgh Bookshop. He’s presenting The Adventures of Andy Kershaw, a one-man show recounting his career, passions and experiences as related in his autobiography, No Off Switch, which was published six years ago. His publishers then encouraged him to give the usual one-hour onstage interview about his book but he found he was took a different approach.
“I was out of my seat, pacing backwards and forwards across the front of the stage, telling a story, and my interrogator hadn’t got a word in for about 45 minutes.” With a slide show of the many fascinating musicians he’s met, and the challenging locations he’s visited, and clips from tracks which have been significant to him over the years, Andy realised he had a multi-media presentation to complement his anecdotes. He tries to keep it to two hours.
“It’s very difficult to know what to leave out,” he says of this sprint through his 30-year career. “If I don’t talk about presenting Live Aid – my very first outside broadcast in front of more than a billion viewers – or the 12
years I spent sharing a tiny, cramped, chaotic office with John Peel, or if I don’t talk about reporting on the Rwandan genocide, people are going to ask why? So I have to cover a lot. But no one has ever walked out and no one has ever fallen asleep as far as I’ve been able to tell.” He’s straight-talking in that distinctive, gravelly Lancashire accent, with a wry humour. It’s clear he’s very driven - he’s achieved an astonish amount in a wideranging career. The title of his autobiography gives a clue as to how he has managed it – Not Much Downtime – but what motivates him?
“The short answer is nosiness. Something might spark my curiosity about a part of the world, whether something happened in the news or it had astonishing music, and I’d think I ought to go and see whether there’s more.
“Or sometimes I’d think why have we never heard any music from Equatorial Guinea, say, or Haiti. So I’d better go and have a look.”
While he’s probably best known for his taste and passion for music, Andy says his first love has always been reporting, and he first started writing for the local newspaper when he was 15.
“I’d love to do more of the foreign stuff,” he says. “Being a foreign correspondent is romantic even if you are in some ghastly hell hole.” The more dangerous and extreme, the better, it seems. He reported from Iraq, Sierra Leone, Angola, North Korea, Kuwait and Haiti. For the moment, his commitment to The One Show and his appearances at music and literature festivals during the summer means that he is unable to get on a plane and disappear for three weeks. “I shouldn’t moan,” he says. “It’s better than having a proper job.”
So, how do people respond at the end of a two-hour performance of Andy Kershaw? “Perhaps the most common response is that they say ‘thanks for all the music’. If people are going to come along for an evening with me, they’re going to be kindred spirits aren’t they?”
“Being a foreign correspondent is romantic even if you are in some ghastly hell hole”
The Adventures of Andy Kershaw, 5.30pm on Sunday March 4, Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh, a special feature in the programme for this year’s Aldeburgh Literary Festival. Tickets are £14. Call 01728 452587