I think Andy Kershaw would be the first to agree that his time management skills leave something to be desired, as his frequently hurried links to Peel’s programmes testified. However, on this occasion it worked to advantage: his one-man show (for want of a better expression) was meant to last for 105 minutes, two hours tops. It actually clocked in about ten minutes short of three hours (with no interval, since he felt this slowed things down). And he still didn’t get all his material in!
Nevertheless, what we were treated to was a demonstration of his abilities as a raconteur and lecturer, in an atmosphere whose informality was stressed by the chairs being arranged cabaret-wise around tables to which the audience were not only allowed to bring their drinks but also to refresh themselves at will. I stayed rooted to my ringside seat for the duration, and can honestly say it was an evening (and money) well spent. What we got was the impression that his exciting and well-lived life necessitated ten times more airspace than a few hours on a very wet Thursday evening. His private turmoil of the last few years remained unmentioned, save a whimsical aside that some of his more esoteric tastes were probably the reason for him no longer having a national radio programme.
Things I never knew were casually tossed into the mix alongside familiar (yet pungent) slices of life. He suggested that a sizable chunk of his appearance on Desert Island Discs had ended up on the cutting room floor, including the part where he refused to accept the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare and in fact resented having them foisted on him. There were the stories about the records he never chose for his list of eight: Thunderclap Newman’s Something In The Air (which he mentioned in the book) and Chuck Berry’s Promised Land (which he didn’t). In a passing nod to his radio career, extracts from these were played live, along with his beloved Bhundu Boys. (He also had to blow his nose constantly using the luxury he proclaimed to Radio 4 in 2007: “a mountain of bog roll.”)
Kershaw prowled the stage like a preacher possessed, taking time in the musical interludes to gulp down some Diet Coke, occasionally resting against the wings and trying manfully to avoid standing in front of the prepared projector slides. He loves the sound of his own voice (one thing he accused the late John Walters of), and thankfully so did we, as the boredom factor was non-existent (although the couple behind me obviously thought that their comments on his material were more important than what he was saying). Predictably, I was eager to hear what he had to say about his relationship with Peel, but he did not dwell on this, beyond acknowledging John’s influence and spending more time eulogising Walters, as in the book proclaiming him to be the real genius behind their programmes.
The show ended with Andy reading out a list of wacky titles of North Korean songs (and showing puzzlement when I laughed out loud at I’m In Love With A Married Disabled Soldier) and, following a hasty fag out in the back garden, returning to sign books for anybody that was left. Hardback copies of No Off Switch were waiting in the foyer for £15 a throw. I presented him with my old paperback copy which he happily wrote in, and took the opportunity to ask him if we were going to get a book devoted to his programmes in the vein of The Peel Sessions. Andy replied that he had already suggested an updated version, since a list of his sessions up to the beginning of 1992 had already appeared in In Sessions Tonight. We shook hands, expressing mutual pleasure at having met, and I went home. If I could follow up his suggestion of turning up to see him in Ireland to hear the update of his story, I would.