No Off Switch? Andy Kershaw Has Just Found The Turbo Charge Button!


Andy Kershaw
Andy Kershaw

“Do you know what your trouble is Kershaw?” a girlfriend once said to him. “You’ve got no off switch.”

The indomitable Andy Kershaw will be joining us at Listowel Writers’ Week on Saturday 31st May for what promises to be a lively, engaging, no-holds-barred, one-man show, No Off Switch. Funny, sentimental, acerbic, self-deprecating and egotistical all at once, he will be entertaining us with stories and anecdotes of his life, career, adventures and experiences, both in-studio and on the road. During his 30-year career in BBC radio and television, Andy was not only on the frontlines of rock-and-roll, working with the likes of the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, but he also worked as a BBC war correspondent, covering conflicts in Sierra Leone, Angola and Rwanda.

Probably best known for his esoteric approach to music, he introduced his audience to “properly fantastic, amazing music from Malawi, South Africa, and the Congo.” I interviewed him for the Blog last week, and he speaks in energetic bursts, in that wonderful North Lancashire accent of his. “It was a great privilege to have a BBC Radio show for all those years, where I could choose my own music and invite all my own guests onto the show, and I suppose the climax of all that was when Willie Nelson and the whole of his band came and played live on my programme.”

His big break came in 1984 when he was asked to present BBC TV’s flagship rock programme The Old Grey Whistle Test, and out of that, an invitation to co-present Live Aid at Wembley Stadium in July 1985. I ask him how, as a cub presenter, he managed to get the gig. “Bob Geldof launched the Band Aid single on The Whistle in the autumn of ’84 and made frequent appearances over the next few months, talking about his charity single and the Ethiopian Famine. He trusted the Whistle Test production team and its editor Mike Appleton, and when Geldof said he wanted us to do the worldwide TV coverage, I just got drafted in. Absurdly, I think the accepted viewing figure now is more than one billion people worldwide. It was my very first outside broadcast.”

He must have been terrified. “No, I wasn’t,’ he says. “It’s a strange thing, but when you’re sitting there in a TV studio, albeit it a makeshift one in the football commentary box at Wembley Stadium, you’re just looking at a black mirror, which is the lens of a camera. It doesn’t really make that much difference if there’s one person or a billion people watching you.” Although he does admits he probably survived it so well precisely because of his inexperience. “It was utter chaos all day long. You had lots of old BBC veterans in a great tizz because of the chaos, but because I’d no previous experience, I’d no precedent by which to measure it. I just sat there all day long, doing what I was required to do, thinking, this is a caper isn’t it? This is what outside broadcasts must be like.”

Always hungry for new experiences, Andy’s travelled to over 100 countries, spending most of the 1990s in Haiti. “I’ve visited Haiti more than any country in the world. I stopped counting after my twentieth trip.” So what’s the attraction? “Haiti is the most fascinating country on earth,” he says. “Simultaneously, it’s the most exhilarating and exasperating country of any place I’ve ever visited. There’s always something dramatic taking place – with or without earthquakes. It’s a country of extremes and a great place to learn the foreign correspondent’s trade.”

Which moves us on nicely to the time he spent in the ravaged landscapes of Sierra Leone, Angola and Rwanda, covering their civil wars and the subsequent Rwandan Genocide. Imagining, perhaps, that he took it all in his stride, I ask him if he was nervous. “Of course,” he says. “More so Rwanda, because it was particularly savage and indiscriminate. You didn’t enjoy the diplomatic immunity foreign journalists were often afforded by the warring factions. I was nearly killed in Rwanda – very nearly killed.”

After going through a particularly tumultuous time in his personal life a few years back, Andy’s currently deejaying again, at festivals, village halls, clubs and arts centres. He’s also working as a reporter for a BBC1 programme called The One Show, and is busy touring with No Off Switch. He’s visited Ireland lots of times, “usually for the motorcycle race,” and is really looking forward to bringing his show to Listowel Writers’ Week. “I’ve had a look at your website and the surrounding area. It looks absolutely delightful,” he says. “I can’t wait.”

Any sign of slowing down yet? I ask him. “No,” he answers resolutely. “Lots of people like yourself say to me, ‘Well, it’s been a colourful life Andy…’ but the book is called No Off Switch. It’s certainly not over yet and let me tell you, I’ve just found the turbo charge button!”

Andy Kershaw will be in action on Saturday 31 May at 4pm at The Arms Hotel. Don’t miss him! To book, please click here