Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Radiobit: Charlie Gillett

Sad news for fans of radio tonight, as we hear of the death of Charlie Gillett.

Born in Lancashire and growing up in Cleveland, Gillett was perhaps one of the first genuine rock and roll intellectuals - he wrote a thesis on the history of rock and roll during his time at Columbia University. Admittedly, this was in 1965 so there wasn't quite so much history of the genre, but he certainly kept his knowledge up to date and could have turned in a thesis at any time since then.

After he got back to the UK, he worked as a lecturer and a journalist, skimming through New Society and Anarchy before landing a spot with Record Mirror. A book, the Sound Of The City, confirmed that he was able to wear his rock learning lightly enough to appeal to a wider audience, and rock writing led to rock talking when Radio London offered him a weekly show. Honky Tonk would run for six years, introducing Londoners to Costello, Graham Parker and Dire Straits. You can't blame him for what Dire Straits went on to do. Nobody knew.

Working at a time when commercial radio actually behaved in the way the Tories seem to think that it still does, Gillett jumped from the BBC to Capital, where he would remain - literally due to public demand - until 1990. It was in 1983 that his show's focus spread to include what would be known as world music, but at the time was still just music. Then it was back to the BBC in London, which was going by the name of GLR at the time, along with shows on the World Service and Radio 3. He picked up the Lifetime Achievement at the Sonys in 1991 - when his radio career had only reached the half-way point, as it turned out.

He also found time to co-found a publishing company, Oval, and co-manage the pre-Blockheads Ian Dury. And, in his role as musical consultant to advertising agencies, played a role in helping Levis choose the tracks which briefly made them, and Nick Kamen, insanely popular.

Rocks Back Pages has a collection of Gillett's columns from Record Mirror.

Charlie Gillett had been suffering from a disease which had attacked his autoimmune system. He was 68.


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