Kershaw has had a lot of bad press over the last decade for his personal life but he’s back on track and promoting his autobiography No Off Switch at the Auditorium, Ghillie Dhu - which is, incidentally, stunning. ‘Auditorium’ comes nowhere near doing justice to the internal architecture of the space (even the loos are fabulous, and well placed for a visit if you are at the west end of Princes Street #toptip).
In his inimitable style (part egotist, part puppy), he admitted to being turned down by the Book Festival and followed this by both belittling it and criticising writers in general. He related how he had been called ‘The Bruce Springsteen of the literary world’ since he could be on stage talking about himself for three hours and subsequently moan that he only had an hour here. He is mistaken; the Bruce Springsteen comment surely spawns from the fact that Kershaw’s attire of jeans and checked shirt à la Springsteen doesn’t seem to have changed for aeons: “Never been noted for my wardrobe,” he said disarmingly. You are not kidding, Andy.
Kershaw was supposed to take us through his life until now, but his delivery was so shambolic and rambling that he only made it to his North Korea trips and suggested we come back tomorrow for the second half. He recited the lyrics to Chuck Berry’s Promised Land before playing it and, not seeming to know what to do with himself while it played, crammed his hands into his slightly-too-small jeans pockets. The audience however, clearly enjoyed his meanderings and a few bobbing heads could be seen during the musical interludes. “Don’t have anything to do with Chuck Berry,” he instructed us. “He’s a terrible human being.” And yet this song, he tells us, made it to his Desert Island Discs list from an original shortlist of 400 records.
Yet it is this very style that has, over the years, enabled Kershaw to experience the most amazing career in journalism and music. It was he who first opened both my own ears and the ears of many to the possibility that there was a whole world of incredible music beyond the lull of the late 80s scene in the UK. By sheer luck and a healthy ‘why not?’ approach he made a terrific progression through the BBC. His willingness to share his experiences, however unpalatable (did we really need to see the picture of dead bodies in Rwanda?), and his homage to those who helped him is endearing to those who have followed his career.
The breakup of his marriage, his alcoholism and breakdown might be saved for another day’s sharing but he has shared so much already. He is human, unpretentious and a fun-loving yet serious journalist. In the words of the late, great John Peel, Kershaw remains “sort of selfish but generous at the same time.” (The Independent 12 Feb 1995)