Friday, 19 March 2010

In Memoriam: Charlie Gillett

Charlie Gillett, a great musicologist, DJ and evangelist for grown-up popular music has died at the age of 68 of a rare auto-immune disorder. I knew Charlie briefly in the early 1970s when we both wrote for Bob Houston's short-lived but excellent music magazine Cream - we shared a taste for obscure rockabilly, free jazz and US soul music of the "golden age" (before the accursed Philly Sound).  His book on rhythm and blues, The Sound of The City is still the definitive explanation of the roots of the post-war revolution in popular music. 
But Charlie meant more still to me for his radio show "Honky Tonk" which ran every Sunday from 1972 through 1978 on  BBC Radio London. I looked forward to that show throughout the week, and the sheer quality and originality of his choices helped to keep me sane during the depressing and disillusioned days of the early '70s. I first heard Elvis Costello and Ian Dury thanks to Charlie, whose role as a pre-punk prophet has yet to be fully acknowledged. As we plunge into another of those cyclic infantilisations of the popular music scene, his absence will be hard to bear. Even in these days of instant access to all the music through Spotify or iTunes, we still need people of taste to dig up the gems, and Charlie was one of the best.

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