Autobiographies are a bit hit and miss; not always interesting and often full of ego. So it's refreshing to read No Off Switch by Andy Kershaw - music journalist, foreign correspondent … luck magnet. Broadcasting wasn't something Kershaw set out to do. As someone who avidly consumed music as a youngster, he chose to go to Leeds University because it had a great music scene. A decision he made in his first week as a student though, was to shape his long and very varied career. Braving the Students' Union, he keenly volunteered himself for the Ents Team and eventually found himself booking bands for legendary gigs at the University Refectory - a job which would have many positive repercussions and see Kershaw bemused as more work within the entertainment industry just appeared to fall into his lap - no doubt contributing to a phrase he repeats throughout the book in various situations, but particularly when luck seems to be on his side: “What the fuck is this?!”
It's wholly obvious from the outset that Kershaw has a great passion for music. As someone who shares that passion, it's hard not to get caught up in the excitement that he shows throughout the book for various bands and artists - both local and from further afield. In many ways the book is educational; as another each successive unfamiliar band was mentioned I found myself tapping their name into a search engine to find out what all the fuss was about - with pleasing results on the whole.
Kershaw has developed and maintained many relationships with people in the music industry including The Who, The Clash and The Bhundu Boys, and it's these relationships and the stories of how they came about which are particularly fascinating and engaging. With his natural wit and Northern charm he regales us with tales of site managing The Rolling Stones' first gig in Leeds and persuading The Who to do a second Live At Leeds gig with a real down to earth nature and almost disbelief at the events in his own life.
But it's also his lifelong passion for motorcycles (he owns a house on the Isle of Man near the TT racetrack) and a thirst for knowledge that makes the book a pleasure to read. As a foreign correspondent, Kershaw has been to many danger zones and the book includes harrowing memories from a visit to Rwanda at the time of the country's mass genocide. Recalling these stories makes you realize that Andy Kershaw isn't just a frivolous music broadcaster - he's genuinely interested in people, in justice and in making things better.
No Off Switch is a must-read for musos, journalists and anyone who enjoys a good book. It's a real page-turner and hugely inspirational - particularly if you are a music fan or broadcaster. It's written in an easy, conversational style and is packed with so many stories it would be hard not to find something you find interesting in there. Kershaw has had an amazing life so far, full of incredible experiences - it's a wonder he's found the time to do it all. No Off Switch is the perfect title, and comes highly recommended.
No Off Switch is available now (496pp, ISBN 0753541076, Virgin Books)