Charlie Gillett

It was with great sadness that I learned today of the death of Charlie Gillett, the radio presenter and music journalist. He has had a considerable influence on my musical tastes, ever since I read his columns in Let It Rock (a great lost music mag) and his book, The Sound of the City, back in the 1970s. The book traces the origins of rock and roll in the black music and independent record labels of the early 1950s. For me it put into perspective the music I had grown up with and explained its origins. It revealed the glories of that great roll-call of record labels: Atlantic, Savoy, King, Chess, Aladdin, VeeJay, Modern, Specialty, Sun, Excello and many others. I assiduously began collecting the music from these sources, and still have the box-sets to prove it. Later came his essential Sound of the City compilations: Chicago, Memphis, New York, Los Angeles. Then Charlie became, with Andy Kershaw, a trusted guide to world music, in fact he was a member of the panel that first coined the term ‘world music’  to aid retailers in how to rack the music in their stores. His recent annual Sound of the World compilations were also essential.

Reading his obituary today reminded me of how Charlie remembered his old friend Roger Deakin on his blog a few years ago.  He wrote that Deakin

‘was among the few people I made friends with at University. He was so friendly and considerate, I was wary at first – what’s wrong with this guy? But he simply saw the best in everyone and seemed blind to our faults.  A lasting memory is taking a ride in his sports car with Charlotte Rampling on my knee and her sister Sarah crushed into the space behind us, laughably referred to as the back seat. This was not my normal world at all, and absurdly I was more impressed with the fact that their father had run in the 4 x 440 relay for Britain in the 1936 Olympics.’

Last September I wrote about that week’s World on 3 show, presented by Charlie, saying it ‘was one of the best music shows I’ve listened to in a long while. As his studio guest, Charlie welcomed Yasmin Levy, whose music is a fusion of Flamenco and the Judeo-Spanish Ladino style. As well as performing songs from her forthcoming album, Yasmin also discussed her work and participated in Charlie’s radio ping-pong’.


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