Former Route DJ and music writer Pedro ‘DJ Mestizo’ González mourns the passing of Charlie Gillett, a great populariser of the music of the world across Anglo-Saxon dominated airwaves.
World music broacaster and writer Charlie Gillett died yesterday. In his sixty eight year, he never lost his excitement for pop music, he just extended the territory of where to find it.
He was also a great connoisseur of the origins of the music that went to revolutionize the world. His essential book for anyone with a keen interest in rock music, The Sound of the City: the Rise of Rock and Roll was an informative book of how this music was formed, the protagonists and how the music industry worked in those early years. He went on to become manager of the Kilburn & the High Roads (the former band of Ian Dury), and created his own record label, Oval.
For me, it was as radio broadcaster where his role was outstanding; he was a catalyst of a music scene and a pivotal figure in the promotion of popular music around the world. He is frequently mentioned as the man who gave the world the Dire Straits, which by now is, maybe, not something to be proud of. His music programming on Radio London under the name Honky Tonk included the airing of demos by new artists. One of them was ‘Sultans of Swing’ and the rest is history. Honky Tonk was one of the music programmes which united many musicians and served as a revulsive for a music scene against the pretentiousness of the progressive music of the time. Then he went to discover African music and with that a new horizon of music without frontiers started to reach his audience.
I was a keen listener to his BBC World series. Sometimes the music was far beyond my taste, but wasn’t indifferent. Never compare two great men but, if you let me pass this, I think Charlie was for world music what John Peel was for the indie scene. I remember when Ojos de Brujo came to tour in London for the first time, he brought DJ Panko to the studio to play some of the music that this band was influenced by. As I listened I objected to some comments made by Panko about the gypsy connection to the flamenco being the only one with real significance. My thoughts were that this music was not a question of race and, afterwards, I sent an email to Charlie, lecturing him about flamenco origins. He replied to me shortly and precisely quoting the origins of American popular music. Yes, he was right.
You can see that many times in music – as in other arts expressions – the underdogs are sometimes the people who open new forms of expression and, in this case, stretch the music wider. I will miss his programmes.