Charlie Gillett, the flagship DJ of world music has died. Despite an ongong series of health problems, including Churg-Strauss syndrome, he continued broadcasting the late night Charlie Gillet’s World of Music on BBC Radio 3. He will be sadly missed by many and will be up there with greats such as John Peel.
‘When I play a new album, I want to be surprised, to be completely captivated by the music – the way we all do. I don’t think I’m demanding anything unusual.’
Charlie at Womad in 2009
17 Hippies: One of Charlie Gillet’s favourite bands
Gillett was born in Morecambe, Lancashire, England, United Kingdom. He began in journalism in 1968 with a weekly column in the Record Mirror. His 1970 book, The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll, originally written as his Master’s thesis for Columbia University, was a seminal history of popular music. It received excellent reviews in both Time magazine and The New York Times and enabled Gillett to further his music journalism career and to write a second book, Making Tracks. He wrote for a variety of music magazines including Rolling Stone and New Musical Express and contributed to The Observer.
He began a weekly radio programme, Honky Tonk on Radio London in 1972, leaving in 1978. He brought Ian Dury to public attention, and was the first DJ to play demos by Graham Parker, Elvis Costello and Dire Straits (“Sultans of Swing”). In the latter case, significant numbers of London’s A&R men had contacted Gillett’s studio by the time he had finished playing the song – sending Dire Straits on their journey to global stardom.
With partner Gordon Nelki, Gillett launched the Oval record label in 1974 with Another Saturday Night, a compilation album which popularised Cajun music in the UK. The duo managed Ian Dury’s first group Kilburn & the High Roads, co-produced the first Lene Lovich album (including the hit “Lucky Number”) and published Paul Hardcastle’s worldwide number one hit, “19”. More recently they worked with record producer David Lowe on the projects Touch and Go (including the pan-European hit “Would You…?”) and Dreamcatcher.
In 1980 Gillett joined Capital Radio, and began to play more independent music. He was fired in 1983, but after listener complaints was re-hired with orders for a new format. He chose to follow his new interest in music from the rest of the world and his show, A Foreign Affair, is credited with helping to launch ‘world music’. Having been the first British DJ to play Youssou N’Dour, Salif Keita, “Hot Hot Hot” by Arrow (Alphonsus Cassell) and many more, he left Capital in December 1990. He was presented with the Sony Gold Lifetime Achievement Award the following year.
Returning to the BBC, Gillett presented a weekly two hour show on BBC London 94.9 from 1995 to 2006 and a weekly world music programme on the BBC World Service from 1999. In 2006, Gillett was awarded The John Peel Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music Radio by the Radio Academy. In July 2006, after eleven years of broadcasting his regular Saturday Night show of world music, Gillett had to end his weekend slot due to ill health.
However he was in action, and until his death, presented a half hour show, Charlie Gillet’s World of Music, which was broadcast and uploaded to the BBC World website at 11.30pm on a Friday. Each show was available from the website for the entire week.
Since mid 2007, he was on BBC Radio 3 in a rota of three DJs (with Mary Ann Kennedy and Lopa Kothari) presenting World on 3, regularly featuring session guests.
Each year since 2000, he compiled a world music double album, World 2000, World 2001, etc, the first four of them for EMI, the next two for Wrasse. World 2006, Sound of the World (2007) and the latest, Beyond the Horizon (2008), were on Warner Classics and Jazz/Rhino.
Gillett died on 17 March 2010, following a series of health problems, including being diagnosed with Churg-Strauss syndrome in 2006. Gillett and his wife Buffy had two daughters, Suzy and Jody, and one son, Ivan.
Rest in peace