Charlie Gillett (1942-2010)

Radio presenter and champion of world music dies

Over the last decade, world music fans have looked forward to the annual world music compilation discs put together by broadcaster Charlie Gillett. The radio presenter, who had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the world music genre and an equally weighty knowledge of rock ‘n’ roll, died on Wednesday after a long illness, aged 68.

Recently renowned as a presenter on Radio 3’s World on 3, and for his BBC World Service weekly broadcasts, Gillett’s broadcasting career began in the early 1970s with his Radio London show Honky Tonk. In 1976, when he played a demo of Sultans of Swing by unsigned band Dire Straits on the show, it launched their career. Meanwhile, his own record label Oval Music, set up in 1972, launched Ian Dury’s first band.

Born in Morecombe and raised in Stockton-on-Tees, where as a teenager he saw Buddy Holly perform, Gillett went on to study at Cambridge University and then Stateside at Columbia University. After returning to the UK he published his authoritative guide to the history of rock ‘n’ roll Sound of the City, and a history of Atlantic Records Making Tracks. Working for London’s Capital Radio through the 1980s he promoted a host of world music artists including Montserrat’s soca band Arrow, and singers Youssou N’Dour from Senegal and Salif Keita from Mali.

‘His broadcasts brought together music and radio fans from far-flung corners of the globe,' says World Service director Peter Horrocks. ‘His postbag was one of the biggest, most affectionate and diverse in Bush House, which confirmed his special place in listener’s lives. He was a very special broadcaster and he will be sorely missed.’