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Charlie's Angle

Everything changed when Sound Of The City came out, in America first in 1970, and 1971 here. Charlie was soon involved in television; a music panel show with Michael Parkinson; a series of artist profiles including B.B. King, the Drifters, Labi Siffre and Gilbert O'Sullivan; an early arts review programme. Then he got a call from Michael Appleton offering him a presenter gig on The Old Grey Whistle Test.

Honky Tonkin' on Radio London, 1976
Photo: Andra Nelki
Honky Tonkin' on Radio London, 1976
"In normal circumstances one would have said yes, but a parallel thing had happened where BBC Radio London had started up. I listened to it a couple of times and couldn't understand why it was so bland. So I wrote in my Record Mirror column, saying 'Why aren't they playing..." two or three soul records that I was besotted about at the time. During the week a voice rang up and said 'My name's Robbie Vincent. I'm a DJ on Radio London. Why don't you come in with these records you think we should be playing and we'll see what the listeners think of you.' So he had me come in and he acted as a devil's advocate on air saying 'Well, should we be listening to this?' and asking listeners to call in. And lots of listeners called in and said it sounded great."

"I came off the air and the head of the station said 'Have you ever thought about going on the radio?' I said 'Only since I was 15!' So in a couple of months I had my own show. When Michael Appleton said 'Do you want to be on Whistle Test?' I thought 'Not really. I want to be in charge of what I'm doing'. On the Whistle Test I was going to have to be talking to people like Yes, and Emerson Lake & Palmer or whatever, and really I couldn't imagine what I would say to them. So there have been one or two things that I have said no to, which most people in my position wouldn't have done, and I've never for a second regretted."

Charlie presented the influential Honky Tonk on BBC Radio London from March 1972 until the end of 1978, during which time his support and broadcasting of demos by then-unknowns was most famously responsible for the career breaks of bands like Dire Straits. After a year off, he moved to London commercial station Capital with a show called Undercurrents.

"There was some really interesting stuff on independent labels which Capital Radio wasn't covering. I did an hour's show on all independent labels, whatever I could find. And then that was a bit restricting so they said I could do a two-hour show. That was then The Alchemists, which was a variation on what I'm doing now. The crucial turning point was people like Joe Jackson coming in and playing salsa, and King Sunny Ade."

This feature first appeared in fRoots 218-219, Aug/Sep 2001


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