Leeds nostalgia: Andy Kershaw recalls how his career began in Leeds

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Of the many amazing things he has done in his life, Andy Kershaw puts one above all else and it happened right here in Leeds.

He may have been to 97 of the worlds 194 countries, reported on genocide and revolutions and worked with some of the biggest names in showbusiness but were it not for a single act of fortitude as a shy teenager, he might well have ended up working as something else altogether.

“I was a shy teenager,” recalls the self-confessed motor mouth, who turns 55 tomorrow (Nov 9), whose autobiography is aptly subtitled ‘No Off Switch’. He’s a difficult man to pin down. Indeed, it took several attempts to grab five minutes with him - his life seems as busy now as it ever has been.

Today he will make a return to the place where it all started for him - the Refectory at the University of Leeds, where, as entertainments secretary for the Student Union, he was in charge of booking music acts.

“I remember turning up at the university and on my first day I walked straight up to the incumbent ents sec - a man called Steven Henderson, with whom I’m still very good friends - and I said, very politely, please can I have your job when you’re done.

“When I do think back it was strange because I was a very shy teenager, it was almost as though there was a hidden hand guiding me.”

Whatever the reason, since those heady days, he’s not looked back. After two years in the position, he worked as a ‘dog’s body’ at Radio Aire, which is when he wrote his first ever fan letter to Billy Bragg.

“It was the first fan letter he ever got, I put my all into it and it paid off because he had a tour coming up and he asked me to be his drive, roadie and manager - that was during the spring of 1984.

“One thing led to another and after a show on The Old Grey Whistle Test, one of the producers asked me if I fancied being a host on the next series.”

Since then, Andy Kershaw has become a household name, working on radio and TV and writing serious journalism pieces for national newspapers.

He was emotional about his return to his old stomping ground.

“To be coming back and performing in the very hall I used to book all those acts all those years ago is very special for me and obviously it’s emotional but in a very positive sense.

“Back then we were all volunteers, there were about 200 of us and we were booking some of the biggest bands in the world.

“Leeds had long been regarded as one of the major music venues in the UK and certainly from the age of about 12 I knew it was the place I wanted to be. I went there to do politics and had it not been for the confidence I found on my first day, I would have been doing something else now.

“Thinking back, it was life changing, if there was a pivotal moment in my life, that was it.”

Andy Kershaw’s life reads like an adventure novel. He once went on holiday to North Korea, has filed a story to The Independent while being shot at by a sniper in shop doorway in Thailand and has a record collection which weighs seven tons.

“I moved house once and the record collection had to all go in one van and afterwards the removal guys told me they put it on a weigh bridge and it came in at seven tons.”

In May 2010 he found himself in the middle of the Red Shirts Revolution in Bangkok. He recalled: “Foreign journalists were saying it was difficult to get in there but within half an hour of landing in Bangkok, I was in the middle of the city and at one point I was being fired at by a sniper - I took refuge in a shop doorway and watched as the road surface was shot up about eight feet in front of me. At that point, I dialled the foreign desk at The Independent to ask if they wanted a story.”

Another story is, having booked Duran Duran as a support act for Hazel O’Connor, he had to pay them £50 from his own bank account so they could afford their B&B for the night.

“Our policy was to pay them by cheque but I bumped into them in the basement and they said they needed cash to pay for their B&B. I obliged and I have the paperwork to prove it.” The memory is typical of his unorthodox approach to life in general.

Over the years, Andy has worked with pretty much all of the greats, from the Rolling Stones and Iggy Pop to Billy Bragg and Bruce Spingsteen.

He was one of the first presenters on The Old Grey Whistle Test and a host of Live Aid, which had an audience of over 1bn.

He will perform at The Refectory, Leeds University at 7pm. Tickets priced from £12.50 are available online and on the door.

The event is open to all members of the public.

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