Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Charlie Gillet

I am very sad to say that Charlie Gillet, the rock historian and radio presenter, has died aged 68.

Like me, Charlie Gillet was born in 1942, and like me, he was born by the sea. Whereas I was born at Rochford near Southend, he was born at Morecambe.

Without a doubt, he was an inspiration to me.

Charlie first came to prominence in 1970, when his book "The Sound of the City" was published. This was the first serious history of rock`n`roll, and is still a most interesting read for all who are interested in the roots of this very special kind of music.

In the seventies, in addition to writing "Making Tracks", a history of Atlantic Records, he presented a Sunday lunchtime programme on Radio London entitled "Honky Tonk", which I was not alone in regarding as required listening.

He kickstarted the careers of a good number of successful performers, including Elvis Costello and Kilburn and the High Roads (and their charismatic front man Ian Dury), while Dire Straits were first brought to wide attention by his playing their demo of "Sultans of Swing" on "Honky Tonk".

Charlie started a record label in the 70s. It was called Oval Records, taking its name from the cricket ground near his house. Among his first releases was "Another Saturday Night", a compilation introduction to Louisiana cajun music, which among others featured Johnnie Allen`s wonderful take on Chuck Berry`s "Promised Land", complete with accordeon moving the music along.

Later, he became hugely interested in music from around the world, which he called "world music".

Charlie was always supportive of my activities as General Manager of the Classic Twin Cinemas at Westcliff. I showed many obscure films featuring rock performers, and he was always willing to publicise these for me to a much wider audience. He told me there were not enough rock fanatics in positions of influence!

He once asked me if I could / would write a book on rock music on film. I`m sorry to say that I never got around to doing that, but it was the inspiration for a radio series which I presented a decade later on Portsmouth Hospital Radio, which I called "Celluloid Rock".

Charlie was in poor health in the last couple of years of his life. He recently suffered a stroke, and had a fatal heart attack outside his house last week.

Last Tuesday, I discovered, while looking at a magazine on Liverpool Street Station, that the Louisiana singer songwriter Bobby Charles had died. On the Wednesday, I wrote a short appreciation of Bobby for this website, and mentioned Charlie Gillet in passing. Early on the Thursday, I heard on the radio that Charlie had died.

This unassuming man helped to bring hitherto obscure forms of music to a bigger audience, and I thank him most sincerely.