Everybody has a story about how they got through the first wave of the coronavirus. Gilles Peterson, the famed London DJ, record label boss and general man-about-music, certainly has one, and he tells it in an extremely handsome volume with the title Lockdown FM: Broadcasting in a Pandemic. It’s arranged as a kind of diary or almanac, running through the first six months of 2020, containing a cornucopia of material: playlists of his programmes for Worldwide FM and the BBC, poems, manifestos, tributes to those who died during the year (including McCoy Tyner, Hamilton Bohannon, Betty Wright, Henry Grimes and Tony Allen), birthday greetings to Stevie Wonder, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Hermeto Pascoal and others, and of course a vast amount of beautifully assembled visual material, including the sleeves of dozens of highly collectable vinyl, from Mary Lou Williams’s Piano Contempo and a 1955 Juliette Gréco EP to Roy Brooks’s Black Survival and Cachao y su Descarga ’77.
There are also a number of original photographs taken in London during the six months when normal human interaction was curtailed, laid out across double-page spreads with minimal captioning but together painting a picture of the city and its moods during a year in which the silence of lockdown was broken by an eruption of political protests and counter-protests. Many of the photographs are credited to Dobie, which is the name used by Anthony Campbell, a hip-hop artist and producer who began using a camera to record the skateboarders under the South Bank in the early 1980s. I like his images very much, particularly the one you can see above, which captures a historic moment in British life.
Reflecting on the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020, Peterson recalls an earlier element in the same pattern of tragedy: the fatal shooting of the saxophonist Don Myrick, a founder member of Earth Wind & Fire, by a policeman in Santa Monica in 1993. What can a DJ do in response? “I will play music from Nina Simone to Gil Scott Heron and Childish Gambino,” he writes. “I will play these songs to push back against systemic and institutionalised racism that’s been given a refreshed energy by the current power structures which continue to manipulate and divide the people.”
The ingredients of this 600-page book are given a chance to speak so eloquently by the people who, with Gilles, put it together: its editor, Paul Bradshaw (founder of the much missed magazine Straight, No Chaser), and its designer, Hugh Miller. They’ve made a thing that’s not just lovely to own but will act as a poignant memento of a time from which we’re still struggling to emerge with bodies and souls intact.
* Lockdown FM is published by Worldwide FM, price £40: https://worldwidefm.ochre.store/