As someone who is used to travelling the world for music and broadcasting projects, Gilles Peterson became aware of the coronavirus pandemic early on. Writing in the introduction to his new book, Lockdown FM: Broadcasting in a Pandemic, he observed: “Early 2020 had been loaded with events and projects. Chicago, New York and the annual Worldwide Awards followed by a tour of Australia, New Zealand and Asia … but in Sydney airport, I felt something was up … the passengers who’d just landed from Shanghai – they were ALL wearing masks.
“We’d read the reports. It was a coronavirus warning. Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur were immediately cancelled. Once back in the UK life went on and despite the escalating fear around the virus I played Leeds, Graz in Austria and finally, to the promoter’s surprise, Bristol. Then came lockdown. The prospect of no gigs for at least six months was sobering. I retreated to my studio to go through the record collection I’ve built up over the past 40 years.”
Lockdown FM documents this retreat. The book, which is edited by Straight No Chaser’s Paul Bradshaw and designed by Hugh Miller, has a scrapbook feel, mixing photos of Peterson’s travels pre-lockdown – which feel somewhat eerie in light of the events of the following 18 months – with shots of an empty London in March-June last year and some of the many record sleeves in his collection.
Included with these are texts from Peterson as well as contributions from musicians in the Worldwide FM community – the radio station that, alongside BBC6 Music, Peterson broadcast 80 shows from during lockdown. Playlists from these are also featured in the book.
“Every morning I walked across Clissold Park to the studio,” writes Peterson in the intro. “Brownswood is a place where I can study and broadcast daily. Having Worldwide FM as a platform allowed me to reach out to a global community, all of whom were equally impacted by the pandemic. Every Saturday I drove into a deserted central London to broadcast an extended four hours from an eerily abandoned BBC building. Over lockdown, I did 80 shows that were reflective, therapeutic, celebratory and all too often tinged with sadness.”
Some of the most poignant moments in the book come through the obituaries that crop up with devastating regularity throughout its pages, written by Peterson and others. These include tributes to musical greats including Andrew Weatherall, McCoy Tyner, Manu Dibango, Tony Allen, and more, who all died in the period that the book covers. In contrast to these sadder moments, Peterson also documents the birthdays of some of the musicians he is close to, including Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder and Dee Dee Bridgewater.
As well as the impact of Covid, the end of the book (which comes to a close at the end of June 2020) also takes in the Black Lives Matter protests that took place globally last summer through contributions by Erica McKoy, Thristian (Global Roots) and Paul Martin.
Published a year on, Lockdown FM makes for a thoughtful if scattered document of a time that is unlikely to be forgotten by any of us anytime soon. With coronavirus still proving confounding and continuing to dominate the news cycle, the months recorded in such detail by Peterson seem both sealed in the past and ongoing. Yet the book’s outlook is ultimately optimistic, and the healing power of music resonates throughout.
Lockdown FM: Broadcasting In A Pandemic is published by Worldwide FM; worldwidefm.net