wed 22/05/2024

Robert Sandall, Writer on The Arts Desk, RIP | reviews, news & interviews

Robert Sandall, Writer on The Arts Desk, RIP

Robert Sandall, Writer on The Arts Desk, RIP

Leading music broadcaster of breadth and passion dies aged 58

Robert Sandall: 'he was a true enthuser'BBC Radio 3

Robert Sandall, the music writer and broadcaster, and one of the first members of The Arts Desk, died this morning from prostate cancer. He was 58. His wit, easy style and energetic intelligence were seen in a number of book and concert reviews he did for this site, despite the encroachment of cancer.

His range of interest and enthusiasms were shown in the subjects he covered, from his acute interview with Katherine Jenkins to his study of the Steve Jobs effect on the music industry. He was a presenter of Radio 3's eclectic Mixing It and Late Junction, a former Sunday Times rock critic and a regular contributor to the serious arts pages. You can find all Robert's Arts Desk pieces here.

Robert was born in London and studied English at Oxford and Cornell University in the USA. He played in a series of punk and post-punk rock bands that "have not gone down in history". He then became a "ski-bum" for three years - a combination of working and having fun on the slopes of Europe. At the same time, he continued his association with music and began to compose incidental music for radio plays. He began writing about music in 1986, contributing reviews and features to a number of publications, and became one of Q magazine's main feature writers.

In 1988, Robert was appointed as the Sunday Times rock critic and in 1990 became co-presenter on Mixing It, BBC Radio 3's eclectic mix of rare, strange and beautiful sounds, presented with musician Mark Russell. In the early Nineties, Robert became a presenter for Anglia Television and the cable channel VH1, and later joined Virgin Records. Recently he presented Radio 3's Late Junction, his last edition in June homing in on contemporary variants of the folk tradition, his choices including Natalie Merchant - whom he reviewed for theartsdesk - and Paul Weller.

Joe Muggs adds:  'His stint on Mixing It on Radio 3 (the cancellation of which was criminal) was a huge influence on me - one of the most important bits of music broadcasting of recent years, in fact, and instrumental in creating a climate where experimental music of all stripes could be considered on a level playing field. He will be very greatly missed.'

Ismene Brown adds: 'He was a real enthuser for all kinds of new discoveries, a keen supporter of theartsdesk, such a wonderful and easy writer, and we knew him for much too short a time.'

Bruce Dessau adds: 'Shocked and saddened to hear this. I worked with Robert at the very start of our careers in the Eighties and then lost touch with him when he went on to great things. I was always a fan of his eloquent, elegant writing and when I saw he was involved in TAD I was looking forward to catching up. Very upset that this will never happen now.'

Peter Culshaw adds: 'One of the most enjoyable things of working on theartsdesk in the last year was getting to know Robert Sandall, as I had previously only admired his writing from afar. Even when he was ill, his enthusiasm for a new record was infectious and he had an amazing knowledge and an unerring, unsnobbish taste in music and a wonderfully elegant style of writing. One of the best, anywhere. When reading his brilliant lead review of David Sylvian's album for the very first New Music CD Round-up was the first time I really thought theartsdesk was going to succeed in its aims and he was always tremendously supportive of the site. A lovely, funny, bright guy full of a huge fund of amazing music business anecdotes as well. Plenty of artists loved his acute ear and sympathetic nature as well - when Sade launched her new album last year, for example, she agreed to only one interview - with Robert. He really will be terribly missed.'

Adam Sweeting adds: 'I realised Robert was ill, but not how seriously. It’s very depressing to hear about what he endured over the last few months. I often used to bump into him at gigs, press dos and Brit Award shindigs when I was the Guardian rock critic, and always enjoyed his languid but piercingly shrewd observations. His experience of working on the “dark side”, as Communications Director of Virgin Records, had given him an insider’s understanding of how the really murky bits of the record industry operate, and that afforded him priceless ammunition for his writing. I used to think of him more as an essayist than a mere common-or-garden hack, and he had the gift of delivering killer blows beneath the urbane exterior of his writing. It was a feather in our cap to have him writing for theartsdesk. It’s tragic that he won’t be aboard for what we hope will be a brilliant future.'


His stint on Radio 3's Mixing It was one of the most important bits of music broadcasting of recent years

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He was witty and informative. One of the memories of him was when they ( Sandall & Russell ) kept badgering The Residents 'Spokesmen' if they were in fact The Residents. The axing of Mixing It by the BBC was criminal. RIP, sir.

It's uplifting for all his friends at this sad time to see such a genuine and heartfelt reaction to his death from so many people, not just here but all over the web. It reminds us what a real influence he had on the music scene, what a generous and talented writer he was and how much enthusiasm he had for music. And he was a decent man. His last few months were pretty horrid but he wore it well and he showed no self pity. He had a good wine cellar too - we'll drink to him tonight...RIP dear Robert.

I would like to thank everyone, from the bottom of our hearts, for posting their wonderful words and kindness, about Robert.. I will in time, get to collate and so keep everything for our daughter Gracie, aged 8 yrs. Robert died peacefully in my arms, this morning, at 7am and Gracie had been sleeping with him in his room all night too. His oldest friend of some 40 years, was also with him throughout the night. Robert had already had the disease for some 10-14 years, when it was diagnosed when 'we' were 7 months pregnant, in a routine BUPA medical check-up. His bravery and strength will live on in out hearts, for ever: the difficulties of its medication and side-effects made life incredibly hard for robert. We had a lot of time over the last few months, weeks and days to be with him and tell him how much he was loved and how desperately he will be missed. Thank you again; I have just seen this by chance but will hope to get everything for Gracie as I say, over time. Robert also recorded a stunning 'Late Junction', just a month or so ago: he was already very ill at this stage but made a beautiful and heart-felt programme. Anita Sandall

Robert was such a lovely, lovely man who I first came across personally when he was writing for The Word – such a great writer and such a joy to deal with. Incredibly self-effacing too, given his talents. We finally met last September when I was making a tiny film about the Mercury Prize for The Guardian, and it was wonderful to spend an hour with him in his flat, just by Spitalfields. I loved the way he said exactly what he thought, without kow-towing to anyone or anything, in such a caring, intelligent way. He will be very much missed, by so many people - much love and sympathies to his family and friends.

There's lots of twitter messages in the last 24 hours about Robert. One of the best was someone who worked for Virgin who said there was an important meeting and Robert was late - he found him reading poetry by a canal. Several mention his love of fine wines and hampers he used to take to Glastonbury. Adam Sweeting's point that his knowledge of the "other side" of the music business gave him valuable ammunition for his writing is a good one. He also wrote quite a bit and in depth about cancer, and "maze" confronting sufferers, the media hype of new discoveries etc since he was diagnosed. For what it's worth, he also said he enjoyed writing for theartsdesk more than he had done for years because of the freedom it offered him and the narrowmindedness he felt was abroad at the Sunday Times etc. Despite his illness, he managed to retain a good sense of humour without self pity.

So sad, so sad. I loved Mixing It. I loved his broadcasts on Late Junction. I loved the generosity with which Sandall shared his knowledge, enthusiasm and passion for the music he played. And more than that, he allowed listeners the benefit of an intellect. You don't come across people like that on the radio too often. He was a breath of erudition in a stuffy medium that frequently seems doubtful of inteligent listeners.

Hi Anita you probably don't remember me but I met you at the Brits many years ago when you first met Robert. I used to work with Robert in press at Virgin about 11 years ago. I was terribly fond of Robert and am so saddened by the news I have just heard. He was a fantastic mentor and boss. He always put a smile on my face with his mid afternoon naps which he found so important. I was strangely going through my wedding photographs last night which is what made me think of him. My love and thoughts go to you and your daughter Gracie. Much love ..xx

I only knew Robert as he came down the radio waves into my life and I would like to pass on my condolences to all those that knew his physical presence. Thank you,Robert for the enthusiasm and good humour as you opened up new musical pathways to me. It was a real treat to hear you again on ''Late Junction'' last month.

I have just read of Robert's passing in The Times and I am deeply saddened. For me, he was an ever-reliable beacon of good musical taste and erudition. His reviews and interviews were thoughtful and beautifully written and have sent me scurrying off to record shops many times. The loss of 'Mixing It' still rankles. It has been a privilege to read and listen to his work.

I was introduced to 'Mixing It' in about 1996 and really came to love it. One of my all-time favourite radio shows, as much for the thoughtful and open-minded presenters as the music. Thanks to that show I was introduced to so much music at such an important time. Most people will talk about the great loss of John Peel, and of course they're right, but in many ways Robert Sandall and Mark Russell were more important to me than Peel ever was. Never met Robert but always thought it would be great to do so and one of my proudest moments was to have one of my emails read out on 'Mixing It' (by Robert, if I recall correctly) - I think he played something by Radiohead after I'd requested it and I must still have it on a tape somewhere. Happy days then but a very sad loss now. My thoughts go out to Anita and Gracie.

I was pupil at Haberdashers' Aske's Girls' School when Robert taught at the next door Boys' School. All the girls thought him the most beautiful man they had ever seen - quite properly, he never seemed to notice this, as we sighed around him in the coach park! Reading the messages of love here, it would seem he was as lovely inside as out. A special man. Sincere condolences.

This evening (Wed 22nd Sept, 23:15hr) on 'Late Junction' BBC Radio 3, Fiona Talkington will include some of Robert's favourite tracks. A nice tribute for a truly great radio presenter.

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