The documentary I made on Gil Scott-Heron in 2009 was a struggle. The radio producer and I did not get along. The company she worked for approached Gil about the documentary and he said he would only do it if I were the presenter.
The hotel they booked in NY where I interviewed Gil was a shitty dive in Times Square. Within a day of checking in the doorman pointed out the local drug dealer in case I might want some. It was an undeserving place to interview an artist so great. The producer insisted on buying Gil a present. . It was spring. Buy him a pair of raybans I said. After the interview in that shitty little hotel she presented her gift to a man near sixty years old whose biggest chart hit was The Bottle, a man who’d struggled with addiction through half his life. It was a giant duty free bottle of whisky. I was mortified.
Contrary to BBC interviewer John Humphries description I don't describe myself as a friend of Gil Scott Heron. Gil may have disagreed. I know too many of his friends to use the term with conviction. Back in England, knowing of Gil's return to form, I'd been pursuing the reluctant music booker at Southbank Centre (he’s now left). I badgered him to approach Richard Russell at the record company and Jamie Byng, the publisher to get Gil to do his first comeback performance at Southbank Centre.
“He’s a junky and unreliable” the booker sneared. But I persisted for over a year and finally, as he saw the light he booked Gil. Though unacknowledged it was a highlight of my residency at southbank centre. Gil loved the radio documentary and his performance at Southbank Centre was the beacon that illuminated the success to come. Gil was back. I had played my part as an intimate fan. You can listen to the BBC radio Documentary here