Champion of black music who coined the term 'northern soul'
By Richard Williams
Wednesday October 20, 2004
When the musicians and singers of
the first Motown Revue - the Miracles, the Supremes, Martha and
the Vandellas, "Little" Stevie Wonder and Earl Van Dyke and the
Soul Brothers - disembarked at London airport for their first
British tour in the spring of 1965, the hand stretching out to
greet them was that of Dave Godin, the leading light of the
Tamla Motown Appreciation Society, founded the previous year.
Godin, who has died at the age of 68, was then, as he remained
for the rest of his life, Britain's most effective propagandist
on behalf of soul music.
Godin did not coin that term, but
he did come up with the epithets that adhered to two of its most
distinctive variants: deep soul, which describes the idiom at
its most emotionally intense, and northern soul, encapsulating
the fast, urgent style beloved by dancers at clubs such as Wigan
Casino, Blackpool Mecca and other venues north of the Trent. His
knowledge and enthusiasm made him into something of an arbiter
when it came to disputes over artistic authenticity within a
field abounding in purists of all persuasions.
As a journalist, record company
adviser, record shop owner and even, briefly, owner of his own
labels devoted to the African-American music he considered a
pinnacle of 20th-century culture, his influence was out of all
proportion both to his limited fame and to the rewards he
received. In recent years, however, four volumes of a series
called Dave Godin's Deep Soul Treasures created renewed interest
in the music he loved with such a profound and enduring passion.
Selling in unexpectedly healthy quantities, they helped create a
new and younger audience for such gifted but long-neglected
artists as Doris Duke, Bessie Banks, Irma Thomas, the Knight
Brothers and the Soul Children.
There was more to Godin than a
love of music, however. A militant atheist, a conscientious
objector who argued his way out of national service, a
vegetarian from the age of 14, a campaigner against cruelty to
animals and cinema censorship, he abhorred violence and believed
in fairness in all areas of human conduct. His support for
America's civil rights movement underpinned his belief that
blues and soul music gained their special force from the social
and historical context in which they were created.
To him, the fact that he
introduced Mick Jagger to black music was probably the least
interesting thing he did in his life. Idolising the original
performers, he was aghast when Jagger, a school acquaintance,
and a group of friends appropriated the music and sold it back
to American audiences. To Godin, this represented the ultimate
betrayal of the music and the people who had invented it. "We
were working on behalf of black America," he told the writer Jon
Savage many years later, "and it seemed that they were working
on behalf of themselves."
Born in Peckham three years
before the outbreak of the second world war and raised in
Lambeth, he moved with his family to Bexleyheath when the
activities of the Luftwaffe made their south London street
uninhabitable. A milkman's son, he won a scholarship to Dartford
Grammar School, where he met the young Jagger and witnessed the
birth of the Rolling Stones.
Ruth Brown's Mama He Treats Your
Daughter Mean, heard on a juke box in an ice-cream parlour in
the straitlaced world of 1950s Britain, was his own introduction
to the emotional directness of black music. Reading Norman
Jopling's erudite reviews in the Record Mirror and listening to
Salut Les Copains on Europe 1 provided further evidence of the
existence of music that made contemporary white pop music sound
anaemic and trivial.
After starting his working life
as a junior in an advertising agency, he spent two years working
in a hospital in lieu of national service. But music was
assuming an increasing importance, and he knew he was not alone
when his letter to Record Mirror, complaining about their
failure to review a Bo Diddley LP, attracted correspondence from
other R&B fans. "I suppose it's like being gay," he said.
"Everybody thinks they're the only gay person in the world until
they realise there's more out there."
A column in a new magazine, Home
Of The Blues, gave him an audience, but the seal of approval
arrived in 1964, when Berry Gordy Jr, the founder of the
fledgling Motown empire, flew him to Detroit, threw a
star-studded party to welcome him, and offered him a job as the
company's consultant in Britain. It was Godin who pressed Gordy
and EMI, their British licensee, to raise the label's profile by
creating a Tamla Motown label, on which releases by the
Supremes, Four Tops, Temptations and others gradually became a
presence in the British charts.
In 1968, he founded Soul City, a
record shop which began in Deptford High Street and later moved
to Monmouth Street in the west end of London. Soul City was also
the name of the first of his two independent record labels, on
which he released such classics as Go Now by Bessie Banks, the
original (and vastly superior) version of a song that gave the
Moody Blues their first British hit.
When Home Of The Blues mutated
into Blues And Soul, Godin's column became even more
influential. Whether unearthing obscure waxings, exposing frauds
or simply namechecking ordinary fans, he imbued his prose with
the flavour of true obsession. "The recent death of 'Flash'
Atkinson," he once wrote, "will be felt by many for a long time.
One of the real, true characters on the soul scene, he will not
have died in vain if it saves one life by remembering never to
take a record player into the bathroom with you." Each column
ended with the rallying cry: "Keep the faith - right on now!"
In the 1970s he moved north,
taking a degree at Sheffield University and later becoming the
first director of the Anvil arts cinema. Generous in his
enthusiasms but unsparing in his judgements, he once said of
David Blunkett, a Sheffield acquaintance, "That man always had a
whiff of Stalin about him."
Along with Guy Stevens, DJ at
London's Scene club, Vicki Wickham, the producer of Ready Steady
Go, and the pirate radio DJ Mike Raven, Dave Godin helped create
the wave of enthusiasm that made soul music a vital part of
British youth culture in the 1960s and 1970s. The 100 tracks
contained within the four volumes of Deep Soul Treasures remain
as a permanent memorial to the success of his self-appointed
mission, for which many have cause to be grateful.
[Dave Godin, journalist,
activist, arts cinema director; born June 31 1936; died October