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The Guardian Obituary

Dave Godin
Champion of black music who coined the term 'northern soul'

By Richard Williams
Wednesday October 20, 2004
The Guardian

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 15 2004]