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The Herald Obituary

Dave Godin

Former promotional consultant at Motown

An ice-cream parlour in Bexleyheath might seem a strange setting for one of the crucial moments in British popular culture, but it was in such a place in 1953 that Dave Godin, a writer, cineaste and music aficionado, who has died of cancer aged 68, had his first experience of black American music.

Dave, who previously had no interest in popular music, finding the British pop of the time to be anaemic stuff and preferring avant-garde jazz and classical music, was transfixed by the music coming from the parlour's jukebox. It was a sound, he said, "earthy, so real and so adult‚" and this realisation – that popular music could stir the deepest emotions – was to change the course of his life and to help bring about what, with hindsight, seems now inevitable: the enormous success and huge influence of black American music of the 1960s in Britain.

Dave Godin was born in London in 1936 and his family relocated to Kent during the Blitz. A bright child, he won a scholarship to Dartford Grammar School, where his contemporaries included Mick Jagger. I once asked him if he had any regrets and he said: "Lending Mick Jagger a Muddy Waters album." He thought The Rolling Stones' versions of black American songs were travesties and that their success belonged by rights to the original artists. "We were working for black American music," he said, "and they were working for themselves."

Dave abhorred exploitation of any sort. Politically he was an anarchist, as critical of socialism as capitalism, an Esperantist who wrote for publications all over the world, and a militant atheist who in later years became an advocate of the Jainist view of the interconnectedness of all living beings. He was vegetarian from the age of 14 and then vegan. He was also a staunch opponent of censorship in the arts, particularly cinema, another great passion. In the 1970s, he moved to Sheffield, where he established the Anvil Cinema and where he lived for the rest of his life.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of his career came in 1964 when, as founder president of the Tamla Motown Appreciation Society and unimpressed by what he thought were lacklustre efforts to promote Motown in the UK, he wrote to Motown boss Berry Gordy with some suggestions as to how the label could increase presence in the UK. By return came a five-page telegram from Gordy and then a ticket to Detroit, where Dave was feted with a banquet. He returned as the company's promotional consultant. It was his idea to join the names of two of Gordy's labels, Tamla and Motown, and o promote the music not as that of separate acts but for its distinctive sound. These strategies finally brought Motown success in the UK.

It was in his extraordinarily popular column in Blues & Soul magazine that he coined the term northern soul, to describe the tastes of soul fans in the north of England. He also coined the term deep soul (the name of a record label he established to release what he thought to be the best of the best) and the series of four compilation albums he prepared for Kent records, Deep Soul Treasures Taken From The Vaults, the last of which appeared just a month before his death, serve as a fitting monument to a life dedicated to preaching the gospel of American soul.