Dave Godin

Esperanto-speaking vegan who became an apostle of soul

Dave Godin was one of the world's leading authorities on soul music, who as a journalist, compiler of records and CDs, and general ideologue for what he saw as the cause of black American music, helped to transform popular culture in Britain.

David Godin, music journalist and CD compiler: born London 21 June 1936; died Rotherham, South Yorkshire 15 October 2004.

Dave Godin was one of the world's leading authorities on soul music, who as a journalist, compiler of records and CDs, and general ideologue for what he saw as the cause of black American music, helped to transform popular culture in Britain.

In a long career in which he was also engaged in a whole range of political and ethical activities involving anarchism, Esperanto, vegetarianism and later veganism, animal liberation and film censorship (on which he was also a world authority), Godin was, among other things, responsible for the creation of a dedicated Tamla-Motown label in the UK, the co-owner of the first specialist black music record shop in Europe (Soul City, in Deptford and later Covent Garden), and the first person to give a name to the phenomenon of "Northern Soul".

His series of compilation albums for the Kent label, Dave Godin's Deep Soul Treasures, the fourth volume of which appeared only a month before his death from lung cancer last week, is one of the great achievements of popular music scholarship, raising his beloved rhythm and blues and soul to the status of grand opera, the only art-form he thought capable of achieving the same level of emotional intensity. Until his retirement through ill-health, Godin also ran the Anvil Film Theatre in Sheffield, a civic cinema that he, as Senior Film Officer, had helped to create. Here, his rigorous approach to programming ("Dictatorship in the arts, democracy in everything else" was his credo) enriched the arts scene of his adoptive South Yorkshire, where he was a well-known figure, often appearing on local radio.

Godin's personal discovery of black American music occurred in an emblematically English moment of epiphany, in an ice-cream parlour in Bexleyheath in 1953. Some builders were playing records on a brand new American jukebox, and, struck by the shockingly new sound, the 16-year-old Godin tried to swivel his eyes along with the spinning record in order to read the label and see what it was:

I was trying to read it as it went round and this bloke saw that I was interested, and pointed it out on the list: Ruth Brown, "Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean". I'd never heard a record like that before.

It was so earthy, so real, and the words were so adult. This young man - I wish I could go back and thank him because it changed my life - gave me about five sixpences and said, if you like this, you'll probably also like this, and this and this. It's called rhythm and blues, black American music.

Dave Godin, whose father worked as a milkman, was born in Lambeth, south London, in 1936. He spent his early childhood in Peckham before bombing forced the family to move to suburban Bexleyheath, in Kent, where he won a scholarship to Dartford Grammar School. "And it was at Dartford Grammar School, of course, that I met Mick Jagger and introduced him to black music, I'm ashamed to say," Godin told the writer Jon Savage in a 1997 interview. "It's ironic that as a result of meeting me he's where he is today."

Godin encouraged the younger Jagger in his interests in American R&B, and played a minor role in the early jam sessions out of which the group who later became the Rolling Stones emerged. He later took a Pyrrhic revenge on Jagger, whom he resented for what he saw as the Rolling Stones' exploitation of black music. At a recording of Ready Steady Go! in 1964, the already famous Jagger asked Godin to introduce him to the Tamla-Motown singer Marvin Gaye, whom Godin, by now Tamla's representative in the UK, was with. "I told him to fuck off and introduce himself," Godin recalled.

Following the encounter with Ruth Brown in the ice-cream parlour, Godin became an enthusiastic collector of American R&B, which in the UK at that time was a kind of underground, samizdat pursuit, as records weren't normally released here or played by the BBC. At around the same time, he also became a vegetarian, discovering an equivalent sense of solidarity when meeting fellow enthusiasts for either activity.

After leaving Dartford Grammar, Godin worked briefly in an advertising agency and travelled around the United States with a schoolfriend (where he experienced R&B concerts at first hand) before claiming Conscientious Objector status for his National Service. At the tribunal, at which he registered his objection not, as was usual, on religious grounds but because, as he said, "I didn't want to learn how to murder people", the committee congratulated him on the rigour with which he had presented his case, and he spent his two service years working as a hospital porter.

The most extraordinary episode in Godin's career is probably his role in the story of Tamla-Motown in the UK. In 1963, after setting up the Tamla- Motown Appreciation Society, and experiencing a lack of interest from Oriole, the various Tamla labels' parent label in the UK, Godin wrote directly to Motown in Detroit. He was shocked to receive a five-page telegram in reply from the founder Berry Gordy, inviting him to visit the company's headquarters forthwith. A plane ticket followed and Godin arrived in Detroit to be met by various Motown stars and taken to a banquet in his honour at which he couldn't eat any of the food because he was vegetarian.

On his visit, Gordy would casually ask his opinion on which new Supremes or Martha and the Vandellas single he should release next in the UK, and by the time he returned home Godin - whose bearded anarchist's countenance made him an unusual presence in the Motown milieu - had become a paid promotional consultant for the company. As such, he helped secure airplay on the new pirate radio stations, and encouraged EMI (who had taken over the Tamla labels' distribution from Oriole) to create a proprietary Tamla-Motown label, which Godin wished to promote on the basis of the overall Motown sound, rather than individual artists. The result was the greatest success story in the history of black music in the UK.

After later losing some of his credit with Berry Gordy by advising against going ahead with a Motown package tour of the UK, which ended up playing to half-empty houses, Godin set up the Soul City record shop in Deptford in 1967 (later moving to 17 Monmouth Street in Covent Garden), and began writing an influential column in the magazine Blues & Soul, also established in 1967. It was in a Blues & Soul column, in June 1970, that Godin made another significant cultural intervention, when he gave the name "Northern Soul" to the new soul scene emerging in clubs in Blackpool, Stoke and Manchester, whose fans would come into the Soul City shop at weekends looking for fast-tempo dance records notably different from those favoured in the south.

As a writer, Godin could be idiosyncratic - he took it as a compliment when a critic said he wrote as if translating from the German - and also combative, but his taste in soul music was unimpeachable. Shortly after the Soul City shop, and its associated record labels, Soul City and Deep Soul, went bust in 1971, Godin moved out of London in search of cheaper housing, first to Lincolnshire and then, in 1978, to Sheffield. At Sheffield Polytechnic, he enrolled on a new degree course in the History of Art, Design and Film, which led in turn to his appointment as a Film Officer and the creation of the Anvil Film Theatre.

Godin became an indefatigable campaigner against cruelty to animals in film-making, whose efforts succeeded in stamping out many abuses, as well as campaigning against all forms of film censorship. Although a lifelong atheist, in his later years Godin also became a proponent of the Jain religion.

In a life full of passionately held beliefs about all sorts of things, Dave Godin's identification of the concept of deep soul, and the four magnificent albums devoted to it that he compiled between 1997 and 2004, will stand as a permanent achievement. By bringing together obscure and neglected records whose unapologetic emotionalism did not suit all tastes in the soul spectrum, he created one of the towering monuments in the history of black music.

That it took an Esperanto-speaking vegan from Bexleyheath to do it is all the more poignant.

Phil Johnson

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform