“Thin and tense, his head with its pointed features crouching between his shoulders as though emerging from its burrow into a dangerous world, his eyes as cold and watchful as those of a pike in the reeds. Around this thin, heron-like figure a whole comic tradition of disaster then descended” – George Melly on Jim Godbolt
Above: Godbolt (2nd right) with old jazz cronies including Coleridge Goode (far left)
I know that as a general rule obituaries are not supposed to be amusing, but I have to admit to having chuckled at the Telegraph‘s send-off for Jim Godbolt, the jazz writer, jazz historian and one-time agent/manager for some leading British jazz bands. Godbolt was a legendary curmudgeon who, one suspects, rather played up to his reputation – at least in his later years. The piece notes that one of Godbolt’s ventures was, for a while, writing obituaries for the Telegraph: I wonder if it’s possible that he wrote, and then ‘banked,’ this one himself..?
Jim Godbolt, who has died aged 90, devoted 70 years to jazz as a band manager, booking agent, journalist and historian.
Though he played no instrument and periodically found himself forced to take work in other fields, he was always ready to serve the music he loved in any capacity and for little money. But an ungracious manner, beginning with the way he snapped “Jim Godbolt” down the telephone, did not win him friends, although there were times when he could inspire a certain astonished affection.
Every time he was ignored, slighted or sworn at, the offence was carefully remembered, to be grimly repeated in his memoir, ‘All This and 10%’. There were the regular misspellings of his name — as Goodolt, Godlio, Godolt, Goabit or Goldblatt — and the occasion on which he was told that he was not paranoid, as paranoia would have meant him imagining that people were trying to avoid him. It was not his imagination.
George Melly left a striking description of Godbolt: “Thin and tense, his head with its pointed features crouching between his shoulders as though emerging from its burrow into a dangerous world, his eyes as cold and watchful as those of a pike in the reeds. Around this thin, heron-like figure a whole comic tradition of disaster then descended.”
Godbolt was under no illusions about his charms. When the libel lawyer nervously reading ‘All This’ wanted to eliminate a reference to a Len Bloggs, “a snarling anti-social inverted snob with a chip on his shoulder” , Godbolt pointed out that it was a portrait of himself.
James Godbolt was born in Wandsworth, south London, on October 5 1922. He went to Central School, Sidcup, where he failed to distinguish himself, then became an office boy with the stockbrokers Evans Gordon and Sandeman Clark. At 18 he left to earn £5 a week as a timekeeper on a building site and joined the No 1 Rhythm Club at Sidcup, Kent, before being called up by the Royal Navy to serve in armed trawlers in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
On leave in Cape Town, his appetite for jazz was further whetted when he bought 150 records from a hardware shop at one shilling each. He returned home to become manager of George Webb’s Dixielanders, which aspired to the authentic New Orleans style.
When the band collapsed with the withdrawal of the key members Humphrey Lyttelton and Wally Fawkes, Godbolt became a salesman for a signwriting firm, then an agricultural worker. Next he edited Jazz Illustrated, notable for its misprints before it folded after eight issues.
Although jazz at that time was rent by a bitter civil war between “trad” and modernist players, Godbolt steered clear of faction. He became a booker for the modernist Johnny Dankworth Seven and the traditionalist Graeme Bell Australian Jazz Band; protected the American guitarist Lonnie Johnson from fans on one provincial tour, and on another tried to keep the trombonist Dickie Wells sober. He also took on the management of the chaotic, hard-drinking Mick Mulligan band, worked for Lyttelton, toured Sweden with Bruce Turner’s Jump Band and ran a jazz club above the Six Bells at Chelsea. An enthusiastic cricketer, he was a member of The Ravers, which claimed to be the world’s only jazzmen’s cricket XI.
When pop music took centre stage in the 1960s, Godbolt was making his mark as agent/manager of The Swinging Blue Jeans during the period of their hit Hippy Hippy Shake. He managed to conceal his lack of enthusiasm for the new music when interviewed by Melody Maker, but when he went on to work for a large booking organisation his heart was not in it.
Taking a flat five floors up in a building without a lift near Hampstead Heath, he started out as a freelance journalist to earn the slimmest pickings. Eventually he was forced to work as a cleaner at the Savoy hotel and as an electricity meter reader, which left him with an aversion to dogs.
When his memoir was published in 1976, it sold only 400 copies. But two subsequent editions fared better, and Godbolt the author found himself in demand to review books and appear on radio programmes. Ever his own worst enemy, however, he was indignant to discover that those interviewed on Woman’s Hour were not paid; indeed, he was so indignant that he ended up being neither interviewed nor paid.
Another offer was writing obituaries for The Daily Telegraph. He became a frequent contributor, and could produce facts that could never be found elsewhere. Some members of the obituaries desk, however, were exasperated at being asked to sort out his prose and put up with his surly replies to queries. One of his more unusual submissions was two versions of the band leader Cab Calloway; one in standard English, the other in hepcat’s argot. Eventually an argument about the editing of his obituary of his brother, who kept a pub, led to the appointment of a more obliging wordsmith.
Goldbolt also wrote a two-volume History of Jazz in Britain (1984 and 1986), which addressed not only musicians but also critics, promoters, discographers and fans . When a second edition was published in 2005 it was accompanied by a four-disc set of 100 numbers culled from his personal collection. Godbolt’s last work, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Farrago (2007), drew on his recollections of editing the magazine Jazz at Ronnie Scott’s, which he had produced at the saxophonist’s club in Gerrard Street for 26 years.
Jim Godbolt knew that he possessed an unrivalled knowledge of British jazz. Those who knew him, however, will remember him as a character who could have stepped from the pages of Dickens.
He was unmarried.
Jim Godbolt, born October 5 1922, died January 10 2013