RIP Jim Godbolt (1922-2013)

It is sad to receive report, from a good friend, of the passing away of pre-eminent British jazz writer and historian Jim Godbolt, peacefully on Wednesday night.


Both as the editor of his two Quartet UK jazz histories (for a couple of fraught years) the typesetter & writer of much of the copy for Jazz at Ronnie Scott’s, I got to know Jim extremely well over the last 25 years & I’ll miss him a lot now he’s gone. The word “cantankerous” might have been specially coined to describe him (he invariably announced his – always unexpected & generally extremely inconvenient – arrival in my office by harrumphing to make me look up & then sticking just two erect fingers round the door as a greeting; phone calls from him would invariably end with his saying – disregarding the fact that he’d rung you, not you him – “I can’t talk any more, I have things to do”, followed by a loud crash as he slammed the receiver angrily down in its cradle), but he was also unexpectedly soft-hearted about some things (the music of Miff Mole, the birds that visited his feeders up on the fourth floor of his mansion block in Gospel Oak, occasional acts of kindness to him that managed to pierce his protective grumpy carapace) and he could also be extremely funny, especially when reminiscing about his days as an agent, trying to keep the likes of George Melly and Mick Mulligan in order (not to mention – bizarrely – the Swinging Blue Jeans).

He was also a very witty and perceptive writer, his autobiography (All This and Many a Dog) filled with hilarious stories (the humour usually at his own expense) and his histories packed with revealing anecdotes about the jazz world he knew so well. His various editing jobs, too, he carried out with dogged efficiency (he was adept at muddling through crises, the prime requirement for such tasks) & his incandescent rages (sparked by everything from late payments from advertisers to non-delivery of promised copy & the apparent ability of misprints to appear magically on final proofs) were always tinged with self-awareness and a keen sense of the ridiculous. In short, he was a one-off, a unique individual about whom everyone who encountered him had a wholly characteristic story (at his recent 90th-birthday celebration, held around the bed to which he’d been confined for the previous few months, the air rang with such anecdotes, all with Jim as their hapless hero, but all told with great affection), and, in his case, the cliché that “we won’t see his like again” is, for once, absolutely true.


‘A hearty curmudgeon’ was how one of Jim’s good friends described him. The gathering at Jim Godbolt’s 90th birthday party proved that this gentle no-nonsense and extremely sharp-witted man was a much-loved figure in the jazz community.

After wartime service in the navy he spent much of the rest of his life in jazz, initially as a band manager and musicians’ agent. Following his struggle to make a living in the tough jazz scene of the late 1960s, he wrote about his contact with a fellow-agent (unnamed): ‘He was the dominant party in the arrangement and did all the talking, but he wanted company, an essential continually deluding him, and I wanted money, an essential continually eluding me.’

In the 1970s he was forced to supplement his income by meter-reading in London flats, porn shops, and other establishments where, being Jim, he found many sources of amusement to add to his memoirs. Then from 1979 to 2006, as well as writing his two-volume history of jazz in Britain and a book about jazz ephemera, he edited and published the magazine Jazz at Ronnie Scott’s which included his oral images of musicians and a witty self-deprecating portrayal of his relationship with the management. Describing Scott’s reaction to the humour in the typescripts he wrote in his memoir: ‘On the few occasions his features registered a glimmer of a smile, he quickly suppressed it and was probably ashamed of himself for such an uncharacteristic lapse.’

Jim’s strong opinions were delivered with light humour along with expressions of anguish at the frequent misspelling of his name. His lifestyle, like his writing, was energetic and ascetic. His flat was a great mine of records and papers, and from this apparent chaos emerged a lovingly compiled Properbox set of CDs Jazz in Britain 1919-1950. In his late 80s he was working on another book, and there was always a warm greeting for anyone who managed to climb the stairs to his fourth-floor flat (no lift) to talk about jazz or writing or share his music.

 Jim Godbolt (born 5 October 1922, died 9th January 2013)

Categories: miscellaneous

3 replies »

  1. Sue Davies writes:

    “Jim was a part of all out lives for many years and a great fixer of good things though whenever he moved on, the people he left felt bereaved and never understood that going to Ronnies was not a sell out of the old stuff! !”

  2. My last encounter with Jim was at the Three Greyhounds where we had a few of the amber fluids with Roxy Beaujolais before trundling down to Trafalgar Square to attend Ronnie's Memorial Service. A lovely guy, and good company.

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