Of all the colourful characters in the London jazz world, none was more luminous than Jim Godbolt. The two adjectives his friends regularly used to describe him were ‘cantankerous’ and ‘curmudgeonly’, but they also admitted that he did more than most people to support musicians, not least in the books he wrote about British jazz.
After working as an office boy for a firm of stockbrokers and a timekeeper on a building site, he was called up by the Royal Navy. On leave in Cape Town, he whetted his burgeoning interest in jazz by buying 150 gramophone records from a cheap hardware store.
Back in Britain, he became the manager of George Webb’s Dixielanders, who played in the manner of the early masters of jazz – a style they picked up from listening to old 78s. When two of the Dixielanders’ regulars, Humphrey Lyttelton and Wally Fawkes, left, the band broke up. Godbolt became a salesman and then a farmworker.
But he returned to jazz as a booker for the progressive Johnny Dankworth Seven and another Dixieland band, fronted by the Australian bandleader Graeme Bell. He also managed the chaotic Mick Mulligan band, teamed up with Lyttelton again, toured Sweden with a band led by the clarinettist and sax player Bruce Turner, and ran a jazz club in Chelsea.
Come the 1960s, he acknowledged the newly emergent pop market by becoming the agent and manager of the Liverpool group the Swinging Blue Jeans, who came close to topping the charts with Hippy Hippy Shake. But in private, he had to admit he had absolutely no affinity with their music.
He then turned to journalism, eking out this new strand to his career by working as a cleaner at the Savoy Hotel and reading electricity meters. As a writer, though, he proved to be an adept chronicler of jazz by producing, among other works, A History of Jazz in Britain (1919-50) and its sequel covering the years between 1950 and 1970; Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Farrago; and The World of Jazz in Printed Ephemera and Collectibles.
On the LondonJazz website, fond memories of him have been recorded, as well as instances of his irascible behaviour. He could phone up a friend, chat for a while and then bark down the receiver: “I can’t talk anymore. I’ve got things to do”, before slamming the phone down. He once told a friend that he was feeling paranoiac that people were trying to avoid him. That’s not paranoia, came the reply, people are trying to avoid you – a comment he would perversely have enjoyed.
Jim Godbolt, who was born on October 5, 1922, died on January 10, aged 90.