It is so tempting for a writer to share or refer to enthusiasms when writing, and it is wonderful when they reflect our own unexpectedly. It is a particular delight, for example, to see the allusion to the elephant powder joke in Ali Smith’s There But For The, which is always associated here so happily with a Spike Milligan TV show, rightly or wrongly. Little things like that do matter.
There is a glorious passage in Autumn where a character vows to keep on “bombarding that fence with people’s histories and with the artefacts of less cruel and more philanthropic times”. This is a very civil protest against a fenced-off enclosure where it seems a new refugee detention centre will be built, but more generally it can be interpreted as a promise to defy the poison tide. It is also a totally inspirational definition of why we do what we do, and why we must keep on doing so, even if it means saying the same things over and over.
Ali’s writing is peppered with references to her passions, and she does not shy away from repeating herself. There is the poet Olive Fraser in Public Library, and the pop artist Pauline Boty in Autumn, both as symbols of the cycle where cultural figures are ignored, lost, rediscovered, ignored, lost, rediscovered, ignored, lost, and so on.
Dusty Springfield, another of Ali’s Desert Island Discs choices, pops up often in her writing, and in particular references recur to a story about the great singer chucking a bread roll at an incredibly rude Maître D’ in the Post Office Tower restaurant, her defiance of apartheid in South Africa, and how she was an evangelist for Tamla Motown in the UK.
Someone else who is credited as being one of the prime movers in spreading the word about Tamla Motown in the UK is Dave Godin, who gets some welcome attention in Jon Savage’s 1966: The Year The Decade Exploded, a book which proves a vital challenge to the Sandbrookernisation of history which is being allowed to permeate by lazy commissioning editors.
Dominic Sandbrook is one of those pushy, privileged but bitter young fogeys, like Farage and Gove, who sourly seem intent on wreaking revenge on those who were so far ahead of them as kids in terms of being smart and cool. They have to be challenged.
Dave Godin, once of this parish, was both an egalitarian and an inveterate snob, and is perhaps best known now for his invaluable Deep Soul series of CDs for Kent. In the preface to the 2008 publication A Girl Called Dusty the author Sharon Davis gives special thanks to Dave: “He had founded the first Tamla Motown Fan Club in Britain, of which Dusty was a member, and was a forerunner in promoting Motown music in this country. Among his many talents he was a journalist, ran his own record store in London, spearheaded his own record label and quickly earned the title of a black music historian. He was also my dearest friend and mentor. Months before his death (in 2004) he wrote an essay about Dusty and gave it to me for safekeeping in the knowledge that I would one day write my book.”
Dave’s very moving Dusty essay is included right at the start of Sharon’s book, and sets the tone perfectly. This is a little of what he wrote: “Like all great stars she had ambiguity; she sang and radiated warmth and affection, and yet, a tiny element of sadness and loneliness was also visible; a paradox that was perhaps more universally recognized on a subconscious level by her public than she or her record companies ever realized.”
When, in 1966, Dave and his comrades started a record shop, Soul City, in Deptford High Street (Fun City SE8), Brigid Brophy was asked to perform the honours at the official opening. There is a story on the Northern Soul scene about how an instrumental version of Steve Karmen’s ‘Breakaway’ was played in a ‘cover-up’ form as ‘Black Ship To Hell’ by The Johnny Adams Band, a title apparently suggested by Dave Godin, as a tribute to the Brigid Brophy book about destructive instincts. Somehow it seems reasonable to suggest Ali Smith would approve of all this enormously, and forgive anyone for repeating the story.