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Jazz man Jim tells tale of when Ronnie Scott’s was brassed

Music aficionado Jim Godbolt recalled how record company boss came to the rescue of iconic venue

13 April, 2018

Jim Godbolt pictured in 2005

IT has been five years since Jim Godbolt, the rapscallion reporter of the British jazz scene, died and his ghost still occasionally pops up in front of Diary when a tale is to be told that the old schmoozer would have enjoyed.

Godbolt, who would launch into a regular tirade about how his name was often misspelt or mispronounced, seething when he was called Bodgolt, Hogwart, Goldbutt, or some other such near-miss, often by one of his clarinet tootling heroes, was a jazz aficionado, manager and agent for bands such as George Webb’s Dixielanders.

He could be a grump, but was also a respected and much-loved figure of the British trad jazz scene.

He was also the editor of the JARS – Jazz At Ronnie Scott’s, a monthly newsletter that included interviews with those who appeared at the Frith Street club. Sadly JARS is no longer published but Diary still peruses back copies when it’s a slow news day and always comes back up for air with a smile on its face.

Jim, who wrote extensively about the history of British jazz, revealed in one such edition that when Ronnie’s was in financial trouble in the early 1980s Ronnie and his business partner Pete King had tried to find backers with little success.

The cold hand of the receiver was hovering after one potential investor reneged on a deal at the very last minute.

“Business was bad and what money we had we had to pay out to musicians and others, suppliers and the VAT man were put off. Our debts mounted and we had to get outside help,” he quotes co-owner Pete as saying.

Pete King

Jim also added that he was pleased the unnamed money man had pulled out, as he was a “lunatic” who would have ruined everything that was nice about Ronnie’s.

“We had another meeting with our accountant, and he said ‘there is no way you can continue, you must close…’ Ronnie looked at me and asked: ‘What do we do, Pete?’ I don’t recall what went through my mind in that dreadful moment, but I said something to the effect ‘no, we’re not going to close’. It wasn’t just that my livelihood was threatened, it was the thought of losing something that was dear to me. Ronnie looked up and said ‘if Peter says we’re not going to close, then we don’t’.”

Jim then reveals that Chris Blackwell, head of Island Records and the man who put Bob Marley on a global stage, strolled into the club and asked all sorts of questions.

“I had heard these dozens of times over, and I was a little short with him,” recalled Pete.

“It was bad enough to be in this situation without people prying into our problems. But then the conversation went something like this:

‘Do you want your club back?’

‘Of course we do.’

‘Will you be running it the way you always have?’

‘We don’t know any other way.’

‘Fine – put me down for £25,000.’

“It was a gut feeling. He wasn’t kidding and I almost broke down,” said Pete.

Indeed, Blackwell wasn’t and so, as Godbolt revealed, Chris came to the rescue of this esteemed institution.

Such tales were the bread and butter of Jim Godbolt, a much-missed character whose memory raises a chuckle among those of us who knew him, and whose spirit lives on through his printed recollections of why Ronnie Scott’s has become such a landmark today.

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