THERE is never a perfect way to die but, increasingly, as humanist funerals grow in popularity, we hear more talk of the perfect funeral. This week, as Mexico celebrates its “Day of the Dead” in a carnival of skeletons and iridescent skulls, I had the honour to attend a pitch-perfect funeral which paid tribute to a truly great man as he departed from this Earth.

Most of you will not have heard of John Anderson, but you should. He was a professor in his chosen field – what Bob Crampsey was to football and Tom Devine is to Scottish history, John Anderson was to soul music.

His remarkable life reflects one of Scotland’s greatest asset – its pioneering people, those that take risks and strike out for a life that few others could lead.

John Anderson was born in 1949. He was raised in a two-bedroom council house between Pollok and Priesthill on Glasgow’s southside. He grew up at a time and in a neighbourhood bereft of real opportunities. Most of the men around him were either unemployed or working in precarious jobs in the Govan shipyards. Teenage boys were mainly unemployed or ran errands for the small shops along Peat Road. John had other ideas.

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Although he went to school with the teenage gangsters of the Pollok Young Team, he became a member of a youth tribe that had begun to see itself as the “aristocracy of the working class”.

John was one of the first original mods in Scotland, a man of elegance, smart clothes and an insatiable interest in R&B, ska and the music of Black America. He never abandoned the restless perfectionism of his teenage years and went on to become the most revered record-dealers in the world, and was the man who unearthed some of the most anthemic rare soul records ever.

Still a teenager, John met and eventually married another Glasgow mod, Merissa MacDonald, who excelled in the subjects set aside for women in the post-war education system: cooking and secretarial studies. By night they ran R&B clubs together in basement bars along Hope Street and by day they sold specialist records under the guise of “Groove City Records”. Their mailing list was always accurately typed and, importantly to those with a fastidious personality, with the correct spelling.

The list took you into a wonderland of American R&B labels – Chess from Chicago, Motown from Detroit and Stax from Memphis. The names were even more intriguing – Wilson Pickett, Shorty Long and Little Willie John among them.

On Monday they came from every corner of the UK to the woodland burial site and crematorium at Roucan Loch on the fringes of Dumfries to pay their last respects to a man who was a giant of the vinyl trade.

Standing in the frosty car park in animated conversation were two of the most famous northern soul DJs ever, Colin Curtis, the long-haired maven of Blackpool Mecca, and Richard Searling, the most talented DJ of the famous Wigan Casino all-nighters.

They had travelled from the north of England to say their last goodbyes. Famously, Anderson had once telephoned Curtis out of the blue and introduced himself with the immortal words: “I have some records you might be interested in.”

He did indeed. They were records sourced from America’s darkest ghettos, obscure and yet unerringly brilliant, that turned Curtis’s club, the Highland Rooms at Blackpool Mecca, into one of the great conservatoires of soul music. Implausible as it now seems, the walls of the Highland Room were adorned with fake claymores and tartan swathes, as music from Harlem, Newark and urban Detroit propelled the dance floor.

By the early 1970s John and Merissa Anderson had agreed to a form of partnership with a rival dealer and left Scotland for the English market-town of King’s Lynn.

The deal never worked out and they found themselves stranded in King’s Lynn, with a stockpile of imported records and the lease on a building.

Rather than cut and run, they stayed and went on to form the most influential soul retailer Britain has ever produced – the now legendary Soul Bowl Records. The name was taken from the record “Soul Bowl”, a rousing instrumental by the former Stax session musicians Memphis Horns.

As Soul Bowl grew, so did John Anderson’s reputation. He travelled monthly to America chasing down old warehouses and ghetto corner-shops for independent records and shipped them back to the UK.

His skill was in understanding how sub-cultural markets work, which is what brought him to the thriving northern soul scene.

He knew that the top all-nighter DJs needed access to rare and under-played records.

To secure their reputation they had to break new sounds and then move on if the record was released or bootlegged. John Anderson held back, selling one-off records to the top DJs in the knowledge that they would give it attention and raise the disc’s profile which then enriched the lists he sold more widely to fans.

Those that were too slow for the northern clubs he exported to the lucrative “deep soul” market in Japan.

For a baffling few months he was the producer of the Manchester post-punk band Joy Division and is credited on their RCA album Warsaw, but he admitted to me he thought they were shit and that he was wasting his time, when there was so much soul and ska out there still to be discovered.

The National: Chicago family group The 5 StairstepsChicago family group The 5 Stairsteps

John was the inveterate crate-digger, a pioneer of a vinyl-collecting culture that is now mainstream in almost every American city.

Soul Bowl in King’s Lynn became the Harrods of soul collectors. Such was the growing volume of vinyl the couple imported into the UK they had to move to a rural farm with a series of barns, big enough to be converted into music warehouses.

Like many of the collectors on the northern soul scene, I was a regular visitor. When the record sifting stopped for the day, we drank voluminously into the night and the conversation always returned to Scotland. My party piece was to draw on my Burns Federation Award and regale them of the story of Robert Burns’s coffin-maker, the carpenter John Anderson. I would stand on their couch, surrounded by cats and rare records, reciting the bard’s “John Anderson My Jo”.

As they faced retirement, John and Merissa hatched a plan to return home. Having spent their adult life with their son Stuart in a farmyard in East Anglia, they chose to move to Moffat in Dumfriesshire, where they both eventually passed away.

The funeral was a showpiece. Mourners entered the wooden memorial lodges of Roucan Loch to a carefully curated soundtrack. The Elgin’s Heaven Must Have Sent You; Jimmy Radcliffe’s Long After Tonight Is All Over, a record now synonymous with being the last record of the night at Manchester’s “Twisted Wheel” all-nighter and one of the famed “three before eight” at Wigan Casino. Music played throughout, including a moving version of the Chicago family group The 5 Stairsteps and their biggest hit – Ooh Ooh Child. It was the record that had bridged a musical chasm between John and his son Stuart, whose passion for hip-hop had taken off. The song had been sampled by 2Pac, A Tribe Called Quest and R Kelly, and Stuart was forced to admit that his music would not have existed without his father’s first love.

The humanist funeral director reminded us of John’s own words: “I’ve been across America in every city, in every community, in places I was told never to set foot. I always knew that there was great music hidden away in places that you were not meant to go. That was my life. That was my privilege.”

A great Scot has left us, but his passion for the music of Black America has not.