John Bauldie on Bob Dylan’s Isis

At a ‘Dylan Revisited’ conference held in Manchester in 1980, John Bauldie gave this bit of advice to assembled fans ‘It is surely up to the listener to investigate the song. Dylan, in writing songs, an art form that needs to be listened to, is offering the listener the opportunity to do this for themself. This is what art is about: an invitation to deduce something from it for yourself. What you find in it is up to you. Dylan puts it in the song for you to find. If you listen to “Isis” for example you might want to investigate vegetation rituals, an understanding of which is perhaps crucial to the understanding of the song itself.’ He expands on this in his book The Chameleon Poet. Here’s an extract on ‘Isis’ from his chapter about Desire.

The narrative takes place on a surreal, mythical plane, in a timeless landscape which combines elements of nineteenth-century Western America with ancient Egypt. (The song in one sense is broadly based on ‘On the Trail of the Buffalo’, which Dylan recorded informally in 1961.) It functions symbolically, presenting archetypal figures and situations. The ‘quest’ is symbolic of the process in the psyche which is seeking its own goal. Introduced in concert in 1975 as ‘a song about marriage’, ‘Isis’ can be related to the concept of the ‘sacred’ or ‘chemical’ marriage which is the central symbol of alchemy. The concept is that man, as a result of the loss of his original ‘Adamic’ state, is divided within himself. He regains his integral nature only when the two powers, whose discord has rendered him impotent, are again reconciled with one another. The regaining of the integral nature of man (expressed in alchemy by the symbol of the masculine-feminine androgyne) is the prerequisite of union with God. In psychological terms, these two poles of human nature resemble the conscious and the unconscious. The ‘chemical marriage’ may be simply interpreted as an ‘integration’ of the unconscious powers of the soul into the ego-consciousness, though such interpretation is not totally justifiable and as Titus Burckhardt points out:

It is quite vain to wish to describe psychologically the real essence of alchemy or the secret of the ‘chemical marriage’. The more one strives to dispense with symbols and to replace them with scientific concepts of one sort or another, the more rapidly does that spiritual presence vanish which is the very heart of the matter and which can only be transmitted by symbols.
Nevertheless, ‘Isis’ functions symbolically, combining the emblem of the sacred marriage with that of Isis, the Great Mother, and the song is structured around the concept of the quest. The myth of the quest is so pervasive that some scholars have argued that it determines virtually all mythic and literary patterns. According to Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the ‘monomyth’ can be reduced to a ‘formula represented by the rites of passage in separation – initiation – return’. ‘Isis’ begins with the ‘separation’:

I married Isis on the fifth day of May
But I could not hold on to her very long
So I cut off my hair and I rode straight away
For the wild unknown country
where I could not go wrong.
Both ‘I rode straight away’ and ‘I could not go wrong’ are neatly ambivalent. The separation seems to lead him to asceticism – the cutting off of his hair is indicative of this, as is his behaviour in the second stanza:

I came to a high place of darkness and light
The dividing line ran through the center of town
I hitched up my pony to a post on the right
Went into a laundry to wash my clothes down.
‘Washing down’ is also a part of the apparent cleansing process involved in the self-discipline of the would-be ascetic. The hitching of the pony to the ambivalent ‘right’ is also a significant response to the choice between darkness and light that confronts him, separated as they are by the central ‘dividing line’. In Cirlot’s Dictionary of Symbols, Jung is quoted on the significance of ‘right’ and ‘left’:

The right side is masculine, representing the rational, the conscious, the logical and the virile, the left representing the converse.
Following the marriage and separation, the song’s narrator rides off seeking and attempting to assert his identity as an independent being, having been defeated in his attempts to assert himself in his relationship with ‘Isis’ whom he ‘could not hold on to’. An opportunity for such self-assertion is presented almost immediately by the approach of a man who is perceived to be ‘not ordinary’ and by his suggestion of the expedition for which money ‘ain’t necessary’, which suggests that the quest does not have material treasure as its aim. But his question ‘Where are we goin’?’ as they set out ‘for the cold in the North’ is ignored, leaving the song’s narrator:

Thinkin’ about turquoise … thinkin’ about gold
Thinkin’ about diamonds and the world’s biggest necklace.
As we’ll see, such thoughts are misguided.
 The journey takes place in a surreal landscape. The questers set out in darkness and travel through canyons in a ‘devilish’ cold. The thoughts of the narrator turn back to Isis, whose identity can be expressed in terms of the Eternal Feminine discussed in the previous chapter, encountered in ‘Tangled Up in Blue’, and recognised as the Woman in White in Renaldo and Clara.

She told me that one day we would meet up again
And things would be different the next time we wed.
She directly echoes the words of the ‘she’ in ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ who reminds him ‘we’ll meet again some day’ and anticipates not just reunion but remarriage. The thoughts about Isis neatly fill in the time it takes for the questers to reach what appears to be a goal: ‘the pyramids all embedded in ice’. The mysterious man then reveals that it is neither gold nor turquoise they have been in search of, but ‘a body’ he’s ‘tryin’ to find’ that has its own value. He dies before the tomb is penetrated, leaving the narrator to continue alone:

I broke into the tomb but the casket was empty
There was no jewels, no nothin’, I felt I’d been had.
All that’s left to do is tidy up before riding back ‘to find Isis’ once more:

I picked up his body and I dragged him inside
Threw him down in the hole and I put back the cover.
In mythic terms, the ‘quest’ symbolises the urge for spiritual renewal. It has its origins in nature rituals purported to bring about and celebrate the annual regeneration of the deity whose death is synonymous with winter. One can see how this myth has been incorporated into the song. The ‘body’ the man wishes to ‘carry out’ of the tomb that is ‘embedded in ice’ and reached in the very depths of cold and dark winter – ‘the wind it was howlin’ and the snow was outrageous’ – is that of the ‘deity’. Its carriage out of the tomb will ‘bring a good price’ because it will bring about the regeneration of nature and thus of life. The concept of spiritual renewal, as opposed to natural regeneration, is also incorporated into the song.

In alchemical symbolism, the ‘tomb’ has its own significance. ‘The grave in the great world corresponds to the womb in the less world – a place of renewal, not of destruction.’ The vessel in which the alchemical process takes place is the coffin of the impotent old king. It can also become the womb in which the new seed may develop and where resurrection can take place.

But the narrator doesn’t take anything from the tomb and instead places a body into it. Thus he has, though perhaps neither willingly nor indeed consciously, played his part in a regenerative process of which he is himself both benefactor and beneficiary. As he journeys back to Isis, he finds her ‘in the meadow’ – in a spring he has played his part in regenerating. Similarly he feels renewed:

I came in from the East with the sun in my eyes.

The East is symbolic of spiritual regeneration. The idea of having ‘the sun in my eyes’ means not, I think, that it is shining from the West, but that he actually brings the sun from the East, signifying renewal. There are two neat examples of wordplay in the song’s penultimate stanza, when he confronts Isis once again:

She said ‘You look different.’ I said ‘Well, I guess.’
She said ‘You been gone.’ I said ‘That’s only natural.’
The reunion with the ‘mystical’ Isis completes the regenerative process for the narrator, who announces his intention to ‘stay’ at the song’s conclusion.

The song’s significance with regard to Dylan’s search for self thus resides in the mythical operation of its symbolism. The artist seeks the immortal self buried deep in nature and wishes to reclaim it through his art. The pyramids in ice symbolise the eternal nature of self – the timeless frozen into permanence. But the journey to the pyramids is only the beginning of a quest that ends with the second mystical wedding with Isis, in which the artist completes his own nature through the symbolic marriage with his ‘other half’ of whom he is always in search and yet, paradoxically, towards whom he is destined to be continually impelled.

The narrator of ‘Isis’ is accompanied on his journey by the mysterious stranger whom he immediately and intuitively understands and with whom he enters into a spontaneous and reciprocal agreement to embark upon the quest: ‘I gave him my blanket, he gave me his word’.

What the narrator leaves behind in the casket is an aspect of himself that he has encountered and transcended. The tomb becomes the cradle of the new self – ‘you look different’ – who journeys back to Isis and fulfilment. The journey has thus taken him through the night to the dawn, through darkness to light, through winter to spring – symbolically through death to life.

Click here for more details on John Bauldie’s The Chameleon Poet: Bob Dylan’s Search For Self

‘An important reminder of Bauldie’s astonishing effort to shed light on Dylan as a major poet worthy of a Nobel Prize, and, after more than four decades since it was written, it still speaks directly, fresh and enlightening to every one interested in the words and lyrics of Bob Dylan’ Johnny Borgan

‘Bauldie proves to be one of the top Dylan writers. The nice thing is that Bauldie often knows how to surprise and comes up with insights, interpretations that I have not thought of or read about before. One of the most interesting books about Dylan the poet. The Chameleon Poet is a must read… a gem in the Dylan library.’ Tom Willems

A Route To Bob Dylan

Route’s Bob Dylan titles come from the pens of three pre-eminent Dylan writers: Michael Gray, John Bauldie and Clinton Heylin. All born and raised in North West England – The Wirral, Bolton and Manchester respectively – each have not only been key figures in furthering our understanding and appreciation of Dylan as an artist, but have been active participants in how Bob Dylan’s work has been presented to the world. As such, their paths are tightly interconnected.

Michael Gray studied English Literature at York University in the mid-sixties, where he was trained to pay close-to-the-text attention to literary works that were firmly in the canon, and felt Dylan’s work could bear the weight of the same order of critical scrutiny. Fresh from graduating, he was invited by OZ magazine editor Richard Neville to ‘Do an F.R. Leavis on Bob Dylan’s songs.’ ‘Marvellous – right up my street’ he wrote in his diary at the time. He spent the next few years writing about Dylan’s work at length ‘to achieve something on a different level from mere album reviewing’. The subsequent book, Song & Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan, published in 1972, was the first such work to take Dylan seriously as an artist. It gave birth to what we now know as Dylan Studies, and positioned Michael as his most prominent critic. It also marked the beginning of a lifetime’s work, with updated editions of Song & Dance Man appearing in 1972 and 1999, and the massive Bob Dylan Encyclopedia in 2006. Throughout he has been writing on Dylan for newspapers, magazines and journals, and giving talks around the world on the art of Bob Dylan. It is these works, plus a significant new essay on Rough And Rowdy Ways, that are collected in his latest book, Outtakes On Bob Dylan: Selected Writings 1967-2021.

Like Michael, John Bauldie studied English Literature at a Yorkshire university (Leeds) in the 1960s. He too saw Dylan beyond his framing as a pop star; instead he saw him as a significant poet of the age. Already an avid collector of Dylan recordings, when he walked into WH Smith in Bolton in 1972 and picked up a copy of Song & Dance Man, new possibilities for critical study opened up to him. Throughout the 1970s, John became part of an important cog in a worldwide network of Dylan collectors. Buoyed by renewed interest in Dylan following the 1978 world tour, he embarked on writing his own critical study of Dylan’s work, The Chameleon Poet. The manuscript pulled together his own thoughts and personal response to the work, while drawing on the few serious writers addressing Dylan at the time, most prominent amongst these was Michael Gray. Shortly after completing his manuscript, John, along with four like-minded friends (including Clinton Heylin) formed Wanted Man, the Bob Dylan Information Office, which built on his network of collectors to bring together a school of Bob Dylan Studies. Central to this was the The Telegraph, which John envisioned as a critical journal to examine and explore Dylan’s work. Alongside his Wanted Man colleagues, John steered The Telegraph for 15 years, until his untimely death in 1996, inviting contributions from the leading writers in the field, including Christopher Ricks and, of course, Michael Gray. He also founded the Wanted Man Study Series to produce books that looked in-depth at particular aspects of Dylan’s work. His growing prominence in the field led to him being invited to write the liner notes, and contribute to the compilation of, Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3. As his role as facilitator for others grew, his own manuscript, The Chameleon Poet, which was in some ways his blueprint for all that followed, was put on the back burner. When John’s lifelong friend Bill Allison brought the manuscript to our attention recently, we found it to be not only one of the most inspiring Dylan books we’d seen, but an essential part of the wider Bob Dylan story.

Clinton Heylin first got in to Dylan after reading an article on bootlegs written by Michael Gray for Let It Rock in 1972 (featured in Outtakes On Bob Dylan). This drove an adolescent Clinton to a record shop on Tibb Street, Manchester, to buy the mistitled Bob Dylan at the Royal Albert Hall bootleg (it was Clinton who later discovered that the show was actually from Manchester’s Free Trade Hall). Unlike Michael and John, Clinton came of age not in the swinging sixties but in the spit and sweat of the punk-rock seventies. He was too young to see Dylan at the Free Trade Hall in 1966, but he did witness the cultural explosion that took place in the same building ten years later when the Sex Pistols played his home town. It wasn’t English Literature that Clinton studied either, but History. Although the three men share an equal passion for the work of Dylan, the half-a-generation gap between them led to a different approach. When he got together with John Bauldie and the other Wanted Men in 1980, Clinton was already experienced in publishing fanzines (Joy Division was his first subject) and his encyclopaedic knowledge of Dylan and general music history came to the fore. Clinton has since gone on to be recognised as the foremost biographer of Dylan, and the leading music biographer of his generation – a rock’n’roll biographer with a rock’n’roll attitude formed in the flames of punk. Alongside his books on Fairport Convention and the birth of English punk, we have published Clinton’s in-depth accounts of three golden periods in Dylan’s cannon: the electric tour of 1965-66, including the recording of Highway 61 Revisted and Blonde On Blonde (JUDAS!); the recording of his mid-seventies masterpiece Blood On The Tracks (No One Else Could Play That Tune), and the gospel years of 1979-1981 (Trouble In Mind).


Outtakes On Bob Dylan: Selected Writings 1967-2021

A compendium of over five decades of writing on Dylan for newspapers, magazines and journals, plus a new extended essay on Rough And Rowdy Ways from the go-to critic for Dylan fans in search of serious analysis. In Outtakes On Bob Dylan, we get Gray the man as well as a unique measure of Dylan’s long career as it unfolds, not in retrospect but in real time.



The Chameleon Poet: Bob Dylan’s Search For Self

Covering the formative span of Dylan’s career from his emergence in the early sixties to his conversion to Christianity in the late seventies, The Chameleon Poet traces each step in the development of the artist and man from youth to maturity with scholarly precision and vivid clarity.


JUDAS! From Forest Hills To The Free Trade Hall

In 1966 there was… the sell-out tour to end all tours. Bob Dylan and The Hawks found themselves at the epicentre of a storm of controversy. Their response? To unleash a cavalcade of ferocity from Melbourne to Manchester, from Forest Hills to the Free Trade Hall. The full story is told from eye-witnesses galore; from timely reports, both mile wide and spot on; and from the participants themselves.


Trouble In Mind: Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years – What Really Happened

In 1979 there was… trouble in mind, and trouble in store for the ever-iconoclastic Dylan. But unlike in 1965-66, the artifactal afterglow – three albums in three years, Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot of Love – barely reflected the explosion of faith and inspiration. By drawing on a wealth of new information, newly-found recordings and new interviews. Clinton makes the case for a wholesale re-evaluation of the music Bob Dylan produced in these inspiring times.


No One Else Could Play That Tune: The Making and Unmaking of Bob Dylan’s 1974 Masterpiece

The full tale of the making of Blood On The Tracks, as well as providing a detailed examination of the thought processes that went into the unmaking of it. Includes interviews with just about every eye-witness still standing, including the only musician – Dylan excepted – to play at all the New York sessions and a new interview with Ellen Bernstein, Dylan’s CBS A&R girlfriend at the time.

Click here for our full list of music books

The Chameleon Poet Manuscript History

Bill Allison and John Bauldie, 1980s

The Chameleon Poet manuscript came to us via John Bauldie’s lifelong friend, Bill Allison. During the process of preparing the manuscript for publication, we spent many hours with Bill who regaled us with countless stories about John, providing invaluable context. The book is objectively a critical study of Bob Dylan’s work, and as such is thoroughly conceived, but such accounts are never free of personal responses to the work so it was important for us to understand the man in order to fully understand his text. Some of the stories Bill told us about John’s life are recounted in the introduction he wrote to the book, but there was nothing in there on the provenance of the manuscript, and where it had been resting for the past 40 years, so we invited Bill to write a little about that for us. Here’s the story he sent.


I would like write about how the manuscript for The Chameleon Poet was found hidden in a terracotta jar in a cave near a desert, stuffed behind some rather large canvases in a Bloomsbury attic, in a bunker of looted war treasure or in an old dusty university library. I can’t. The manuscript for The Chameleon Poet has sat in a steel trunk in my attic for twenty-five years. The most exotic its storage gets is that the trunk was commissioned by my grandad on his return from India in 1932. It’s emblazoned with an inscription on the lock which tells that it was made in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, the home of the best locks in the world. Nevertheless, the manuscript’s preservation has been just as important to the world of Dylan Studies as any of the above have been respective to theirs.

People who recognise the name of John Bauldie will perhaps be aware of something of his biography, his life and his death, which I describe in my extended introduction to The Chameleon Poet. In there I have deliberately avoided telling the story of where the manuscript has been. But for those who want to know, here it is.

Film directors are known to issue the command ‘Cut on action’. This is all well and good but there will obviously be footage that spills off the reel and falls on the cutting room floor. Rather cliché ridden I know. However, when a person’s life is cut on action, especially before its rightful time, the very same happens. Very few are ready for death, certainly when death occurs to the young, nothing is in order, nothing is finished, nothing is closed.

When John died in October 1996, Penny, his partner of over twenty-five years, asked me to take everything away, take care of it and look to any unfinished business. So, after his funeral, boxes and boxes of newspaper cuttings, magazines, posters, books and tapes filled my car and made its way from Richmond upon Thames to my home in Lancashire. All of it went into my attic, that Aladdin’s cave of a lifetime’s junk.

Rather tragically Penny, who was John’s literary executor, died in 2004. Penny and I had been close friends since 1975 and knew the intimacies of each other’s lives. We were always in touch until her death. The literary estate then passed to Penny’s sister, Margaret, who felt the same as Penny about John’s work and suggested I carry on with what Penny had asked me to do.

Everyone’s first concerns were the tapes. What was in John’s fabled Dylan tape collection? Would we find acetates of ‘Church with No Upstairs’ or ‘Snow on the Interstate’? Would there be music that collectors would drool over?

Well actually, no. John was generous to a fault and always gave copies of whatever he had to close friends who would pass copies on to their close friends until everyone who wanted it had it and had already drooled over it. And actually, don’t hold your breath, as far as we know the two tracks listed above don’t exist. Myth becomes fable becomes history but they were just figments of tape hungry, scoop needy journalists’ imagination.

John’s collection contained recordings in every format available from 1965 onward. So there were stacks and stacks of open reel tapes, box after box of cassettes and the beginnings of a CD-R stash.

His CD-Rs weren’t as extensive as they might have been since John felt that DATs offered a better quality sound and he was in the process of transferring some of his collection to DAT.

For fifteen years this hoard rested in our house above our heads, piled in amongst the Christmas decorations, outgrown children’s toys and old lamp shades that had gone out of fashion as I continued to work as a senior leader in secondary school. I retired in 2010. My daughters who were massive Dr Who fans at the time suggested that I hadn’t retired, an awful concept, but that I had regenerated and indeed such was the case.

Upon regenerating there were certain things that I felt that I had to do. John always said that there were people and there was stuff, and that people were more important than stuff. However to do right by John, I felt that I had to sort his stuff out. This was top of my ‘to do’ list. So I began to trawl and this took some considerable time. Months running to years.

The boxes of tapes got in the way of everything. I constantly fell over them whenever I went up into the attic. They hindered getting the Christmas decorations out, climbing over them for fifteen years or so. I toyed with the idea of listing them, playing them all to check what was there and if indeed there were any surprises. Collectors and I were in touch. The quest was always to try and find better quality recordings that were closer to the source tape. Indeed over the years I had played my own part in the world of ‘Dylan Collecting’. Like John, I was a grown man from the North of England who had started collecting Dylan tapes as a seemingly little boy and swapping them as if I was a bright-eyed schoolboy swapping stamps to put in my album. Still, I quite quickly came to the conclusion that the tapes of Dylan’s music held nothing to reveal that we didn’t already know about.

Next up was the paperwork, and there was lots of it. Original newspaper cuttings about the 1966 havoc-wreaking world tour, reviews of the comeback tour in 1974, and photographs of the 1975 Rolling Thunder Tour amongst much, much more. Then The Telegraphs. Cut and paste starting-point copies of many issues, culminating in all published fifty-six editions, most with beautiful colour photographs on the front.

Amongst the material were also ring-binder folders of various sizes. Some contained handwritten material and some had what was in them typed up. I actually found it emotionally quite difficult to look into these and put it off for some time as I tried to make sense of my feelings. These days we are told that it is good thing for men to articulate their emotions and even cry if necessary. But this didn’t seem to be the case then. as recently as 2010. It was Margaret who attempted to articulate for me what I was feeling. She suggested that even now I was still grieving for John, someone who had played a massive part in my life. Our lives had been as tangled as spaghetti. For a quarter of a century we had seen each other’s ups and downs, highs and lows and blues.

Eventually I began to look at what was inside the files. Quite quickly it became clear that they all contained the same material, albeit with different working titles, written by hand or typed. They were versions of what John had called The Chameleon Poet: Bob Dylan’s Search for Self 1962-1980. Clearly I knew of the manuscript. I had read a version long ago when he was working on it. I had discussed with him the ideas he explored in it. He had often referred to it, albeit tongue in cheek, in The Telegraph, had published one chapter in a Dylan fanzine and later another in The Telegraph. So, although it sounds rather dramatic, I had in my hand what I would consider to be John Bauldie’s unpublished magnum opus. Not quite The Dead Sea Scrolls but, nevertheless, as important to the world of Dylan Studies in understanding and appreciatingDylan’s work as The Scrolls were to understanding and appreciating First Century BCE Judaism.

Somehow, out of deep seated loyalty to John and my appreciation of what the work offered, I became determined to have The Chameleon Poet published. In the period since John’s death, his name and what he did vis-à-vis The Telegraph and his involvement in the The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 were continually mentioned, so it seemed to me that the world needed to see his major work and then John Bauldie would perhaps receive his rightful place at what I have called the high table of Dylan Studies. John’s quest, his challenge, had been to bring to the world the notion that Dylan’s work could be written about in the same way that Shakespeare’s, Keats, Dickens or any other major writer you care to mention could be. In fact as early as 1990 he had led the idea that Dylan’s name should be forwarded to the Nobel Prize Committee to be recognised as someune who should be awarded their Prize for Literature.

Despite all his achievements, John had never published anything of his own about Dylan’s work in mainstream publishing. He had written more than sixty-five articles for The Telegraph. He had co-edited a book of articles of his own and others from The Telegraph and followed this up with a second collection from its pages of interviews with those who had worked creatively with Dylan. Finally, just before his death, he published a book he worked on with journalist Patrick Humphries.

I discussed the idea of publication with Margaret who felt it was an important idea and suggested I go ahead. I asked close friends and some of the original Wanted Men to read the manuscript and offer thoughts. At the same time I read and reread the book until I was more than familiar with it, never doubting its importance.

So then I turned my attention to its publication and this proved to be illuminating. For someone who had been very successful in his own world to then dip his toes into another where he had no experience was not easy. Where do you begin?

I approached firms that had published the books John had co-edited with little response. I approached companies it was suggested to me might be interested. I approached those that specialised in publishing books about rock music. All to little or no avail.

It was pointed out time and time again that the book had little or no potential to make money. Somebody actually said to me in a phone call that the problem would be that John wasn’t alive to do interviews about the book. So that should see the end of republications of books by C.S. Lewis and Professor Tolkien amongst a multitude of other inklings shouldn’t it?

Despite the setbacks, I never gave up on the idea because I had faith in the book, but I did perhaps start to lack faith in my own ability to open the door. Still, one often reads about major works that had been rejected by publisher after publisher so I was still a believer.

Then a kind of coincidental symbiosis took over. In May 2017 I was in Pontefract with Clinton Heylin who had invited me to a talk he was giving at The CAT Club there. Before the talk he took me to the house of Ian Daley and Isabel Galán where, rather embarrassingly, I hadn’t realised that Ian and Isabel were owners and publishers of Route Books. I still blame that on Clinton for not telling me that Route published some of his material about Dylan. I blame Clinton for a lot of things.

The conversation turned to Dylan. Clinton told Ian I had been a friend of John Bauldie. He asked about John. It turned out that he was a fan of John’s too so to speak, that he’d been a subscriber to The Telegraph, and waxed lyrical about how he had once stood next to John at a Dylan concert in 1987.

I dropped into conversation that I had the manuscript of John’s The Chameleon Poet that I was looking to get published. Ian asked to look at it and quite quickly realised its importance and wanted to publish it. The rest, as they say, is history…

Bill Allison
January 2021.

Chameleon Poet

Click here for more on The Chameleon Poet: Bob Dylan’s Search For Self.

Twitter Listening Party

Playback links for Tim’s Twitter Listening Party sessions for four Fall albums: Grotesque, Slates, Hex Enduction Hour and The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall.

Grotesque Paul Hanley, Steve Hanley, Grant Showbiz, Tim Burgess plus assorted guests post live responses to Grotesque. (18th October 2020)

Slates Paul Hanley, Steve Hanley, Grant Showbiz, Tim Burgess plus assorted guests post live responses to Slates. (18th October 2020)

Hex Enduction Hour Paul Hanley, Steve Hanley, Grant Showbiz, Tim Burgess plus assorted guests post live responses to Hex Enduction Hour. (17th October 2020)

The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall Paul Hanley, Steve Hanley, Brix, Tim Burgess plus assorted guests post live responses to The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall. (2nd April 2020)

Book links:

The Big Midweek: Life Inside The Fall by Steve Hanley and Olivia Piekarski

Leave The Capital: A History of Manchester Music in 13 Recordings by Paul Hanley

Have A Bleedin Guess: The Story of Hex Enduction Hour by Paul Hanley

Anne & Betty Interview

Author Ian Clayton has worked with Anne Scargill and Betty Cook to help them tell their story in the joint memoir Anne & Betty: United By The Struggle. Here Ian talks about that process and puts questions to Anne and Betty about their experience of writing the book.

I think everybody who grew up in a former coal mining village knows the story. The men worked hard down the pit and fought hard to protect their livelihood when times were hard. We know as well that within that harsh male environment there was a matriarchal society that was equally tough. It was the women, like my own aunts and grandmothers, who ran the day-to-day business of keeping home, family and well-being together. And when it came to it, it was the women who spoke the best words to the powers that be who were intent on destroying a way of life.

I long admired Anne Scargill and Betty Cook and the women who campaigned first against pit closures and then for a voice for working-class women. I saw them on marches and at conferences, but I was too shy to say much more than ‘Hello’ to them. Then one day I got a phone call from Anne Scargill. She told me that Betty and herself wanted to write a joint memoir and asked me if I might consider helping them. Of course I said yes. Here was an opportunity for me that I might only dream about.

For the whole of my career as a writer I have tried to make sense of where I am from. I have a passion for working-class and social history, I love the stories of times gone by when they are told by local people and I hold the older generations in great esteem, believing that they were the ones who stood up in order to make a better life for us. The book was a joy to be involved in. It was also hard to write and emotional. Anne and Betty have not had easy lives. It was upsetting at times to see them trying to find the words to express disappointments, let downs and the situations where they knew the right thing to do and nobody was listening. It was also exhilarating to hear them talk about the times when they went into battle and refused to back down. Anne Scargill and Betty Cook are heroines of direct action and now they have produced a book that speaks louder than words.

Anne and Betty have shown as much tenacity in getting their story told in a book as they have in the many campaigns they’ve been involved in over the years. Now the book is written, I spoke with them about their experience of pulling it together.

Ian Clayton: Why did you want to write this book?

Betty: I have a big social conscience. It was important to tell this story in order to help young people coming up to understand something about their own community and where it comes from. I was once young and I have got to where I have got to through struggle, through education and through speaking up. People are still in struggle, it doesn’t end. Of course the miners’ strike and Women Against Pit Closures was what brought us together, but there are big struggles yet to come and we learn how to face the future by looking at what people did before.

Anne: I’m getting older now. I am starting to think back and make sense of what I have done in my life. When my grandkids grow up and have families of their own, I want them to read this book and know about what their grandmother was like. It’s also an opportunity for me to say something about my heroines; suffragettes like Emily Davison, the lasses at Greenham Common and the miners’ wives who stood side by side with me on the picket lines.

Ian Clayton: In the past you have told your story to a lot of people who have written about the miners’ strike, why revisit it?

Betty: Yes, academics, The Guardian newspaper, various magazines, to conferences all over the world. They have all interpreted what I said and then put their own slant on it. I thought it was about time I told my story in my own words before it’s too late.

Anne: A book is there forever. I wanted to tell some truth about what has happened. The truth of what went on when I was there. It’s like being an eye witness to your own life story.

Ian Clayton: Is this a book for women?

Betty: It’s a book for everybody. For the world out there. It’s so that people who are interested can understand how people live.

Anne: It is a book for everybody, but especially for women who stood up for themselves. A lot of coalminers were chauvinists, my dad was one, he expected his dinner on the table as soon as he walked in from work. He was a good worker and I loved him, but he expected my mother to be running about after him. It’s a book for women like my mother, but also for men like my dad, so they can learn.

Ian Clayton: Has it been an easy book to write?

Betty: No. It has brought back a lot of unhappy memories, but I think that’s the point of doing something like this. It wasn’t always nice, but it needs to be told as it was, not how we think we would like it to be. I am looking forward to holding this book in my hands though.

Anne: It has and it hasn’t. It has been sad in parts, but also exciting. I have found myself looking back at what I have put and thinking, did I do that? Whatever I have done it was needs be and I don’t regret it. It’s like that old Edith Piaf song, ‘I have no regrets.’

Ian Clayton: Who will read it?

Anne: People who like to read the truth ought to read it, because it is all true and it’s a good story.

Betty: Well, I hope anybody with a social conscience and a sense of community will and surely we all want to be that way inclined. We have a lot of friends in the trade unions, which are as important now as they have ever been, women’s groups, local people with a sense of their own history and of course all the friends we have made at home and abroad.

Ian Clayton: Are you proud of it?

Anne: It shows how people like me and Betty were prepared to stand up for what we thought was right and how we believed in the generations to come. That should make anybody proud.

Betty: I am proud. It’s a great read, without shying away from the hard times. It’s also well illustrated and it’s nice to see the different parts of life through old photographs.

Ian Clayton: What does it say about the miners’ strike, the Women Against Pit Closures movement and working-class activism that hasn’t already been said?

Betty: During the strike I met an American photographer called Rai Page. She was determined to record moments as they happened. One day, we heard about an elderly lady in Houghton who had a story she wanted to tell. This elderly lady told us some fascinating stories about the part women played in the 1926 general strike. These had never been written down, they just existed inside this one elderly lady, one of the last survivors who could remember that time in clarity and detail. I never realised that people had such stories to tell and it certainly didn’t occur to me then that somebody like that lady would write them down in a book. I feel then like I have done something that will help future generations and young women, but also pay tribute to those like that elderly lady in Houghton who were there before us.

Anne: I have always been a believer in that saying ‘actions speak louder than words’. I am much more comfortable on a picket line than I am composing a book. It has been hard to say what I have said. I do believe though that I have opened my heart as well as my mind to tell this story in my own way.

Anne & Betty: United By The Struggle is published in hardback and advance copies are SHIPPING NOW.  (It will not be able via other trade channels until 9th November 2020).
Be amongst the first to read Anne & Betty’s book. Click here to order an advance copy

The Strange Brew Podcast with Iain Matthews and Ian Clayton

Iain Matthews and Ian Clayton join Jason Barnard to talk about Iain’s memoir Thro’ My Eyes for The Strange Brew Podcast, illustrated by 13 songs drawn from across Iain’s career. Running time 1hr 41 mins. Click play above to listen.

Jason at The Strange Brew has a fine collection of podcasts. You can find them on the website or subscribe to The Strange Brew Podcast on iTunes or your favourite podcast provider.

Click here for more in Iain Matthews memoir Thro’ My Eyes