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

EXTRACT | Recording Blood on the Tracks – First Takes

To mark the 45th anniversary since the first day of the recording sessions for Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, and the Kindle release of Clinton Heylin’s account of those sessions, No One Else Could Play That Tune, here’s a new extract from Clinton’s book. This is set on 16th September 1974, Dylan has booked himself into the old Columbia studio in New York, the same room where he made all of his early to mid-sixties recordings, and he feels himself into the session with a handful of solo-acoustic performances of the songs in his notebook. Bob’s then partner Ellen Bernstein starts the tale.

Ellen Bernstein: [Dylan] knew these songs. He knew his vision for these songs [which] was very pure and very unadorned, and you don’t need a producer if your vision is that personal on something. I think he had a lot of belief in the integrity of the material.

Perhaps Dylan was already aware of the rep Ramone had started to acquire. According to Blood On The Tracks musician Charlie Brown III, Phil was someone who liked to take ‘a lot of credit for stuff that I don’t think he did. Producing all these people and having his name on it as producer is bullshit, because he didn’t do anything, y’know.’

What Ramone certainly was, though, was a consummate engineer; as good at mastering the nuances of analogue sound as Halee, minus the attitude. And his brief was the same one Dylan shared with his original Columbia producer, John Hammond Snr., the very afternoon they both returned to A & R: ‘I want to lay down a whole bunch of tracks. I don’t want to overdub. I want it easy and natural.’

Ellen recalls how the veteran A&R man ‘had asked to come into the studio that first night since it was historic in so many ways for him and for Bob, [who] was very welcoming … It was a lovely moment.’ Yet Hammond was slightly baffled by Dylan’s choice of recording date, pointing out to his former protégé, ‘This is a strange day to start recording … It is Rosh Hashanah and it is hard to get musicians.’ Looking for his own new beginning, Dylan snapped back, ‘Why not today? It’s the new year, isn’t it?’

Although A & R had a state-of-the-art sixteen-track desk, Dylan made it clear he intended to begin by recording a few songs acoustically, and that four tracks – the number he had used on every Studio A recording in the first half of the sixties – would suffice. Ramone suggested two guitar mikes and a single Sennheiser 421, a popular stage mike at the time, for the vocals:

Phil Ramone: I used the technique at the time … of using two guitar mikes, for reasons of sound and to give him freedom of movement, because he’s not prone to stand in one place without moving around … We had pretty good isolation. You hear his voice in his guitar mike, as you would anyone’s, but leakage is important, and the leakage in the guitar mike was quite good … I didn’t use anything but a dynamic mike on his vocals. It helped with the isolation, too … How do you keep the vocal out of the guitar mike, or vice versa? … The Sennheiser 421 … had an interesting top end, a warmth, if you kept reasonably close to it.

Assistant engineer Glenn Berger recalled, in his studio memoir, scurrying around trying to get the set-up just right, before leading ‘Dylan out to the studio and plac[ing] him in front of the mics. We used old Neumann microphones [sic], the kind he would’ve used in the early sixties. I stood inches from him … [It was] the seventies. It wasn’t the antiseptic spaceship of 2001. It was dirty and falling apart. It was all tubes, no transistors. The board would get hot … We had no idea what he was going to do, so we had to be ready for anything … As I ran around the studio tweaking mic positions, he called off a tune. “Let’s do ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ in G.” He hit his guitar, but instead of a G chord, it was an A. He was playing in a different key from the one he had called off and the lyrics were [to] “If You See Her, Say Hello”.’

The clock read just past four. If Dylan for even a moment thought about starting with ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ – in many ways the album’s trigger – no evidence remains on the studio logs or tapes, even though they were running both a mono reference tape (at either 7½ or 15 ips), plus a regular 30 ips multitrack.

When song one rolls, both reels record Ramone calling out, ‘“If You See Her, Say Hello” take one.’ No mistake. A perfect starter – even though the song was one of the last Dylan wrote for the album. Entirely absent from the two working notebooks Dylan was using prior to his summer visit to the farm – both of which are now housed at the Dylan archive in Tulsa – the lyric appears only in the ‘fair copy’ notebook that remains at the Morgan Library, New York, the seventh (of fifteen) songs therein.

It turns out ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’ had mutated from another song Dylan had been working on, only to scrap: ‘There Ain’t Gonna Be Any Next Time’. As his mood changed from autumnal brown to blue, he began to slip in lines like, ‘So kiss her nice and say hello’, ‘Though the emptiness still lingers’, and ‘I respect her … for what she did’. If this soon-discarded paean was a carpe diem to his tardy self, its replacement would find him again ruing past mistakes and wracked with remorse.

On that very first take of ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’ – a marathon effort and stellar performance – he is already striving for the voice within and immediately captures the essence of Blood On The Tracks. Five and a half minutes long, it is punctuated by no fewer than four harmonica breaks.

With nary a pause, he goes in search of that voice again, this time reining himself in harmonica-lly, searching for a tonal breath control he can set to remote for the remainder of the sessions. He doesn’t quite find it, but that second take is still ‘pulled’ to one of three master reels at the end of the second session, from which Jeff Rosen evidently accessed this version when compiling 1991’s The Bootleg Series Vols. 1-3. Already, Dylan was in the forbidden zone – and Ramone sensed it:

Phil Ramone: This was a serious night … a very quiet, deliberate letting out of the inside of him. Emotionally, he was in a state of revealing his life. And most writers don’t want to tell you they’re writing their autobiography. But it’s there in the atmosphere, as you hear the songs unfolding.

Ramone knew the stakes were high and the learning curve steep. It started with lesson one: ‘Bob doesn’t rehearse. Bob just starts creating [and] these songs start pouring out of him!’

In rapid succession, Dylan proceeds to reel off versions of ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’ and ‘Simple Twist Of Fate’ that take him to the emotional core of a collection he has barely begun recording. This time both second takes have the edge on the first, even if a six-minute take one of ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’ – with three seesaw bursts of the harmonica around his neck – prompts an impressed Ramone to correctly observe, ‘Great song.’

‘This is a really excellent read. If you’re a Dylan fan it is a must have and, even if you’re not, this is one of the finest pieces of forensic analysis of a major album that you are ever likely to read – which makes it a must have.’ Americana UK.

Clinton Heylin’s No One Else Could Play That Tune takes you up and close and personal in the studio with Bob Dylan during the New York recording sessions for Blood on the Tracks. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the Sony box set release More Blood, More Tracks as you follow the recordings unfolding track by track. It’s available in a limited edition hardback, exclusively from Route, and now also on Kindle.

Click here for more details and to order the limited edition harback.

Kindle Editions: UK | US | CA | FR | DE | NL | ES | IT | AU | JP | MX | IN | BR |

Funky Si On Location | You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide

Funky Si Wolstencroft has been filming a series of vignettes at the sites featured in his memoir You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide. Taking in locations in London, New York, Leeds, Coventry, Wales, and of course Greater Manchester. Click play above to watch them in one continuous stream.

Click here for more on the book

youcandrumbutyoucanthide3dpair

Click here for the You Can Drum But Can’t Hide website

 

The Story Behind The Music | Sex Pistols First Recording Session

The Sex Pistols first studio recording took place at Majestic Studios in London on 15th May 1976 wth Chris Spedding at the helm. They recorded three tracks: ‘Problems’, ‘Pretty Vacant’ and ‘No Feelings’. You can hear the recordings on the video link above, and for context here’s an extract from Clinton Heylin’s Anarchy in the Year Zero, a full account of the birth of British punk.


Chris Spedding: I found it very weird, all that [in the press] about them not playing music. If they were notable for one thing it was that. They were always in time and in tune. I couldn’t understand why some … had chosen to attack them on the very thing that was their strength. Obviously, they’ve got cloth ears. [1976]

Getting someone as well-respected as Spedding on board at such an early stage was quite a coup for McLaren. It was almost as if he knew what he was doing, using his carefully cultivated contacts to make something happen – just as soon as the band began to justify his carefully-tailored hype. Well, by now they did. Marco Pirroni, who also came back to the 100 Club that May, recalls discussing precisely this point with McLaren:

Marco Pirroni: Malcolm used to spout [about] anarchy all the time. [But] he did care about the music … He said, ‘They’ve got to get tight, they’ve got to get good.’ … He went to proper people, [like] Chris Spedding … He didn’t just bung ’em into any ol’ studio. They weren’t trying to make them the worst they could be. And they were good.

Spedding was to some extent putting his reputation on the line. Which is why he was determined to capture their muscular musicianship, prepping them at their rehearsal space: ‘I went to a couple of rehearsals … and got them to go through their whole repertoire and I took notes, [then] I chose … the three best songs … they had at the time.’

The gang of studio novices duly assembled outside Majestic Studios, a state-of-the-art sixteen-track facility, the morning after they blew Krakatoa all the way down Oxford Street. McLaren, never one to miss a trick, invited Ray Stevenson down to capture the moment on his candid camera. The three tracks Spedding had chosen were ‘No Feelings’, ‘Problems’ and ‘Pretty Vacant’:

Chris Spedding: I didn’t want to go in and just have total anarchy. I knew enough about presenting something to record companies to know that they usually wanted three songs. I’d used [Majestic] when I did the Here Come The Warm Jets album with Eno. And we got the same engineer, Derek Chandler. I got them to go in there at ten o’clock in the morning [and when] I got there about quarter to eleven they were all set up. We started recording about eleven, about one o’clock we finished and I mixed them … There was two guitar overdubs, that was about it … They’d not been in the studio before … I had [brought] my amps and I stood over the drums while he tuned the drums to get out all the buzzes. Fortunately, his drums sounded pretty good anyway, so there was hardly anything for me to do [except to make] sure that they had a headphone balance and that the singer in his isolation booth could hear all the instruments properly. I asked them to do a rehearsal for me and I switched on the [tape] recorder. So they thought they were doing a rehearsal and they were actually doing their first take … I never really got them to hear themselves back and get all nervous about it … They were [all] more or less first takes, first time in the studio … Rotten sung live, but … in an isolation booth … You can actually hear the way the band played together. It’s not like [the] guitar-overdub soup [found on later recordings].

(Hearing the trio of tracks on a bootleg E.P., in the early eighties, post-Spunk, post-Bollocks, was quite a shock to the system. As Spedding says, there is no ‘guitar-overdub soup’, though there is at least one obvious guitar overdub on ‘No Feelings’. What the guitarist-producer captured does not sound like a demo tape – as Goodman’s July tracks do – but like the first three tracks of a potent debut album the original Pistols never completed before transitioning into a more musical orthodoxy.)

For the band it had been an eye-opening experience. Rotten, in particular, felt going ‘to a proper recording studio … opened our mind[s] to the possibilities’. Predictably, he gave all the credit to Spedding and none to McLaren. It was McLaren, though, who immediately put the demos to use. Two of the initial recipients were Jonh Ingham at Sounds – whose entire playlist the following week was these three songs18 – and Howard Trafford, who dubbed a cassette-copy and sent it to Tony Wilson at Granada Reports, a nightly local TV show with musical content, who promptly lost it, though not before making a note in his diary, ‘Sex Pistols – June 4.’


Read the full story of the birth of punk in Anarchy in the Year Zero by Clinton Heylin.

Featherstone’s Rich and Impressive History of Fighting Back

Green Lane Club, Featherstone

Featherstone Working Men’s Club, affectionately known as ‘t Green Lane’. It was built by its members in 1904 after they decided they no longer wished to support the Miners’ Welfare next door, which they saw as a Tory bosses club (the Welfare was owned and run by the pit owners).

Ian Clayton’s response to the Brexit Party media circus sweeping in to his home town of Featherstone, sowing seeds of division with a stage show of mass hypnotism.

As a seventh generation member of my family to make their home in Featherstone, I care deeply about where I am from. My partner Heather loves it here and my lad Edward is a son of this grand old town too. I hope my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will feel that same sense of belonging. I have an immense pride in the history of this town and judging by the sheer number of people who subscribe to the Featherstone Bygone Days page and share their own family history, photographs and ephemera, I’m not on my own in thinking that we have a town and a community to take justifiable joy and delight in. The history of this town is undoubtedly in its people, the stories they share, the clubs, societies and unions they belong to, the shops, pubs and clubs they use, the allotments and gardens they tend and the houses they take satisfaction from.

We are a town that has grown from hard work, but also let downs, setbacks and struggles. We always come back. The miners’ strike nearly ruined much of what we hold dear, but still we bounced back and though it’s hard at times, we still have much here to take pleasure in. The glue that binds us as a community holds strong. Better than that, it is a glue of are own making and that’s the best sort. I’ve always thought that Featherstone knows what it is doing, culturally, socially, and yes politically. We here believe in being good neighbours, helping those less fortunate and reaching out to include people who might feel left out.

Yesterday morning I watched a live stream of a Brexit Party rally from the Green Lane Club. It upset me. If someone had told me a year ago – no, just a week ago – that I would see with my own eyes people in a famous old Featherstone Working Men’s Club cheering Tories and right-wing extremists, and giving standing ovations to dodgy businessmen mouthing false camaraderie, I would have laughed them out of town. Yet it happened and it happened here, in the heart of a proper, working-class town. Surely this can’t be right and fair can it? I usually respond to this sort of thing with humour, but it’s got to the stage where it is not only too daft to laugh at, it is beyond satire, it has gone to a very dangerous and dark place. This is not a one horse, one party town, we must embrace the differing opinions of our neighbours, but dear me, this surely doesn’t mean we have to cheer those who wish to destroy community, sew the seeds of division and then drive off laughing having tricked, conned and humiliated us.

I wrote something on my Facebook page about what I saw. A good friend of mine from California wrote to me. Michael specialises in conflict resolution, he has worked in Northern Ireland and other parts of the world where communities have turned on one another. This is what he had to say.

‘The far right have consistently, if not intentionally, practiced what’s called reflective listening in the world of conflict resolution. They’ll knock on the door, listen to frustrations and then say something like, “We’re hearing that a lot. It’s irritating isn’t it?” Having acknowledged how someone feels and built some rapport, they then offer simple solutions to complex problems by scapegoating easy targets such as immigrants. It’s desperately depressing to witness such political entrepreneurs as Farage exploit so many people with lies and false comradeship.’

As I watched the circus yesterday, I tried to count how many lies the speakers were coming out with. I lost count. Yet people still cheered and held up the placards they had been given and were instructed to hold up at a given sign. I am thinking that this was a stage show example of mass hypnotism. Except the subjects were not embarrassing themselves by dancing to imaginary disco music and it wasn’t funny. It’s not funny anymore is it?

A reporter from The Guardian newspaper was there to witness this unedifying spectacle. His report in this morning’s paper makes for grim reading. I feel humiliated by it. I don’t want my town to be the place that contributed to the success of something as nasty as this.

When I wrote on my own Facebook yesterday, I asked, ‘What is the Green Lane Club thinking in allowing such a thing to happen on our own doorstep?’ To be fair to them, I have discovered since that they were duped and conned. When the original booking at the club was made, the organisers merely asked for a room to hold a seminar, they didn’t even mention the Brexit Party. The good people at the Club took the booking, because that’s what they do. They allow rooms to be rented for a small fee to help the club in hard financial times. It was only a few days ago that the real reason for the booking was revealed and by then the invoice had been paid and it was too late to do anything about. We Featherstonians must ask ourselves then, is this what we really want? A gang of tricksters and conmen making false bookings in order to get in by the back door and then continuing to try and fool us with their flashing lights, downright lies, false friendship, limp handshakes and grinning in our face. Featherstone does not deserve to be treated in this way.

I once asked my granddad if Mosley and his black shirts ever came to Featherstone. He laughed and said, ‘Aye, they once had a meeting at the back of the Central Club in a place called Teddy Edwards’ Market.’ I asked him what people did. He just laughed again and said, ‘Me and Lionel Anderson and our Harold and some others went up with a pick shaft apiece. We told them to get off home and I’m fairly sure they did.’ I am not like my grandad, I do not condone that approach, but I will fight with my words to ensure that my town continues a proud history of kindness to others and I refuse to be humiliated and shamed by here-today, gone-tomorrow clowns who know nothing of our rich and impressive history of fighting back.

Ian Clayton’s website