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

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


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