TCBDS MEETINGS   TCBDS ARCHIVE   FREEWHEELIN-ON-LINE

 
freewheelin-on-line
 

 

John and Paul
Look what the Beatles are holding!
Conclusive proof!

 
   

HIPSTERS, FLIPSTERS
AND
FINGER POPPIN' DADDIES!

by C. P. Lee

 


Until just over a week ago there was a framed photograph on the wall over the desk that I’m typing this at now. A colour, eight by ten photograph of two middle-aged men standing in a three quarter length portrait shot. Both of them have their hands clasped in front of them at waist height. Both of them have slight smiles on their faces, but one of them is definitely not used to the posed formality of the occasion. He looks slightly nervous, possibly ill at ease with the situation. Looking more closely at the picture you begin to feel that he’s clasping one of his hands much more tightly in the other, hanging on for safety’s sake, or, maybe about to bunch it into a fist.

It was on the Friday night that I was gazing idly at the pictures, posters, dream-catchers, ancient beer trays and other memorabilia that cover the wall in front of me when I decided to make an aesthetic change or two, so I took the photo down and put it in a less conspicuous place. A portrait of Robert Johnson now hangs where the photo once was.

Just over to my left is a small cabinet with a revolving CD carousel on top of it, along with a globe, a fake half pint of lager and a stack of blank CDRs. Up until the Sunday after the night of moving photographs around it used to have another item on it, a tall Belgian beer glass. The beer glass was a gift from a friend with a sense of humour. It’s not there anymore because that Sunday afternoon, by some strange quirk of fate, it fell to the ground and was smashed.

The nervous looking man in the photograph was called Keith Butler. The glass had the name of the beer etched on it – ‘Judas’.

That evening I got an email – Keith Butler had died on the Friday night.

For those who aren’t aware, Keith Butler was the man who originally came forward claiming to be the heckler who shouted the word “Judas!” at Bob Dylan’s infamous 1966 Free Trade Hall concert. I say ‘originally’, because another contender had come forward shortly after Keith had ‘outed’ himself, a man called John Cordwell. Strangely, almost a year ago, a report had surfaced on rec.music.dylan saying that the ‘Judas’ heckler had died. After a flurry of emails and trans-Atlantic phone calls it turned out to be John Cordwell who’d passed away… and now, Keith has too. Neither of them was over fifty-five.

As Keith’s death appears to draw this particular chapter of the Dylan story to a close, I’d like to briefly re-tell the story of the world’s most famous heckler(s) – When I began researching for my book about the concert I’d always harboured the hope that one day I might be able to discover the identity of the person who shouted. It was a long shot, but not beyond the realms of possibility. After all, all I had to do was track down the two thousand people who were there that night and ask them! Well, I wasn’t that naïve, but it always struck me that somebody who was there might have known know who it was.

There were a few tantalisingly close calls when I was interviewing people – “Yeah, I heard him. He was over on my left” kind of replies – and even once when I wasn’t interviewing anybody! I had a builder round doing some work on the house and when he saw my Dylan collection he said – “I was there that night. There was bloke shouted ‘Judas’ at him. It was brilliant!” As nonchalantly as I could I asked him if he knew who it was – “No” he replied, “But if he were here now I’d shake his hand, Dylan was crap.”

So near and yet so far. The book was published in May 1998, closely followed by the official release of the live album. A journalist for Associated Press, called Scott Bauer interviewed me about the book and the release. The article got syndicated and a couple of weeks later I got an excited email from Scott. He told me that he’d been approached by a man in Toronto who claimed to be the ‘Judas’ heckler. Very tentatively I emailed the person. His name was Keith Butler. I sent him a series of questions to check out as far as I could the veracity of his claims. The email relationship was a little bit strange on both sides. He felt nervous of me because of things I’d said in the book about the unknown heckler. I was wary of him because I couldn’t quite get the cut of his jib.

Fate then intervened in the form of Andy Kershaw, who called me to ask if I’d be interested in helping him make a documentary for Radio One. It was going to be called ‘The Ghosts of Electricity’ and would be all about the night of the concert. I agreed straight away and we set about planning the programme. Almost towards the end of our conversation he asked me if there was any chance we could find the man who’d shouted at Dylan. I gave him Keith’s email address and he said he’d follow it up.

The upshot of this was that when we came to record the programme at the Free Trade Hall in January 1999, Keith Butler came over from Canada, at his own expense, to appear in the show. That’s where the photograph I had over my desk was taken, on the stage at the Free Trade Hall.

The night before the recording, Andy and I had spent hours going over and over ‘Eat The Document’ seeing if we could identify Keith amongst the faces of the public that had been interviewed in the lobby of the concert hall. Andy kept replaying the answerphone message that Keith had left him on Christmas Day to try and get a vocal fix on the suspect. Obviously we couldn’t draw any conclusions from a film that was nearly thirty years old and a voice that was recorded only last week, but it was fun trying. To cut a long story short, the man we met the next morning was shy, somewhat nervous and perhaps a little reluctant as we stepped inside the freezing cold venue to face the small army of FTH veterans who were also waiting to take part.

After the dramatic events of the day had unfolded, and it would be an understatement to describe them otherwise, we visited a variety of local hostelries before ending up where all good drunks should end up – on the Curry Mile in Rusholme in Manchester. Hunched over dishes of karahi and korma I got a bit more into the story of Keith. He’d been an economics student at Keele University, a keen member of the uni folk club. Like many others of his ilk he’d been more than taken aback by Dylan’s ‘sudden’ decision to go electric. He’d felt betrayed, confused and angry during the second half and finally the dam had burst and the shout had come out. It seemed very likely he was the guy being interviewed in the lobby who says, “Pop groups play better rubbish than that. It’s a disgrace. He wants shooting”. But it wasn’t so much the events of 1966 that seemed to play on Keith’s mind, more the events of the last year.

He’d emigrated to Canada a couple of years after graduating and gone to work in a bank. And then he got married. And then he had fathered a couple of kids. And carried on working in the bank. And suddenly he was nearly fifty and he felt as if he’d never done anything with his life. His marriage was disintegrating and everything that had seemed so clear was now a fog, and everything that he’d held in his hands was turning to dust. An insomniac night filled with the horrors of asthma had driven him into an all night coffee shop, which is where he’d read Scott’s review and upon seeing the word ‘Judas!’ shrieking out at him had experienced the epiphany of awakening as if from a sleep that had lasted decades.

And so, he returned to Canada, possibly even more confused than he had been when he flew over. The show was broadcast and both Andy and I thought that was probably the end of the affair, but it wasn’t. We were contacted by quite a few indignant Judas shouters, all claiming that it had been them and not the Butler what done it. My favourite claimed to a former magistrate. He patiently explained that the officially released album was all wrong. It was the Albert Hall, not the Free Trade Hall. Incredibly, even the Guardian record reviewer merrily said that all the tracks leading up to the shout were from Manchester and then the Albert Hall ‘Rolling Stone’ had been spliced in! There are still people around today who think the same thing. But what proof did the former magistrate have to offer that he was the shouter? We only had to ask Bob Geldof, he told us. Why Bob Geldof we asked? Because I told him it was me, he replied. Then, and I swear this is true, he said he had to go now as there was a flying saucer waiting for him … and all the other subsequent claimers we mused. All except one.

He was called John Coldwell, and Andy and I met up with him in our favourite Salford pub, the Kings Arms. John’s story was as equally plausible as Keith’s. In 1966 he was a Mancunian Traditionalist Folkie with all the attendant cultural baggage that that implied. Throughout the second electric set he’d booed, slow hand-clapped and then finally, outraged at Dylan’s betrayal of ‘the movement’, had shouted ‘Judas!’

I asked him why he hadn’t come forward years ago and he said that when he saw the title ‘Albert Hall’ on the bootlegs, had always assumed that to be the case and thought that it was synchronicity or coincidence, that two people had shouted the same thing at two different gigs. It was only on listening to the radio documentary that he’d realised it had been him.

Andy and I were left with a problem. Both the two guys seemed equally plausible and basically honest. Neither of them was in it for profit or fame or even notoriety. Both were, in a sense, ashamed of their youthful indiscretion (and I defy anybody alive who says they haven’t got some regrets about past behaviours), both of them claimed that they simply wanted to set the facts right.

Keith, being the first official contender, had kind of got into the history books. He is the one who’s named in Sounes’s ‘Down The Highway’ and Heylin’s ‘Behind The Shades’, but both Andy and myself came to conclusion that perhaps it was John who was telling the truth. It’s very important here to state that neither of us believe that Keith was lying. It’s beyond doubt that he’d shouted something, but a lot of things were shouted that night and only one person shouted Judas. What had become apparent was that Keith had a lot more on his mind than setting history straight. In his letters and emails to me over the last few years he veered from talking about writing his autobiography all the way to saying that he wished he’d never said anything about it being him because now that’s all that people knew him for. He was annoyed at Robin Denselow’s film on Newsnight about himself, not for what was said but for the way they got him to recreate things like shovelling the snow from his driveway, or sitting in the coffee shop where he read the article. I know that he proudly flew his sons to New York so they could watch ‘Eat The Document’ and “see what a fool their old Dad had been”, but it was obvious that all the self-doubt and worry went considerably further than simply the events of that one night all those years ago.

John Coldwell and I made arrangements to meet again and talk some more about the Folk scene and the sixties. Before we could get together there was a message on the net, ‘the man who’d shouted ‘Judas’ had died’. I was shaken out of my skin as I thought it was Keith who’d gone. It never occurred to me that it could be John. Andy Kershaw was away so I put in frantic calls to Keith’s Toronto number. By this time Keith had not only been named as dead on the internet but even in the Observer newspaper. When I discovered that he was alive I assumed he’d go ape and sue the papers. He didn’t.

John died of asthma. I haven’t received any details about the circumstances of Keith’s death yet, but we know he was an asthmatic too. Sometimes there’s just too much coincidence.

Like the night I took his picture down was the night he died, and the day the Judas glass shattered was the day I was informed of his passing. Sometimes there are just too many coincidences, too many threads, too many links, too many mournings.

Keith and John – Rest In Peace


Keith and John

 
 
BACK TO CONTENTS

TCBDS MEETINGS   TCBDS ARCHIVE   FREEWHEELIN-ON-LINE