Last night I had the greatest Bob Dylan experience, at the mercy of a busker.
For over an hour my brother and I (along with a few dozen other people) crooned and wailed joyously to Bob Dylan hits such as Subterranean Homesick Blues, Blowin’ in the Wind and Like a Rolling Stone, basking in the rough-and-ready raw beauty that Dylan’s music has long represented.
Upon arrival in Blackpool on the day of the gig there was a certain air of magic amongst the pregnant teenagers and the flocks of seagulls regurgitating fish and chips on the pavement. The arcades stank of political anarchy and deep Southern drawls echoed through the walls of Wetherspoons.
I’ve never been a huge fan of ‘large’ gigs (for myself that would be more than 100) especially a gig with no standing option and I don’t feel that even the presence of Zimmerman himself altered this perception. As a singer/ songwriter who built his ‘empire’ as it were on active involvement with the civil rights movement and a continuous challenging of social and political conformities, a setting such as the Blackpool Opera House was somewhat of a paradox.
Dylan eased into his set with tranquil tracks She belongs to me and What Good am I? with a backdrop of a country-vibe band- all exceptional musicians though it would have been nice to see Bob himself pick up a guitar at least once. There were touches of harmonica solos but for the most part the star of the show could only be seen hidden behind a piano, and not, it is sad to say, for the benefit of the crowd. At a strain to even pinpoint the piano amongst the five other instruments, mediocre skill (from his original instrument) at best was heard. Bob Dylan has never achieved high acclaim for his voice, but as many loyal fans will point out that is often the beauty in the manner at which he transmits his (often) significant political ideologies that are the birthstone of most of his lyrics. At this particular concert, however, I felt almost as if Dylan’s voice was a hindrance to the band. It surpassed the experienced, raw and throaty flow that has defined the likes of Tom Waits and Janis Joplin and entered a world of vocal delusions. The stage presence was that of a shy, tired man (who, many have said, tours far too much for his own good- the ‘never ending tour’ has been ongoing since June 7 1988) and this was evident to the patient crowd who jeered “TAKE YER HAT OFF BOB!” and “SHOW US YER FACE, BOB.”
The second half of the set welcomed a change from the predominantly country/ folk style of the first half into a blues/blues-grass show with an upbeat and much welcomed electric blues guitar and heavier bass. With the unpredictable nature of Bob Dylan and his Band’s setlists, Tangled up in Blue was greeted by an enthusiastic roar that echoed throughout the building that will soon be gracing the presence of none other than Shane Filan! It was, however much I complain about the current musical capabilities of a childhood idol, an extremely refreshing concert with next to no IPhones blinding my sight and faith in the human race. How wonderful that people went to actually listen to music as opposed to watching it through a fuzzy screen for ‘the memories’. The encore was no big surprise- I highly doubt a single fan even contemplated rushing off to the nearest karaoke bar. The actual song, however, was. All Along The Watchtower is a Dylan classic that has long been disguised as a Jimi Hendrix original and, I’m not sure if it was just down to fact that I was aware of the imminent finale, but the monotony of the gig throughout was clouded over by the wonderful sound of “…there are many here among us, who feel that life is but a joke…”
So, alas, to the charismatic and talented ‘Street Fella’ (self-titled) parked outside of the Opera House, smiling and catching the eyes of the many people who’s lives at one point or another have been defined by a Bob Dylan song. To cheers of “Go on Bob!” and “This is what music’s all about!” the busker strummed, hummed and blew his way through album upon album and year upon year of Bob Dylan’s political poetry. As the time edged ever later a sceptical but mischievous look crept unanimously over the committed crowd’s faces as a police van slithered along, both pigs eyeing up Street Fella with intent. Just this once though, the peaceful harmonies of a few happy music lovers didn’t attract the claws of the police. With a guitar case filled with winking notes and coins, Street Fella knew his time was drawing to a close and pitched two possible penultimate songs, One More Cup of Coffee or A song to Woody. If this were a perfect world then the poem dedicated to Dylan’s hero Woody Guthrie would have been performed, my brother desperately but ever-so-politely requesting the song he read aloud at his father’s funeral just months previous. Of course, perfection is overrated and we still bobbed along contentedly to One More Cup of Coffee (if, indeed, one can ‘bob’ to One More Cup of Coffee). Incidentally, a song from the album Desire which we played repeatedly to our father whilst he lay detached, silent, in a coma. Walking away to the echo of Simple Twist of Fate, we floated serenely- silently agreeing that what Bob had started decades ago was a movement that we are all so proud (and blessed) to belong to.