Did Bob Dylan choose his moniker after the boozy wildchild of Welsh poetry who was loved in the USA in the 60s? Apparently not: he didn’t even like him. It was a simple coincidence.
In Wales we love a bit of Dylan. And so it was, on May 3 2017, that I found myself in Cardiff’s largest cattle shed, (the Motorpoint Arena) on a mild evening, with thousands of well-behaved devotees, attending the Welsh episode of the Never Ending Tour.
The gig promised to showcase Dylan’s new ‘Triplicate’ album of American songs alongside some of his own tunes. The awarding of the Nobel prize for literature added a certain seriousness to the whole thing. Maybe the committee had mixed up its Dylan’s?
As I surveyed the scene from my excellent vantage point of the middle balcony, I was consumed with memories of my last visit to this venue, some twenty-odd years back. I felt slightly apprehensive: it was David Bowie (and look what happened to him!).
The Bowie gig had been disappointing. When you are too young to remember the star in their heyday you lack the hero-worship required to listen to obscure tracks off a new album produced by a proper grown-up.
We just wanted to dance to ‘Let’s Dance’ but Bowie and the boys had other plans. Their plan was to ignore the audience.
They did their 90 minutes (delivered, for my money, in perfunctory style) and off we went unsweated and undanced to buy Caroline Street chips too early. At least I got to bed at sensible o-clock for a school night.
The Dylan gig promised to be a similar experience. An email had already been sent out, to thoughtfully manage our expectations.
‘There will be no support act. The show will commence at 7:30pm.’ So, early doors.
I was travelling light with a small purse hidden under my cardi. All the other women were queuing up to have their handbags searched. Security staff were emphatically warning ‘no recording, no photography, no video’.
Not sure Bob is too keen on social media. At a recent ‘Justin’s Party’ (attended by 3,000 hysterical three year olds) we were invited to take as many photos and video clips as we liked. ‘Do share on Facebook!’ we were urged. Justin knows the power of the tag. In contrast, the control-freakery of this band smacked of insecurity.
The Bob Dylan 6-strong band arrived on stage a few minutes after 7:30.
I loved the sound of the jangly American metal guitars. Their rich, authentic country sound reverberated around the sharp accoustics of the hall.
At moments they reminded me of Dire Straights. Mark Knopfler had been responsible for the sound track to my favourite ever film – ‘Local Hero’. That story was life-changing for me.
It was the moment I decided that I’d find a way to quit city life and live gloriously close to the beach in the countryside. I tuned into his atmospheric guitar illustrating the tranquil scene of a Scottish fishing village and a mere 20 years later, dropped out of mainstream society.
Now I listened, in turn, to the guitars, the drums and the piano of the Bob Dylan Band and felt sincerely grateful for my beautiful lifestyle.
A bloke in a white hat was bashing away at the Joanna. I felt conscious of the occasional discordant note. It irritated me a bit. But the guitars and drumming were wonderful.
No big screens or technology meant that from my position, elevated at the back of the hall, I had a great view but no details to refer to. I closed my eyes and enjoyed it.
The players were all men, some in hats. They were lit, vintage style, by several large spotlights suspended above them. The man in the bright headgear moved from piano to harmonica. The sound improved. I relaxed.
The gravelly vocals were ecovative of, well, a very old version of Bob Dylan to be honest.
Music has the power to transport. I was taken back to childhood days with him on Radio Caroline and my dad shouting ‘I can’t stand Bob Dylan!’
Dad played boogie woogie piano in the 60s in clubs in Cardiff. So I was weaned on a diet of Welsh R and B. When a group of players find their groove and let rip it has me jiggling in my chair, keen to dance. I made do with slapping my thighs and stamping my feet to the beat.
There were lots of melodic rhythmic moments but also some uncomfortable jangling when my heart wasn’t in it anymore and I took to daydreaming about my gig history.
An alarming theme started to take shape in my mind. Wacko Jacko was the most memorable. I took my baby brother. We’d had a blast. I was so impressed I stuck the ticket into my diary. The gig appeared on the front page of the local evening newspaper.
I didn’t make it to Cardiff Castle to see Prince or Queen, but enjoyed the sound that spilled through my open bedroom window. Stefan Grappelli cancelled his gig due to ill-health and died a few days later.
I thumbed through the programme. There was a fantastic photo of Bob with Chuck Berry. When Chuck came to Cardiff back in the day I ended up on stage dancing with him. My exploits got a mention in the Western Mail.
We’ve just lost Chuck. He’s joined Bowie, Grapelli, Freddie, Prince, Steve Strange (a few weeks after I met him on a night out in Swansea) and Micheal Jackson.
I started to feel paranoid and just hoped Bob would make it to the end of the show.
Like at the Bowie gig, the audience was pointedly ignored. It took me to the middle of the gig to realise that the annoying man in the cream Fedora was, yes, the Man Himself.
He played a mixture of his own and other people’s songs; some American songbook classics. My particular moment of magic was ‘Autumn Leaves’ which he sang briefly.
I was reminded of the first time I played Eva Cassidy’s version. That she was already dead (and that she could sing really well) nearly killed me. The song made me cry. Bob reminded me of that summer when I played her album to death to nurse a broken heart.
By 9:30pm I was out on the street again. A young busker was belting out ‘Cos the times….they are a-changin…”.
He sounded great and took me back to childhood sunny days. But the times, like the voices of pop heroes, well, they change don’t they?
I’d planned on getting chips from Caroline Street but ended up in the Marriot lounge supping tea with ginger biscuits.
I used to go to gigs to feel more alive. Watching elderly pop gods continuing to ply their trade just evokes fears of their inevitable demise.
Do not go gentle into that good night, Bob.
Thanks for finishing before the last bus home.