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THE MISSIONARY TIMES


A WELCOME BREAK
(with some Northampton moments)

by J. R. Stokes

 

I haven’t gone off the boil with ‘Visions of Johanna', no indeed: that particular fire is still raging, just like the fire that raged under the heroin of my piece, Saint Joan. This month however something else has taken over my thoughts, something that others may also be writing about namely The Second Annual John Green Day held at The Moat House Hotel, Northampton on the 31st August 2002. It was a Freewheelin event, attended by about 200 people and I cant move on until I have committed some of my Northampton Moments to the page. Perhaps a welcome break from ‘Visions’ for you, certainly a necessary break for me.

The moments and images that immediately spring to mind are those that involve the Freewheelers who were able to attend on the day. Our two primary school teachers Richard and Paula clicked into efficiency overdrive on the registration desk and saw to it that early birds, stragglers and gate crashers were all perfectly marshalled. A nice moment was Paula’s delight at opening Ray Stavrous’ life’s work ‘ A Vinyl Headstone’ – Almost In Place’ and deciding where this wonderful item would fit into her extensive collection of Dylan books. Richards ‘moment’ was familiar: I have seen him do it so many times before. The Richard Crossman of the Dylan world, meticulously diarising both of Julie Felix’s set lists. How may of those little note books have you amassed over the years Richard?

I don’t think that I have ever seen a dog in a hotel: and Spike certainly took the biscuit for not only being a dog in a hotel but for accepting his surroundings without complaint. Us humans must appear to be a weird lot sometimes from a dog’s view point yet Spike seemed to enjoy Northampton, despite his owners incredulity that there actually is an ELEVEN cd set of Basement Tapes material. Nice to see Jim and Ross who Spike brought along with him!

An image that I will stay with me for some considerable time is the entrance by C.P. Lee in Dylan’s Newport ’02 attire. Soggy Bottom Boys or whatever, C.P. graced the stage in full Methodist Minister beard and hair piece to give an entertaining talk/performance. The dance to illustrate the mood of the summer of love was outstanding. What a mover! And the impromptu jamming session when the day was done saw C.P. at his best – improvising in harmony.

It was Chris C that set up what probably will be my lasting moment from JGDay2. We were still in the residents bar at about 4. am, celebrating the success of the day with two of my favourite non-Freewheelers Keith Agar and David Palmer. The early morning house band consisting of Ged Keilty, Steve Watson and Martin Stein had retired and, seeing some empty chairs in the haggard gathering, Paul Cobley and some members of his band joined us. Paul is the lead singer with the young band ‘Cold Overture’ who performed a fantastically highly charged set on the day including a wild version of ‘Idiot Wind’. I asked Paul if he had ever seen Dylan’s optimum version of the song from ‘Hard Rain’ and when he said he hadn’t we decided to reopen the video room at the hotel for a special showing.

After replenishing our empty glasses we left the bar and wandered through the hotel corridors at that unearthly hour. Most residents, and Spike, were in the land of nod but we were on a Bob watch mission so no all night Porters or other keepers of the peace could stop us.

The video room at the Moat House is a large rectangle conference room and, at 4am, it was dark and bloody cold. We changed all that: we found the light switch, Chris turned on the video projector, sorted a video cd of ‘Hard Rain’; found ‘Idiot Wind’ and we all sat back in comfy seats to watch with one last look – spellbound and swallowed till the song had ended. Things weren’t however quite right: there was a lip synching problem with the software which caused a momentary lapse between Dylan singing the words and us hearing them. At first I put it down to the alcohol but as everyone else noticed it I knew that my intake of the demon drink had not, so far, obliterated my senses.

And then it happened. He just seemed to appear from nowhere. How he got there I don’t know but Larry ‘Lambchop’ Eden appeared to be sitting in the corner of the room watching the screen. He wasn’t there when we went in but perhaps he has a kind of radar that senses when Dylan is performing and then gets beamed down to the feet of ‘the Maestro’. Larry lit up an enormous joint that scented the Moat House air and I had visions that there would be a repeat of last year when his sweet Mary Jane set off the fire alarm and we all had to evacuate the hotel at breakfast time and congregate in the car park. There was of course no fire, just Larry sitting up in bed with a rizzla and some organic material that had been carefully rolled by a young Indian boy in a Nepalese trading house. Perhaps there are no smoke detectors in the conference room or perhaps Larry was blowing his smoke in a different direction or perhaps we just couldn’t help it if we were lucky, but no alarms and no security invaded our soiree.

‘The first stage performance of Jakob Dylan’ Larry pointed out as we looked at the screen. And of course he was right, although that particular fact had never occurred to me before. Sensing some authority in our midst, and being eager to learn all there was to learn, Paul looked towards Larry and then came the moment. It was a Bobby Dylan/ Woody Guthrie at Greystone Hospital moment; a Robert Johnson at the crossroads moment. The Chopper and Paul didn’t just share a conversation or a mind altering inhalant; it was something more than that: a passing on of the baton of life, of appreciation and understanding, a devolution of the invisible spirit of art itself. A handing down from the old to the young , from one who has seen it all to one who has so much to see. In the very early hours of the morning, in the conference room at The Moat House, Northampton, through the green smoky haze, I witnessed a resurrection. It could have been the adrenaline produced by the stresses of the day, it could have been my weariness of mind at such an hour, it could have been the heady mixture of hops and weed, it could have been John Green himself tugging at my coat sleeve, it could have been anything at all that gave rise to such a magical moment. But it happened.

 


 

So, what about the rest of the day? Well, what I am going to do next is to repeat here the contents of the programme, from the beginning to the end. The purpose of this is to join this months Freewheellin’ with the event that took place. After all programmes get mislaid over a period of time and anyone who comes across this particular Freewheelin’ and who has never seen the programme will be aware of what went on and why we did it. As we were celebrating 35 years since the Basement Tapes, the contents of the programme has a ‘Basements’ theme to it:

Lo and Behold! The Second Annual John Green Day

When the critic Greil Marcus wrote the liner notes to ‘The Basement Tapes’ album, he endeavoured to capture the mood of that house in West Saugerties, New York where Bob Dylan and a few of his friends made sweet music together in the summer of 1967. Marcus wrote ‘ What was taking shape, as Dylan and The Band fiddled with the tunes, was less a style than a spirit – a spirit that had to do with a delight in friendship and invention’. Those sentiments perfectly express, not only the atmosphere prevailing at ‘The Big Pink’ 35 years ago, but also how we would like the Second Annual John Green Day to be treated – with a spirit that has to do with a delight in friendship and invention.

In the introduction to the memorial programme for the First John Green Day held in March 2001, reference was made to how that day came about. We wrote about the generosity of spirit of our dear friend John Green who tragically died so young and we said: ‘The impetus that gave rise to this First Annual John Green Memorial Convention was that we should follow John’s example of friendship and, at the same time, share in the love that John had for the work of Bob Dylan. …… We hope that today will not necessarily mark the end of a life but perhaps see the birth of something new which will provide an annual meeting place for Dylan friends. Now that really would be a fitting memorial to the way that John Green lived his life.’

Perhaps unlike the view from Dylan’s set of deep turquoise eyes, for us at Freewheelin’, things haven’t changed. What we want on this Second Annual John Green Day is nothing more than again to provide a meeting place for Dylan friends and in that we will raise a glass to one dear absent friend who showed us the way.

And so to The Basement Tapes: 35 years ago Dylan and his friends got together in the basement of that house in West Saugerties, affectionately known as ‘The Big Pink’. Someone pressed the ‘record’ button on a reel-to-reel machine and what happened next became a milestone in Dylan’s recording career.

Quoting again from the album’s liner notes written by Greil Marcus: “The Basement Tapes are a testing of roots and memory; it might be why The Basement Tapes are, if anything, more compelling today than they were when they were first made, no more likely to fade than Elvis Presley's 'Mystery Train' or Robert Johnson’s ‘Love In Vain’ “. We are very happy to celebrate and assist to sustain the memory of that great music in the company of good friends. So forget all ideas about having a silent weekend – and let the day begin!

 


 

Come All Without, Come All Within – what we have planned

The Master of Ceremonies for the day will again be Keith Agar. Those who attended the event last year will surely remember the way that Keith masterfully managed the day. Keith will again be bringing his own wonderful style to introduce the various happenings throughout the day and evening.

We are particularly lucky this year to have Julie Felix performing for us at the Moat House. Julie was one of the central figures of the 1960s US folk movement and her work since that time has reflected the experience and integrity of a lifetime committed to music. Julie has always been an ardent fan of Dylan’s work and their paths have crossed on many occasions, including at the Isle of Wight Festival on the 31st August 1969 where both Julie and Dylan performed. As well as performing two sets at the Moat House, Julie will be recounting some of her memories of Dylan. In addition, and to coincide with our event, Julie is releasing ‘Starry Eyed And Laughing’, a double alum of 20 Dylan covers. Copies of the album will be available from Julie’s staff at the event and hopefully Julie will be available to sign any copies purchased. The speakers at the event will also be available to sign copies of their books either purchased on the day or previously.

There will be a separate video room with a large screen that will have a continuous showing throughout the day of film about and relating to Bob Dylan. The film will contain highlights from Dylan’s entire career and will include rare and previously unseen footage from the UK 2002 shows. A detailed schedule of the contents of the videos will be displayed. During the day there will be a raffle, the prize for which will be the master copies of the video tapes that are being screened in the video room. From 10 pm in the video room the new and updated version of the Last Waltz will be screened.

There will be merchandising tables from My Back Pages, Badlands, www.lazycarrott.com , Sound Advice and John Baldwin of Dignity. These very nice people will be selling books, Cd’s, magazines, T-shirts and all manner of other Dylan related material. Browse or buy- they will be pleased to see you.

Food will be available on the day in conjunction with The Moat House Hotel. The convention bar will be open throughout the day until 2 am on Sunday morning. The residents bar will be open throughout the night – indeed until the last man (or woman) is still standing!

 


 

Goin’ to have some fun – the day’s agenda

Below is set out the planned agenda for the day. These events will take place in the main room of the Buckingham Suite. Although we intend to keep to the times detailed, there may be a slight variation on the day.

10.00–11.00am   Registration.
11.00–11.15am   Formal welcome, introduction and opening by your Master of Ceremonies for the day, Keith Agar
11.15–12.30pm   Talk by Andrew Muir, a well known Dylanologist, author of the popular ‘Razors Edge’ Dylan book and editor of Judas!, the new Dylan magazine.
12.30–1.45pm   A performance by the band Society’s Pliers featuring Mervyn Frost and Martin Stein. This band were very popular at last year’s event and cover an extensive range of Dylan songs.
1.45–2.30pm   Talk by Jeff Stevens, a contributor to many Dylan magazines. Jeff will be recounting his trip to ‘The Big Pink’, the home of The Basement Tapes.
2.30–4.00pm   ‘If Your Memory Serves You Well’, a quiz organised and presented by Ged Keilty.
4.30-5.30pm   First performance by the legendary folk singer, performer and entertainer Julie Felix.
5.45-6.30pm   Talk by Derek Barker, a well known Dylan expert, a former Freewheeler and editor of ISIS, the best selling and longest running Dylan magazine.
6.45–7.45pm   A performance by the band Cold Overture. This young and energetic band will be bringing to the house their own highly charged interpretations of Dylan’s songs.
8.00–9.00pm   Talk by C.P. Lee, a Freewheeler and ardent follower of the mighty Lord Buckley. C.P. is also a respected Dylanologist and is the author of Dylan books ‘Like The Night’ and ‘Like A Bullet of Light’.
9.00–9.15pm   The presentations to the winners of the quiz, the raffle and the 11cd set, ‘The Complete Basement Tapes’.
9.15-10.15pm   The second set from Julie Felix.
10.15– 10.30pm   Formal closing of the day by Keith Agar.
10.30pm–late   Free for all folk and jamming session by any one who wants to get involved. If you’ve got a song to sing, we want to hear it!

 


 

You’ll remember you’re the one – The Basement Faves

We asked the Freewheelers and other kind folk to name their favourite Basement Tape track. This is how the songs made out:

Keith Agar
'Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread'
- for two reasons: 1. 'slap that drummer with a pie that smells' and 2. 'on the very next day with a nose full of pus'. Original, lateral, and humorous. Wonderful!

Derek Barker
'Clothesline Saga,' -
because it's a good song to hang out to!

Russell Blatcher
'I am A Teenage Prayer'
- because it's so funny.

David Brazier
Clothes Line Saga’ - so drop dead, deadpan funny. I am sure all fans of Coronation Street et al would get off on the importance of the sheer nothingness.

Mark Carter
‘Banks of The Royal Canal’
- a stunning, spine-tingling, moving and almost perfect mini masterpiece. Dylan takes on Brendan Beehan and wins.

Chris Cooper
When I am in a frivolous mood it has to be ‘Teenage Prayer’ the wonderful micky take of the pop world, a joyous happy fun thing. And when I am in a more reflective mood I would choose ‘Too Much Of Nothing’ as it sums up the Basements so well.

Robert Forryan
‘This wheel's on fire’
- Possibly the most sinister Dylan lyric ever - a song that evokes 1968 and all that year meant to me when to be young was very heaven (and because I fancied Julie Driscoll).

Jim Gillan
‘I’m Not There (1956)’ -
Which I didn’t hear until the 5CD set arrived about half past nineteen ninety thingy. So it’s untainted by dubious connections.

Ged Keilty
‘Apple Suckling Tree’ -
Two reasons: first, it's delightful to hear Dylan singing total nonsense with such obvious enjoyment and panache; second, Garth Hudson's organ break just before the last chorus is surely the best 30 seconds of music by anyone in Dylan's band ever.

C.P.Lee
'I'm Not There (1956)'
- The best song Dylan never finished is the missing link between 'Blonde on Blonde' and everything that followed. Like watching an homunculus grow in an alchemist's laboratory.

Andrew Muir
‘Clothes Line Saga’ -
because it is perfect in every way; an idea flawlessly executed. It must be perfect to make me not select ‘Tears Of Rage’.

Richard Lewis
‘Odds and Ends’ -
As a sufferer from Autolycus Syndrome (ie "a snapper up of unconsidered trifles") I was immediately attracted to the title ‘Odds and Ends’ and as it also carries the all important message "lost time is not found again" I was hooked. It must be the best song ever that is less than two minutes long!

Tim Price
I'm Not There (1956)’ - I'd like to say because of my deep & meaningful insight into the lyric, but in truth the answer's "just because".

Paula Radice
‘Clothesline Saga’
- because like the very best of every sort of art form, it conceals its art, only revealing it gradually after repeated exposure. Less is definitely more: every laid-back laconic line conceals many lifetimes of everyday experiences.

Jeff Stevens
‘I’m Not There (1956)’
– for the marvellous elusive imagery of lines like ‘ she’s my Christ-forsaken angel’ and ‘the kingdom weighs so high above her’ and for the way that the ultimate meaning of the song hovers tantalisingly just out of reach.

John Stokes
‘Sign On The Cross’
- Is it the key to the Kingdom or are we all really so misled? It worries me too Bob. Oh Lordy, Lordy, just hear the words of the mocking bird preacher in that middle section.

Phil Townsend
‘See You Later Allen Ginsberg’
- springs to mind but I cant think of any suitable reason why!

Two Riders
‘I'm Not There (1956)’
- it gives us an insight into Dylan developing his thoughts as he sings - the creative process at work.

Neil Watson
‘I Shall be Released’
- For the expression of the need to be FREE in the song, and for the line ‘Down here next to me in this lonely crowd (There’s a man who swears he’s not to blame)’

Patrick Webster
‘Tears of Rage’
or ‘Too Much of Nothing’ - Because of their references to King Lear, and being placed together, verso and recto in ‘Lyrics’ - signifying nothing and everything.

And the winner is……….’.I’m Not There (1956)’ which got the most votes with ‘Clothes Line Saga’ coming a close second and ‘Too Much Of Nothing’, ‘Tears of Rage’ and ‘I’m A Teenage Prayer’ joint third. Now what scientific conclusions can be drawn from all this? Well, none really apart from the fact that Dylan is a great song writer which, in any series of dreams, is not very scientific!

 


 

As it turned out, the day was a great success and I would like to conclude my thoughts on the day with a message that the organisers received from John’s brother in law, on behalf of John’s family:

It was a great weekend. Thank you for the huge amount of effort that you put in to making the whole event such a success. We all knew that last year would be special as it was principally a memorial to JG but thought any subsequent event, although still remembering John would be more general in interest. Well I think that there was no less interest and affection for him this year. There was amazing warmth that pervaded the gathering.

The Tribute was especially moving for us in John’s immediate family. But it was noticeable that also in his extended family, all fell silent to remember the great man and his hero. The compilation was meticulous and very well worked. It was very much appreciated.

We, ‘The Family’, as Keith puts it (sounds like the Borges), did not want to intrude but people kept coming up to speak affectionately of John. The rest of the day was well balanced with some fine music from all the performers. Julie Felix said ‘… I wish that I had met John’. She could sense that this man was special.

Edna loved it. We all loved it. What better way to remember a man than by his friends meeting and celebrating a common love and friendship. Thank you again and we look forward to the next John Green Day.

Kind regards,

Edna, Alison and Alan

That made it all worthwhile for us and indeed gives us the inspiration to do it all over again!

 

Part 2: A Landing in the Cuckoos Nest

Sometimes I fly with the birdees in cloud cuckoo land and sometimes I touch the ground. The following are examples of the former:

(a) Bob, Julie and The Mighty Quinn

It has been known for some time that we were planning a Dylan convention to be held on the 31st August 2002 that would be based around the Basement Tapes period and that we would have Julie Felix appearing at the event. About a fortnight before our event, on the 18th August 2002 Dylan played a gig at Baltimore, Maryland and included in his set one of the most famous Basement Tapes numbers, i.e. Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn). According to the record books, the last time he played this particular song live was again on the 31st August (1969) and who also performed on that day: Julie Felix. After the 18th August Dylan played The Mighty Quinn just three more times, the last being on the 1st September. Will he ever play the song live again? Watch this space!

(b) Saint Joan, Bob and If Dogs Run Free

Unless you’ve had your head down the toilet bowl for the last year or so, you couldn’t have helped noticing that I have been writing interminably about ‘Visions of Johanna' and of course I have written extensively over the last 17 years about my favourite ever Dylan song ‘If Dogs Run Free’ (Am I boring you?). In last months Freewheelin’ I came out about linking Saint Joan to ‘Visions’. After a heavy Friday night I sat bleary eyed in front of my pc on Saturday morning 10th August and hooked into Expecting Rain. There I saw the words ‘Saint Joan’. The previous night Dylan had performed at a place called Saint Joan in Canada. I immediately went to the set list and, before my very eyes I could see that he had performed ‘Visions of Johanna’; and what was the very next song on the set list: ‘If Dogs Run Free’ which he had not previously performed on this tour. I switched off the pc and had a cold shower. When I returned to my Time machine to have a better look later in the day I found that the venue wasn’t at Saint Joan at all but the name of the place was Saint JOHN. I went out to a cornfield, put my dad’s twelve bore against my temple, pulled the trigger………and missed!

 
 
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