Song and Dance Man

by Richard Lewis

Recently I went to see Michael Gray give a talk called “Bob Dylan and the History of Rock ‘n Roll”. He started off by talking about what the 50’s were like before rock ‘n roll and went on to the differences between what we heard in Britain as compared to the U.S. As it was an illustrated talk he used as a comparison Tommy Steele’s “Rock with the Cavemen” and Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business” and then commented upon the influence that the latter had on Dylan’s first rock ‘n roll single “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. Backtracking he referred to the importance that Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Buddy Holly had on the young Dylan. A few visuals would have been useful here. 

He then showed how Dylan’s voice developed as his phrasing adapted to the different styles of “Moonshiner”, “All I Really Want To Do” and the Live ’66 “Mr Tambourine Man”. Gray then went on to a recounting of Dylan going electric at Newport and the importance of the 65/66 World Tour. He broke for an interval promising us a treat in the second half. 

A screen and a video projector had been set up centre stage. Earlier I had expected to see slides of the various performers that Gray talked about but so far it had not been used. As the lights went down after the interval suddenly up their on the large screen was that wonderful out take from Eat The Document of Dylan singing “Ballad of a Thin Man” as he played the piano like a man possessed, his fingers and hands taking on a life of their own. It doesn’t matter how many times I watch it I can always see again. Some how each viewing seems as fresh as the first time you saw it. I close my eyes and I’m back in the second row at the Albert Hall and it is May 1966 all over again. This was the highlight of the talk. 

Gray went on to talk sensibly about “Blood On The Tracks” and tell us a touching anecdote of when he met Dylan backstage at Earls Court and got his autograph for his child, Gabriel, with the message “be safe always”. Gray talked about the way Dylan used the Bible to give him “sparks” to ignite other ideas and how good it was to see him not only accept the ageing process on “Time Out of Mind” but to go on to actually enjoy it and have fun in “Love and Theft”. He ended by playing “Floater”. 

By coincidence just before I went to see Michael Gray an old friend had rung me up wanting to know if I could remember anything about Joni Mitchell meeting the Incredible String Band in 1967. I said I would have a look through my old Melody Makers and in doing so I came upon the attached article written by a young Michael Gray described as an “unemployed writer” at York University. I think it is quite an interesting piece. See what you think.

Michael Gray article 1 Michael Gray article 2