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SUMMER IS A CUMMIN IN

BY RICHARD LEWIS

 

In Peter Robinson’s novel “The Summer That Never Was” his protagonist Inspector Banks is involved with some of his boyhood friends. At one point he is remembering how you associate certain music with certain years and in 1965 it was “Help!” and “Bringing It All Back Home”. Banks had The Beatles and his friend Steve had Bob Dylan. 

Steve Hill had some rather way-out tastes in music. Other kids might like Sandie Shaw, Cliff Richard and Cilia Black, but for Steve it was the Animals, the Who and Bob Dylan. 

That day, songs like ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and ‘Maggie's Farm’ transported Banks to places he didn’t know existed, and mysterious love songs, ‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’ and ‘She Belongs To Me’, lingered with him for days. Though Banks had to admit he didn’t understand a word Dylan was singing about, there was something magical about the songs, even vaguely frightening, like a beautiful dream in which someone starts speaking gibberish. But perhaps that was hindsight. He didn’t become a fully fledged Dylan fan until ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ knocked him for six a month or two later, and he wouldn’t  claim, even today, to know what Dylan was singing about half the time. 

In 1965 I was fortunate enough to see Bob Dylan at the Royal Albert Hall in London. I went to both shows and if I close my eyes I can picture exactly where I was sitting on May 9th and 10th. To confuse matters the show on the 10th was actually the original show and the one on the 9th was an extra show put on when the 10th sold out so quickly. I queued up overnight outside the RAH Box Office and was lucky enough to get 4 tickets in the fourth row at the front and to the right of centre stage. They cost £1 each or as it was known then 20 shillings. For the extra concert on the 9th I got tickets in the balcony for 10 shillings and sixpence as by then I was nearly broke. 

By then I was already reading and collecting anything I could about Dylan. In the UK that meant buying Melody Maker, New Musical Express, Record Mirror, Disc and Music Echo as well as checking out the daily newspapers. Up to that time there had not been much Dylan coverage but that all changed in 65 when as Chris said “The Circus Is In Town”. 

All this came back to me as I listened to “Live 64”. A number of reviewers of this CD have mentioned how it was somewhat of a transition for Dylan as he was now writing songs that were completely different to anything that we had heard before. For the majority of the audience this was the first time that they had heard “Gates of Eden”, “It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)” or “Mr Tambourine Man” (as well as “If You Gotta Go, Go Now”) as they did not appear on record until “Bringing It All Back Home” was released in the US in March of 1965. It would be another two months before we in the UK got to hear it.

In the weeks before Dylan arrived in the UK on April 26th he was getting regular front page coverage in the Melody Maker. On the radio we were starting to hear “Subterranean Homesick Blues” which was released over here as a single backed with “She Belongs To Me” the very week that Dylan arrived. It entered the MM charts at 31 on May 1st and climbed as high as 9 three weeks later. That same week on May 1st the MM album chart had “Freewheelin'” at 3 and “The Times They Are A Changin'” at 5. Dylan's short English tour lasted from Sheffield on April 30th to London on May 10th taking in Liverpool, Leicester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Manchester. During that time the only “new” song that audiences could have recognised was “She Belongs To Me” if they had bought the single as the album “Bringing It All Back Home” was not yet released here. 

A CBS ad for the single in MM on May 8th refers and shows covers of just Dylan’s first four albums with no mention of “Bringing It All Back Home”. It is eventually released on Dylan’s 24th birthday and goes straight into the MM album chart at 10 on May 29th with “Freewheelin’” at 2 and “Times” at 6. The following week (June 5th) it rises to 5 as “Freewheelin’” reaches number 1 and on the 12th it replaces “Freewheelin” as the top selling album. 

So there you are in a hushed concert hall in 65 in whichever city you can get to and you greet the opening “The Times They Are A-Changin’” with rapturous applause quickly followed by a beautiful “To Ramona”. Then something strange happens as one after the other you hear 5 brand new songs! These are the same 4 that US audiences heard as on “Live 64” with the addition of “Love Minus Zero / No Limit”. No wonder that both you and Dylan need an interval. It is hard to imagine now how it felt hearing those new songs as they were so different from what had gone before or what we were used to or expected. Small wonder that reviewers and commentators talked about a revered hush in the hall. We weren’t just quiet we were gob smacked, awestruck, and amazed! 

The extra London concert being on the day before worked out well for me as on the 9th I was up in the balcony hearing the wonderful new songs for the first time. The next day I was really near in the fourth row and as it became clear we were going to hear the exact same set list again it was possible to concentrate not only on the words but also on Dylan himself. I also managed to get out my Brownie Box camera and get four photos of Bob in action although one turned out to be his back as he turned to that part of the audience who were actually seated behind him below the grand organ! 

Contrary to what some have suggested, with the benefit of hindsight, Dylan was not bored but having a great time. Having already introduced “Gates of Eden” it was wonderful to see his sly grin as he finished “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” and said that was called “Gates of Eden”. He did make a few changes in “Talking World War Three Blues” and of course the reason we all clap like mad for “Don't Think Twice” and then “With God On Our Side” is simply that at last there are songs we recognise. There are still two more new songs in “She Belongs To Me” and the closing “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”.

 

Richard's tickets

Richard's photos

Richard's paper

Whether you listen to ‘Live 64’ or one of your bootlegs, you are still hearing a glimpse of what was about to come.

 
 
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