Dylan by A. Fortier
Portrait  by  A. Fortier


by Michael Crimmins

‘Of Poachers and Game Old Birds’

Forty one years after Bob Dylan’s first major concert booking at The Town Hall in New York City, there he was, I am glad to say, in front of me once more at the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle Upon Tyne, Bob Dylan that is! He dressed like Jimmy Rodgers and I swear he did look great! Was he good? Yes he was bloody good.

The last Dylan show I attended was last November’s Sheffield Arena, the one just prior to those much talked of London gigs. Forty years later and much talked of! Can’t be bad can it? Much praise is most of what I heard and only a couple of years down the line from articles appearing that were so sorry to see. 

Does Dylan get to read articles such as Terry Kelly’s ‘Dressing and Undressing the Emperor’? Appearing in The Bridge (No.13.) For the autumn of 2002, and if he does, does he care?  Well maybe he does, and maybe like the rest of us he does need the proverbial kick up the back side now and again. While Terry’s article portrayed some undeniable home truths about both Bob and his fans, I felt, and still do, that The Emperor was, and perhaps will be for a long time, far from unclothed. Having said that I have to say it was a good article. 

Not long before this, and in response to Dylan’s 5th of April performance in Stockholm, came Michael Gray’s piece for the Sunday Telegraph ‘On the trail of the Bobcat’. We get to know, from this what Dylan is thinking no less! Now I think that song analysis is fair enough but… 

“Where his concerts were events, in which he an artist of genius lived in the dangerous moment, now he plays safe and seems to have no reason to be there. Where he didn’t care what the audience thought because he had his own vision and was way ahead of us, now he doesn’t care what the audience thinks because he thinks it’s a gullible rabble” 

Michael also communicates his observations on the Dylan faithful to us, through the dangerous medium of the printed word, where a nod and a wink, if expressed, can sometimes be hard to detect. 

“I begin to see blokes with moustaches, wounded eyes and unclean skin, sporting pot bellies and grubby jackets walking in two’s and three’s. If these men look like poachers, their women look like game old birds” 

I am a Michael Gray admirer, that is to say that I have read, and like most of what he has written on the subject of Bob Dylan. I was not offended by this article, just a little bewildered. My understanding and level of appreciation of Dylan’s art was so increased through Michael’s writing down through the years, that it came as a shock to read “On the Trail of The Bobcat”. It is not what he says, but why, that bothers me! At the time I could not wait to get hold of a bootleg recording of the Stockholm show to see just how bad it was. Actually I thought that it was quite good! In fact I would go as far to say that the shows “Sugarbaby” is superior to the ‘Love and Theft’ version. You will also, in my estimation, go a long way also to find a more expressive Bob than the one you can hear on “Make You Feel my Love”. It is also worth bearing in mind that the following show on April 7th in Oslo, Norway featured something like, ten different songs from those played on the 5th. 

The reason that I made mention of Terry Kelly’s article for The Bridge a little earlier, was to illuminate the fact that Michael was not alone in his frustration with Bob Dylan and his faithful. For myself I realise that Dylan’s powers are diminishing, though the rate of this slide suits me when the artist can create and release an absolute pearl like ‘Love and Theft’ so late in his career. I, like others, find some concerts better than others, and I would have to admit that the 2002 Newcastle Arena appearance, that prompted the Terry Kerry article, was not one of his very best. It was still good though, and made more memorable for me when Bob played a most lovely and predominantly acoustic guitar version of “Song to Woody” second song in. I go to these gigs to catch magic moments like these, and he has rarely let me down. But maybe I’m just gullible. 

Anyway back to the moment, where Dylan, with the exception of 1991, always exists. The Newcastle, June 22nd appearance. Dylan is working hard these days to enunciate through the gravel of his larynx, and on this occasion he communicated an ongoing love for the performance of his fantastic catalogue through a clarity that is either there for you or it isn’t! 

The five songs from ‘Love & Theft’ and the fact that only seven songs came from his most productive and successful period of the sixties, dismissed out of hand any talk of living on past glories. The sheer beauty of “Hattie Carroll” and “Ring Them Bells” could not be delivered in this way by an artist who has no respect for the ears that listen!  A band such as this could not possibly perform together so well, without the utmost respect for these great songs and their composer who is a part of it. They stand in line to face the audience, before the almost obligatory encore. Shoulder to shoulder, unsmilingly, asking a little arrogantly “Are you satisfied”. 

After spending a couple of hours (well nearly) with Bob Dylan who is most definitely a cultural hero, it is true that besides introducing the band he did not speak, but I could not bring myself to call him, as Terry Kelly does “uncommunicative”! He wasn’t playing a guitar at all, well not directly, so I could hardly accuse him of “illogically free-form string plucking”. To call Dylan uncommunicative, even though I understood in what context the remark was made, I find most ironic. 

Dylan respectfully repeated only five songs from the twenty one that he had played at his previous 2002 Newcastle appearance, and only three from the one before that in 2000. Larry Campbell I find is an absolutely perfect musician whom plays acoustic and electric guitars, pedal steel, cittern and other instruments with an almost spiritual devotion. New man Stu Kimball has big boots to fill in those of  Freddie Koella, who may or may not be returning to the band, yet he looks to be a very disciplined player not really, for the moment at least, muddying the lines between lead and rhythm playing as his predecessor, whom had the audacity to not only understand Bobs guitar soloing of recent times, but to incorporate it into his own style. Ever present NET bass man Tony Garnier rarely takes his eyes away from Bob Dylan. He is such an obvious fan that it is so good to know that he is officially captured for posterity within the confides of ‘ Masked & Anonymous’. George Recile is a rare drummer who I would bet never lets a roadie/technician near his kit to tune it etc. “Cold Iron Bounds” is his now that Dylan no longer compliments with his equally primal guitar playing, I do miss that  – Ah but you can't have it all – Dylan is singing so well these days!

Oh me, Oh my


For information on Michael's band "Dylanesque", including a gigs guide, go to his website.