Dylan cartoon UK Tour 2004

by Chris Cooper


So how did you find Bob this year? 

Was it via one of those recent shows. I want to be positive here, after all this is a Dylan mag, dare I say, fanzine??? So we must be positive mustn’t we. I have to say that it is getting harder to do this time than usual. Somehow he was not cutting the mustard for me so much this year. There were extraordinary times of course, some tracks that will stand out in my mind for some time. But they are few and far between. Let's start at the top shall we? After all I've been down to the bottom with the bad men, oh sorry, where was I. Cardiff I believe, opening show, yes it was Cardiff, you know the gig with the weird 3 row balcony? An odd start of Dylan. The crowd seems very subdued. To my eye the lighting is not so bright, and the the sound was certainly muddy. Bob gave a workmanlike performance I thought. Lots of chances to view Stu Kimball, cannot say I find his style particularly impressive. Cannot see him lasting that long. Of course Bob throws us Dogs and Cats at this gig, both fine versions if a bit heavy on the instruments. First time I get to hear the “new” It Ain’t Me Babe, probably the stand out track of the show for me. He’s doing a lot less moving about, and the voice. This is the worrying part because he sounds tired and this is first night! Of course he hasn’t had a long break since the Bonnarro business but even so. 

I had traveled to the show alone but met with Tim Price and others at the  same hotel, strangely we both have little to say about the show, we settle down with the usual faces at more important things. “Your round I believe”. 

Home again and then on to Fleadh. I have arranged to meet my long term sidekick at these gigs David P. Dizzy says “no chance” in that crowd. I get there and we meet as soon as I get in, and about 30 mins before the rain starts. It rains and rains. We shelter in the smaller tent and are treated to a simply marvellous set by John Prine. After Bob’s Cardiff set this is truly impressive. Equally so was the fact that the rain stops just before Bob takes the stage. I am expecting nothing here really. You know, greatest hits package. He takes the stage with the inevitable guest Ron Wood, They launch into Down Along the Cove, a really Hot version this good. He looks pleased to be there, Woody is ribbing him constantly and Bob's obviously enjoying it. The set is nowhere near as predictable as I expected. I really want to hear a good clear tape of this one. Was it as good as I recall? It was a very good show, possibly one of the best outdoor gigs I have seen Dylan do. His voice has much more authority though he still sounds somewhat hoarse. But the latter half Bob takes the move and plays a run of slower tracks with stunning effect. High Water was great (let's forget Highway 61) Not Dark Yet!  Super , and then we get “Boots” it is marvellous, he uses his own breathlessness to telling effect. For me the stand out track of the show and one of the best songs of the UK leg. The show is soon over, far too soon for me, it's at moments like that, you forget the hassles, the bad weather, the shouting, the pushing. For 5 minutes it’s just him and me, no one else. Only Dylan can achieve that sort of intimacy in such a place. A tour highlight. 

Thankfully I have a day off before the next show. I am traveling with Tim Price so I have to get a train to Birmingham. Tim meets me at the station, hospitable as ever. We have an uneventful drive to Newcastle. He knows the way and we chat all the way there, time passes, quickly. Tim's booked us into a hotel literally across the road from the gig so its an easy walk at 6:30 to the show. Funny not so many of the usual faces around though. Anyway in we go. Bob's onstage on time. He looks good in back. He sounds pretty rough though. Tonight he shows his voice no mercy and does a full and varied set. Maybe he knew John Green's sister Alison was at her first Dylan gig? We get a nice Ring Them Bells tonight, and a better “If Not For you”. But he really seems remote again. I honestly marvel at people who have waited for a long time and get this one show. I sit next to such a couple, Martin and Debbie. They are about my age, last saw Dylan in 1981 at Earls Court. They sit quietly. Afterwards Martin says he was “brilliant, even though I don’t know many of the songs, and could not hear the words well” !!! Why do these people come back? I have the excuse that I go to that many shows that some have to be bad don’t they? But to do one. I smile and decide not to mention Fleadh. Maybe they are right from their side. 

Back to the Hotel, Tim's in serious drinking mood tonight. Andy ends up taking about a dozen of us for a curry at about 1:30 am I have no idea how he pulls it off but gets us into a closed restaurant. It’s a late night. 

Now if you ever have to travel with me you need to understand one thing. I hardly ever sleep. Life long insomniac. I get to bed about 3:30. I get up about 6:30. Tim just gasps in disbelief! Eventually I go out for a walk and leave him to his slumbers. Sometimes I envy normal people. 

We are soon driving to Glasgow, for that Barn known as the SECC. I am not really looking forward to this one, Tim is not staying here tonight, he has to go back to base after the show as he is going to Galway and will have to miss the Barrowlands show. I am booked into a hotel in central Glasgow. Tim, the eternal gentlemen says not a word as we drive all round Glasgow till we get to my hotel. Then after a coffee we get to the venue. There are lots of places there to meet people after all. Well, where were you??? The place is bereft of Dylanites. We go in at the usual time. I have  a good view so settle down to it. An once again Bob surprises me by giving a Stirling performance (that was another year wasn’t it?). It’s a good show. The voice is the best yet. That’s not to say its great, but that he keeps it throughout the gig. And tonight we get a lot more highlights. “Try To Get To Heaven” is the first, bright and pregnant with emotion. There’s a chilling “Black Coat” but the spine tinglers are of course, Forever Young and Every Grain Of Sand. Amazing stuff. For the second time this tour I leave the gig smiling. It looks good for the last one. 

The Hotel I am staying in turns out to be a jazz club in the evening! I get back there and the joint, as they say, is jumping. So am I. In fact I stay up till around 4am watching a succession of local musicians. Very worthwhile. I don’t have to travel anywhere today, so I tour the town checking out the record shops. I like Glasgow, the people are friendly and helpful and the record shops are cheap so I spend far too much. I go back to the Hotel and take a break before the gig. I am glad I did. Barrowlands proves to be a small venue indeed. Should hold 1,000 I would think. They pack in nearer 2. It’s a tight gig, you can hardly move and the heat is sweltering. But Bob is there and I am virtually under his nose as he tears thru a lively show. I know, the setlist doesn’t look particularly interesting. But that’s one story. The other is the crowd participation, Dylan loves the way they sing along. I believe this is why we get the set we do, so there are songs to sing with. Stand outs are easy for me. It Ain’t Me Babe, and I Believe In You. I thought tonight he was good, Maybe very good. He sure enjoyed himself, maybe even as much as I did. 

So we leave the gig and get into the cool air, I have an easy walk back to my hotel and its only 9:30 I stop in a pub for a pint. There is a HUGE TV screen. I had forgotten the match was on, I arrive just in time to see Beckham take THAT penalty. The audience go into grief. Grown men are crying. Even vaster quantities of alcohol are consumed. I go to the bar and order a pint. “What just the one?” asks the barman. I say yes, he looks at me “yer nae from roun ere r ya pal?” he asks amiably. I just nod. England's hopes have ended, and my Bob Tour for 2004 has also. We both suffered some disappointment I think. 

Maybe I can just hide it better.