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IT WAS TWENTY YEARS AGO

BY RICHARD LEWIS

 

Last Friday, September 24th 2004, after finishing work I drove down the A1 to Cambridge to attend the “20th Anniversary Bash” of The Cambridge Bob Dylan Society. I had been to just one meeting before about ten years ago in the company of Mel Gamble, one of that select band who can call themselves ex-Freewheelers. We had a great time and I’d always meant to go back but somehow never managed it so hearing about their 20th Anniversary plans galvanised me into action. 

As I hit the traffic around Leeds and Sheffield I remembered why trying to go anywhere long distance on a Friday night is not easy but I persevered and it was well worth it. As I went in John Stokes, who had kindly said I could stay at his place that night, greeted me and promptly went off to get us a pint. Playing in the lobby courtesy of a fine little CD set provided by Chris Cooper was some vintage Bob that I recognised as being from around 1965. In fact two of the tracks including a very early version of Mr Tambourine Man were from a recently emerged tape from The Royal Festival Hall in May 1964. 

Soon the place started to fill up and I was delighted to see Paula Radice who had been travelling north by train from Hastings while I had been travelling south from Bradford. So with John, Chris, Paula and myself there were four current Freewheelers and then with the arrival of Michael Crimmins for a sound check with his band Dylanesque and Mark Carter from Norwich we were up to six. It was also a pleasure to meet an old friend and ex-Freewheeler, Jeff Stevens up from Crouch End. 

Those of you have attended our John Green days in Northampton will have some idea of how the evening started when I tell you that the introduction was by the one and only Keith Agar. As usual he was in fine form with his slides and repartee most of which would be libellous if I put it into print. The evening kicked off with a themed video/dvd presentation lovingly put together by Chris. As this was their 20th anniversary Chris had two videos from 1984 and then moved up the decades to 1994 and 2004. 

First off was a video that they had shown at the very first Cambridge meeting, Dylan’s wild performance on the Letterman show from March 1984. Tremendous and always a pleasure to see on the big screen. The opening Don’t Start Me Talking is always a treat to see and hear. Next we came right up to date with Dylan with Willie Nelson doing Hank Williams’ You Win Again  from May of this year. Not so sure about this. Each would have been fine on their own but together, at least on this track, it doesn’t work. What a contrast to the next video from the Apollo Theatre tribute in March – a sublime rendition of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Going To Come  which of course was written as a response to Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind”. 

Then came the first of two live sets from Dylanesque a trio with Michael on guitars, harmonica and vocals backed up by Stevie on drums and Alan on bass. In the first set I especially enjoyed their most recent song a fine version of Sugar Baby off Love and Theft. During the following interval there was the chance to chat, get a drink and look at a few CDs and books that were on sale. I managed to resist all but the beer but only had a half as I was driving John home later. 

Up on the video screen we now saw Dylan backed up by a huge orchestra at Nara in Japan now ten years ago. Another film that looks especially good on the big screen. This was followed by another film that had been shown at the first Cambridge meeting and this was the three songs from Barcelona in June 1984. Then onto a quick clip of Dylan, the sound of Lovesick and a scantily clad model. We finished with the fine ensemble version of My Back Pages and Knockin On Heavens Door from Bob’s 30th anniversary. 

Then came the highlight of the evening for me and that was the second live set from Dylanesque. A great opener with Billy (especially for John?) and a lovely solo from Michael of To Ramona followed by a romping stomping Rainy Day Women. This led to a fantastic closer and with a departure from Dylan they played a superb version of Howling Wolf’s Killing Floor featuring a blistering harp solo from Michael. 

The evening ended as all the Cambridge meeting do with a showing of Series of Dreams but not before Chris slipped in a beautiful new copy of Dylan on the Earl Scruggs show doing East Virginia Blues and Nashville Skyline Rag. 

But the evening was not over as Keith, who had of course been introducing each of the above parts of the evening in his own inimitable way, insisted on John, Chris, Dizzy, Paula and me joining him for a drink. So after filling up my car with various bits of sound equipment we joined him in the reception area only to find the bar was closed and having to make do with coffee. A really enjoyable evening but I was glad to get back to John’s house and finally put my head on a pillow around 3am!

 

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