Bob Dylan at Blackbushe 1978
The year was 1978 and the times they were a changin'.Punk rock had swept the country and the old guard was being pushed aside.It was announced that Bob Dylan was to arrive in Britain for 5 nights at Londons Earls Court.The news was greeted with derision by the new wave but for anyone over 25 this was the best news in years.It was Dylans first visit to Britain for 9 years, since his legendary appearance at the Isle Of Wight festival in 1969.Excitement spread like wildfire throughout the land,the tickets were to go on sale at various venues around the country one Sunday morning at 9.00.Each person was allowed to buy 4 tickets.The nearest venue to us was the Colston Hall in Bristol.
The night before the tickets went on sale I began to get worried that we would be at the back of the queue and miss out on the tickets.
"I think we should be in the queue now," I said to my friends.
We set off for Bristol with our sleeping bags sure that we would be the first in line at the box office.When we got to Colston Hall we were surprised to see a line of people stretching from the box office to the corner of the street.To our horror when we got to the corner we found the queue stretched all the way along the next street as well.There were already thousands of people camped out to get Bob tickets.This was the amazing appeal of Bob Dylan in those days.
There was a fantastic atmosphere on the streets of Bristol that night as a mini Bob fest was held, people sat on the pavement drinking and chatting and listening to Dylan on tape recorders and the sweet smell of marijuana drifted up Colston Street.Next morning the bleary eyed revellers began to shuffle forward when the box office opened.Finally with a sigh of relief I had the precious tickets in my grasp.We were going to see Bob Dylan!
Then it was announced that Dylan was to end his European tour with a huge outdoor concert at Blackbushe Areodrome near Camberley in Surrey.It was to be known as the 'Picnic'.Some picnic this was!Once more we set off to see Bob.The official figure of the attendance that day was 165,000 but anyone who was there knows that the real figure was about 3 times that.It was vast, I think it is only rivalled by the Stones concert in Hyde Park as the biggest concert ever in Britain.As well as Bob Eric Clapton was on and Joan Armatrading and Graham Parker And The Rumour who were a shit hot band in those days.All the glitterati were there, during Bobs set Ringo Starr and George Harrison could be seen at the side of the stage.A good friend of mine sent me a bootleg of this concert a couple of years ago.This is the setlist from that amazing night,
My Back Pages, Love Her With a Feeling, Baby Stop Crying, Just Like Tom Thumb Blues, Shelter From The Storm, It's All Over Now Baby Blue, Girl From The North Country , Ballad Of a Thin Man, Maggie's Farm, Simple Twist Of Fate, Like a Rolling Stone,I Shall Be Released, Is Your Love In Vain, Where Are You Tonight?, A Change Is Gonna Come, Mr. Tambourine Man, Laissez-Faire, Gates Of Eden, True Love Tends To Forget, One More Cup Of Coffee, Blowin' In The Wind I Want You, Señor ,Masters Of War, Just Like a Woman, To Ramona, Don't Think Twice It's Alright, All Along the Watchtower, All I Really Want to Do, It's Alright Ma, Forever Young, Changing Of The Guards, The Times They Are A Changin'.
It took us 5 hours to find our car afterwards and it was dawn before we finally made it to the main road to head home.There would never again be a concert in Britain like Dylans concert at Blackbushe which was the hippies graveyard.For me it represented the end of an era.
The following winter was the winter of discontent and in 1979 Thatcher siezed power, pestilence and blight spread throughout the land as she systematically stuck the boot into the working people.A darkness descended upon the country which she held in the grip of her icy claw.How could a country which was supposed to be known for its sense of fair play and support for the underdog have fallen into the hands of this mean spirited she-devil? I saw Dylan again in 1981 but it wasn't the same.By then i was disillusioned, if Bob Dylan was the voice of a generation how come someone like Thatcher got elected? For me it was only Glastonbury Festival which kept the flame of hope alive during those dark years of unemployment and poverty.I lost interest in Bob for a while especially when he reached his nadir with the Saved album and then his shambolic awful performance at Live Aid but in recent years I have returned to playing Bobs records and there is no doubt to me that he is one of the greatest poets who ever lived and anyone who ever saw Bob perform live is privileged.
So thank you for writing the best songs
Thank you for righting a few wrongs
You're a savage gift on a wayward bus
But you stepped down and you sang to us
(Words by Joan Baez)