Saturday, May 24, 2014

Bob Dylan In Bristol 1966

Here is a famous iconic photo of Bob Dylan and a story I wrote about one little incident in his traumatic year of 1966..I hope you enjoy it.

These days it doesn't take long to drive from Bristol to Cardiff,you merely drive across the Severn Bridge. In the early 1960's though it was a different matter. One had to drive up to Gloucester before you could cross the Bristol Channel, a detour of 80 miles. There was an alternative though. You could cross the river by the Aust ferry.This ramshackle car ferry service was falling into disrepair by 1966 as the new bridge was being built.
On the morning of May 11th 1966 a car drew up and waited for this ferry. Sitting on the back seat was one of the most famous people in the world,Bob Dylan. The previous night at the Colston Hall in Bristol Bob had played the opening date of his British tour and it hadn't gone well. Bob and The Band had crash landed in Britain carrying 4 tons of amplification.Something unheard of in those days. After the first 'folk' half of the show Bob unleashed his new 'electric' sound. The audience had heard nothing like this before. To them it sounded like an attack of mortar bombs and artillery. They didn't like it and boo'ed throughout the concert. Next morning as Bob slumped in the car, his amphetamine eyes hidden behind his trademark dark glasses he was full of fore-boding about the next concert in Cardiff.
Having to wait for the ferry to arrive Bob got out of the car to stretch his legs and one of his entourage Barry Feinstein took Bob's photo on that rainy morning over 40 years ago. That picture showing the haggard unkempt mean moody Dylan has passed into folklore as one of the most iconic pictures in rock. Dylan who had enjoyed the most fruitful creative periods of his amazing career was now entering burn out. A few nights later at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester an irate fan shouted 'JUDAS!' at Dylan and the rest is history. Bob was proved to be right though, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde became two of the greatest albums in history, influencing the likes of Cream and Jimi Hendrix. Bob had re-invented Rock music.
After his UK tour an exhausted Dylan returned to the States and shortly afterwards had a motorcycle accident and withdrew from the public gaze. Not long after the famous photo was taken the ferry across the Severn closed for good. Bob was one of the last people to use it. The boat called Severn Princess was sold. It ended up in Ireland where it was recently discovered derelict and abandoned. It has now been returned to the river Severn at Chepstow where it will form part of a museum and the iconic picture of Bob taken on that rainy morning will be part of the exhibits. It is also the cover of the Martin Scorcese biopic of Bob No Direction Home.
          The photographer Barry Feinstein (See picture above)who took that famous photo went on to have a very successful career and he died recently which is why I am repeating this story.

In The Jingle Jangle Morning, Happy Birthday Bob Dylan, 73 today!

Bob Dylan at Blackbushe 1978 Posted by Picasa

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!
A few weeks later we found ourselves in the vastness of Earls Court arena,Bob was just a tiny figure in the distance, this was before the age of huge video screens.If my memory serves me well he was wearing a top hat.The band were supurb though and included 3 girl singers who were excellent.I think this was the best band Bob had in his career.It's so long ago now in the mists of time that i can't remember a lot about the concert apart from Bob getting a huge round of applause when he first played the harmonica on Love Minus Zero, No Limit, also the crowd gave a huge cheers when during Its Alright Ma,I'm Only Bleeding bob sang "Sometimes even the President of the United States has to stand naked", this was only 4 years since Nixon resigned don't forget.I think my favourite song that night was I Want you which Bob had slowed right down to a haunting love ballad.There were also songs from his brand new album Street Legal which were excellent.I think the last song he did was Forever Young and during this song people started holding up cigarette lighters and candles until there were 15,000 little lights inside Earls Court.It was an amazing sight.The whole concert was a deeply moving spiritual experience.
Afterwards in a packed tube train the excitement of the evening had become too much for me and i got a really bad comedown and felt really claustrophobic,almost panicing.I hate tube trains anyway. I soon recovered though when i got in the fresh air.
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, SeƱor ,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)


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Shelagh McDonald,The Lady Who Vanished.

Kevin is a musician friend of mine. He sent me the Trees album a couple of years ago that I hadn't heard for 30 years. Kev phones me up occasionally and we have chats about music and one evening I mentioned to him about Annie Briggs and Vashti Bunyan and Kev said ,"There's another great singer who disappeared as well,Shelagh McDonald,she used to live in Bristol and she was really good,check her out". When I had got my 'American Gothic' out of my system I thought,"What shall I buy next?". Then I remembered what Kevin had said so I looked on the net to see if there were any Shelagh McDonald albums available and there were three, 'The Shelagh McDonald Album','Stargazer' and 'Let No Man Steal Your Thyme' which was a double album comprising of her first two albums and other earlier recordings,demo's and out-takes etc and that is the one I opted for. A few days later the CD plopped through the letter box. The first thing I noticed on opening the package was how nice looking she was,the elfin mystical looking long haired hippy chick of the early 70's (See pictures). Opening the accompanying booklet I was amazed to see the list of great musicians who played on her albums, it was the gliterati of the British folk/rock scene of the time.Richard Thompson,Keith Christmas,Gerry Conway,Andy Roberts,Keith Tippet,Gordon Huntley,Pat Donaldson,Dave Mattacks,Danny Thompson and even Katie Kissoon on backing vocals plus lots of others. What an line-up of talent. Also the notes told the  story of Shelagh up to 2005 when this compilation was released. Not a lot is known about her early life except that she came from the Edinburgh area of Scotland.She discovered a talent for singing and playing the guitar and when she left school in the late 60's she left home and headed for Bristol where she soon made a name for herself playing in the clubs of Bristol's thriving folk scene and she began an on off relationship with singer Keith Christmas. (I pinched the top photo with Keith and Shelagh from Keiths Facebook page,I hope he doesn't mind) Soon her talent was spotted and she headed for the bright lights of London and a record contract. Her first album received lukewarm reviews but her second one 'Stargazer' was a hit with critics and a growing following of fans. Karl Dallas one of the leading music journalists hailed her as the new Sandy Denny and she was compared to Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell. Just when she seemed set for fame and fortune though her world began to fall apart. One fateful night she took a tab of acid and the experience left her a psychological mess. Even weeks later she was still suffering from horrible hallucinations. I have every sympathy.British LSD in the 70's was the strongest in the world up to Operation Julie in 1977 which took it off the streets. To borrow from Allen Ginsberg I saw some of the best minds of my generation destroyed by LSD.It al ways seemed to be the sensitive,creative types who suffered the most. In desperation Shelagh headed back to Scotland and did not contact any of her old friends and for 33 years up to the release of this compilation cd and the sleeve notes being written nothing was heard of her again.She had completely vanished.
So then I put on the first cd and the opening couple of tracks were not that impressive to me.They were early recordings from a radio series called Dungeon Folk.However when the third track called Mirage played then I was really impressed.She had made the transition from folk singer to folk-rock singer. That whole side was really good but CD 2 went from really good to quite stunning. It is a mini-masterpiece,As good as Fairport Convention,Pentangle, Nick Drake or any of the luminaries of the folk rock scene of the time. The production by Sandy Robertson is quite superb as well. Every track on the Stargazer album is brilliant. The lyrics of Liz's Song almost suggest she was planning to disappear but that could be just a coincidence. Some tracks like Odyssey and The Road To Paradise are like progressive rock. I would have loved to have seen her with this band in concert,that would have been really something. Sweet Sunlight is a beautiful song and her voice is exquisite. Stargazer,the title track speaks for itself . I particularly enjoyed Canadian Man which has a real Joni Mitchell influence, Good Times has some great funky saxophone, Dowie Dens Of Yarrow would have graced any Sandy Denny album.Spin and City's Cry are also great.The latter with the unmistakeable sound of Richard Thompson's guitar reminding me of Fairports album What We Did On Our Holidays.I can't praise this album enough.
I looked on Wikipedia to find out more information and discovered there is one final twist in the tale.When this album was released in 2005 it prompted an article about Shelagh in The Independent by Charles Donavon. This led to similar copycat articles in other papers including the Scottish Daily Mail. In November 2005 Shelagh read the article and turned up at the newspaper office to tell her story. She revealed that after her bad acid experience she had totally lost the ability to sing and she had worked in a department store till 1981. Then she met a hippy bookseller (A man after my own heart! ) called George Farquhar and they adopted an itinerant lifestyle travelling around the Scottish Islands and abroad and eventually lived in a tent,camping wherever they could. She told the newspaper that her voice had returned and she had started writing songs again. Since that visit to the newspaper 5 years ago though nothing else has been heard from Shelagh and she has disappeared back into the mists of obscurity from which she had so briefly emerged.
                                                                              I'm not expected Shelagh McDonald to rekindle her career now but it would be great if more people discovered her music and realised what a great talent she was.I urge you to listen to the song 'Stargazer',the choral ending is quite brilliant.Also thank you very much to Kevin for telling me about Shelagh McDonald.

                There is a very happy ending to this story.I received a message yesterday from a fan of Shelagh's to say that she is playing her first official gig in 40 years next week in Camden Town.That is brilliant and I wish her every success with that.I hope it leads to more dates.The gig is sold out apparently and I found out too late or I would have loved to have seen her live.Anyway I looked on the web and found that she had done an interview on Scottish community radio in December and this is really good.Shelagh is on at about 19 minutes in and she sings a few songs as well. Her guitar playing is superb and her voice is as good as ever.I'd love to see her at the Village Pump Festival right here in Westbury. Her old friend Keith Christmas is often on so it would be great if Shelagh appeared one year and it would also be great if she made a new album.We shall see.Anyway you can hear Shelagh here-

Another update. I just looked on youtube and found some recent footage of Shelagh which I have put on this page.

One Sweet Day: When Fairport Played In Peterborough

There was a time from about 1969 to 1971 when Fairport Convention were my favourite band. Up to that point my music taste was American, ...