Bringing it all back home
Last night I was on my way to see Bob Dylan in concert in my home town for the first time, at a venue a few hundred yards from where, almost 60 years earlier, my girlfriend and I had listened to Freewheelin’ all the way through, squeezed together in a record-shop listening booth, before buying it, taking it to her parents’ house, and listening to it all the way through again. And then again.
Walking through Nottingham to reach the Motorpoint Arena, as the refurbished ice stadium is now known, I saw a chip shop in the Lace Market, formerly a coffee bar called the Jules et Jim, where three schoolfriends — Ian Taylor, Jeff Minson and I, a sort of Peter, Paul and Peter — had sung “Blowin’ in the Wind” in 1963. On Stanford Street I passed the site of Dungeon Club, the basement where — at the height of Bobmania in early 1965 — the harmonica player of the R&B group I was then in performed a solo mini-set of Dylan songs that attracted a lot more enthusiasm than our normal Jimmy Reed and Howlin’ Wolf repertoire.
It was also in the spring of 1965 that I first saw Dylan in person, at Sheffield’s City Hall on the first date of what would turn out to be his last solo acoustic tour. Since then I’ve seen him as often as I can — many times in London but also in Birmingham, Paris, Rome, New York and Philadelphia. Precious memories include a heart-stopping “It’s Alright, Ma” in Sheffield, a staggering “Like a Rolling Stone” at Earls Court, a blistering thrash-metal “Barbara Allen” at the NEC, a sweet duet on “Dark Eyes” with Patti Smith in Philly, and a gorgeous “Forgetful Heart” at the Albert Hall. In the week leading up the Nottingham concert I saw him twice at the Palladium, giving the first show a five-star review in the Guardian and then enjoying the second one even more.
But when I say that last night in Nottingham felt like the best concert I’ve ever seen from him, I’d ask you to accept that hometown nostalgia had nothing to do with it. Until a surprise right at the end, he played the set I’d heard twice at the Palladium. But in a place at least three times larger, with none of the inherent warmth and intimacy of the historic London theatre, he sang the same songs — nine from Rough and Rowdy Ways, seven older compositions of his own and “That Old Black Magic” — with an intensity and verve that gave them a different kind of life.
His singing was good in London, but in Nottingham it was astounding. Every line was nailed with phrasing that was always adventurous but never eccentric. I don’t think it was a change of emphasis in the sound mix: it was all in the vigour and projection of his delivery. As a result, songs like “Black Rider”, “My Own Version of You”, “Key West” and “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You” had a new confidence and richness, with a heightened sense of tension and release. The arrangements took on a different life, too. The Arlen/Mercer standard was brought off with a crisp panache. The twin surf guitar interludes on “Gotta Serve Somebody” were hair-raising. The three-movement version of “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” — first out of tempo, then Latin, then barrelhouse — was a delight. The rearrangements of “To Be Alone With You” and “Every Grain of Sand” glistened.
His piano-playing also seemed better integrated. The upright he’s using on this tour is adjusted to sound high and bright, almost like a tack piano, with a tone so close to that of the two guitars of Doug Lancio and Bob Britt that they’re sometimes indistinguishable. But during both Palladium shows there were moments when he crossed the line from playful to wilful, as if he were trying to lead the songs astray, occasionally sticking a major-key note into a minor-key song, or doing that thing he sometimes used to do on electric guitar of working out a short symmetrical phrase and then stubbornly repeating it over and over again with the chords changing under him. It crossed my mind that he might be trying to turn himself into the Thelonious Monk of folk-rock piano, looking for the notes in the cracks, the notes between the notes. But in Nottingham, with the exception of “Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way”, there was little of that; instead everything he played was directly relevant to what the band was doing and where the song was heading.
Where the concert was heading was towards the unforgettable moment, after the band had taken their bow, when they returned for the only encore of the tour so far. “I don’t know if many of you know, but Jerry Lee has gone,” Dylan said, “and we’re gonna play this song, one of his. Jerry Lee will live for ever, we all know that.” The song, an exquisite choice, was “I Can’t Seem to Say Goodbye”, a country ballad by Don Robertson, recorded by Lewis in 1963. After one chorus, delivered with quiet elegance, they were gone. But what a memory they left. Maybe even the best of all.
Thank you Richard, such keen insight & clarity of thought. And what a joy to catch Dylan and this astonishing band leaning into these songs.
Went to see him a few years ago in Vegas the worst concert I’ve ever been to couldn’t sing and played piano like a five year old people walking out after 2 numbers we stayed to the end out of respect
Yep, I’ve seen one like that, too.
Thanks for your reply wasn’t trying to be funny but he was awful
Saw him back in the eighties at Wembley stadium and was great
Have been reading and enjoying your blogs for a number of years
Paul — I didn’t think you were being funny. I just wanted to say that we’ve all seen a Dylan show like that, one that we wish we’d never seen.
Saw him in Hull the night before. Agree with everything you say. He’s turned his voice into a uniquely expressive instrument with incredibly inventive control of phrasing, rhythm, enunciation and tone. The band sound, steely and ringing with interlocking guitar lines, bizarrely reminded me of Zairean/Congolese soukous.
What an interesting comparison.
Terrific review. Wish I was there. I have seen Dylan a mere 6 or 7 times, first time in 1974 with The Band. What I saw at The Palladium nine nights ago was the best I ever saw His Bobness so if Nottingham topped that…whoa.
Jules & Jim, those were the days Richard and a long way from now in NZ … Nostalgia rules for five minutes
Hello, Phil. Hope all well.
Well we are all getting older but recently back from 6 weeks in UK & Europe, will be back next September for a month and we will keep doing this every year whilst we can – jetlag just gets worse but I am sure you know that too. Nobody left in Nottingham these days so wont be going back there unless we pass through on the canals some time. Look forward to your posts although I am still stuck in the sixties as far as music goes. Cheers Phil
Wow, yea as well as a show at The Palladium I was lucky enough to catch the show in Paris. That piano sound, amazing. A honky tonk Celeste I thought!
That’s a much better description of the piano sound than I came up with.
Thank you, Richard. Always an enriching stroll. Vicky
Thanks, Vicky. Hi to HT.
Beautiful post Richard.
Good piece by David Remnick in current New Yorker.
Wow, simply wow.
I discovered Bob Dylan when I moved from London to Nottingham in June 1964 and like you heard ‘Freewheelin’ courtesy of a record shop near Slab Square. Unfortunately my flat mates and I lacked the wherewithal to purchase it but managed to persuade a more financially advantaged friend to buy it and then lend it to us. We played it and played until we were word perfect and the disc had grooves far deeper than those originally scored. I saw him at Blackbushe in I think 1965 and have caught up with whenever possible ever since – sometimes good sometimes not so good – but always his own man, as of course was Jerry Lee surely one of the world’s greatest entertainers. He will be sadly missed. RIP.
I suspect the record shop might have been Rediffusion, on Angel Row, where I had a Saturday job.
Very possibly Richard. It’s a long story as to why my friends and I were living in Nottingham but suffice it to say I loved my time there, such a friendly place after London and have very fond memories of the Dungeon, Brit, Boathouse and the Dancing Slipper at West Bridgeford where I reacquainted myself with a old girlfriend, Julie Driscoll, who was playing there with the Steam Packet all of whom were great except for Rod Stewart with whom I had a heated argument over of all things – a shirt! The Bodega was another place we liked and I think it’s still there. I haven’t been back there since the late ‘60’s so probably unrecognisable to me now.
I was at this gig, the first time I’ve seen Dylan.
I was not disappointed at all. So glad I went!
Thanks for a wonderful write-up, Richard.
Motorpoint Cardiff for me. Poetic phrasing but not the same without bumping into you a la Albert Hall, Your words rose to the occasion.
Another lovely piece about Bob RW, a show clearly worth leaving our MM lunch early for. I saw the Jerry Lee tribute on YouTube, beautifully understated.
Richard, The ravages of time, economic circumstances and business decisions clearly affect and hit all cities, but it’s all the more hurtful when you see what has happened to your own home town. Always very sad, albeit (and in contradiction) opening the floodgates of personal nostalgia
These are lovely words to describe a wonderful night at Nottingham and I felt privileged to been there.
One thought occurred to me later regarding the Jerry Lee Lewis tribute. Any “normal” artist would have chosen something perhaps more obvious from their own catalogue, in Dylan’s case perhaps Not Dark Yet or Heavens Door. Or perhaps something we all associate with the deceased, like Great Balls of Fire. But not good old Bob. Instead, ” I Can’t Seem To Say Goodbye “ a lovely song, performed with loving care. I have little knowledge of JLL’s work, apart from the commonplace radio hits, but this is surely not amongst his most well known recordings and was hitherto unknown to me. The title of the song says it all, combining a farewell to Lewis and also perhaps to his audience on the night. If this tour is indeed to be final appearance of the great man, then what a magnificent performance.
Sent from my iPad
Yes Jerry Lee had many more songs in his catalogue than the well known ones. One of my favourites is, “She even woke me up to say Goodbye” which with a bit of imagination may have been a fitting tribute.
I was there on Friday, seen him twice before, but Friday was definitely the best I had seen him.
Thanks Richard, enjoyed this article and your Guardian review. Rough & Rowdy Ways is an amazing album for someone who’s been at the top for so long. Like others have seen Bob several times, most memorable being ’78 at Blackbush, supported by Eric Clapton and Joan armatrading and at Newcastle Arena just when Modern Times had gone to number one in US and here. Dylan on great form at Newcastle and did a special performance of House of the Rising Son where he paid tribute to the Animals, and of course brought the house down. Cheers Barry
I saw him the night after Newcastle that year in Sheffield and was hoping for a similar one-off like HORS. Nothing local but he sang Make You Feel My Love which was something of a rarity at the time. Adele has recently had the hit and I felt this was his response, in a veiled way perhaps
What a great review! Thank you.
Thank you for sharing, Richard. You have captured the emotions of the night perfectly. Like yours, my Dylan journey has been long and not always easy, in all the years I have seen shows that were wonderful beyond words and shows that were awful beyond words. This was truly one of the most memorable.
Liverpool, May 1966 – Nottingham, October 2022.
Bob and I, we are both old men now. If this is to be where the journey ends, one way or another, then I can say I’m content.
Dylan has been an important part of our Lives for many years, He seems to have great reviews right across Europe finishing in my own city Dublin nov7th is this the last time in these parts I heard him first time in New York mid sixties also frequently in Greenwich Village ,maybe the greatest poet songwriter of all time ?
I read your Guardian review but not until after we had been to “Sunday Night at the London Palladium”. My only disappointment was that he didn’t ride around on carousel at the end of the show. I’ve been lucky enough to see Bob all the way from the RAH in ’65 to date and I’m amazed at how good it was and not a little envious that he was even better in Nottingham. Due to the haphazard booking system we lucked into two seats in a box perched just above his piano. Whilst the phone policy was admirable I missed the chance of taking a photo from there. Thank you for your reviews
Saw bob first at the iow. 9th time in Hull 53 years later. Wore the same combat jacket every time.
Well it cost 8/6.
An evocative & beautifully written piece Richard. Maybe I’ll share a précis of my Bob Dylan journey.
In my life, no-one comes close to Bob. I saw him on 24:10:2022 at his gig in The London Palladium. It was either my 41st or 42nd Bob concert. It had no less of an electrifying effect on my senses than I recall on my first Bob gig at Earl’s Court, London in 1978.
It seems like yesterday that I was 13 & my school friend said “listen to THIS!!” as he played Desolation Row on HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED.
The ultimate life changing moment.
There’s far more I’d like to share.
Please feel free to contact me if you would like to Richard.
My Facebook page is Bernard Brotherton.