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  • Philip Bryer

Tangled up with Bob

A couple of years ago I went to the Royal Albert Hall with Mrs Bryer and a couple of friends to see Bob Dylan on the last night of his never-ending tour. If such a thing can have a ‘last night’.

In the days leading up to the show, I said many never-seen-him-befores to friends and random strangers, who, almost without exception replied by saying, “I saw him at Blackbushe in ‘78, you know with Eric Clapton?” Everyone I speak to about anything was at this concert, except me. Just like The Who at Charlton, although I missed that one because I was still at school and couldn’t raise the 2 quid for a ticket.

I had been insanely excited for months, and as showtime approached I found myself on what I assume was the Dark Internet I’d heard so much about where nothing is discussed but Bob and what he played last night. Not everyone’s a fan, of course. A mate of mine speaks up for Neil Young over Dylan – personally, like The Beatles/Stones thing, I see no need to choose, and anyway, all right-thinking people know it’s The Beatles and Dylan all day long, right? My friend in the Neil Young camp believes that the Dylan canon would be improved beyond measure if the vocals were removed from every song. I know, I know, a Neil Young fan getting fussy about vocal stylings, you couldn’t make it up. It’s a bit like Hitler calling Pol Pot’s methods into question.

Bob Dylan

On the Saturday prior to the Albert Hall show, I was reading an online review in The Blackpool Gazette of the previous night’s show at The Winter Gardens.

“Who’s that?” asks Sandra as she glimpsed the picture of a grizzled old geezer peeping out from underneath one of Phil Spector’s old fright-wigs.

“Bob Dylan,” says I.

The nature of her reply?

“JEESUS!! Really?! What happened?!”

As she said at the time, “I’m looking forward to it. I mean, I’m not his biggest fan, but I think he’s very clever”. Which is fair enough, considering what I’ve put her through.

This sort of thing: there was a 5-star review in The Times of a show in Glasgow. I said it was worth reading, and left it lying around in all sorts of accessible locations, so that she might read the bit that explains he’s not singing off key and struggling to hit the notes, he’s using his voice as a musical instrument, see? Might have saved all sorts of trouble on a Thursday night in Kensington. Did she have a glance at it? Not a squint. Me? Read it 6 times at least, and went back several times for a skim through to check I hadn’t missed anything.

A long time back, fifteen summers and a thousand years ago perhaps, I decided Sandra didn’t much care for Dylan because she hadn’t, you know, heard the records properly so I set out to play her a few so that we could enjoy them together and I could answer any questions she might have. I know, what a wanker. So, that night I played her far more Dylan than an agnostic could reasonably be expected to bear, and to her great credit she bore this ordeal of Biblical proportions with great fortitude, love and forbearance.

Right up until she said, “I agree, he’s brilliant, a genius. Now can we have the TV back on?”

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