Bob Dylan's Big Freeze, Radio 2
Ah, yes, they remember him well
Sunday 30 November 2008
I have a friend who swears blind he was at the Doors' legendary Roundhouse gig, the Stones in Hyde Park, the Who live at Leeds and Cream's farewell do at the Albert Hall – and maybe he was. He's certainly convinced himself. Memories mingle and fade – sometimes we think we're remembering stuff when in fact it's just the newsreels we've seen since. So when it comes to the visit to Britain 46 years ago of a rising but obscure American folk singer, there are bound to be differing perspectives.
"Whispering" Bob Harris narrates the story of the couple of months Bob Dylan spent in England during the long, cold winter of 1962-63. Halfway through there's a collage of memories from various contributors: "Very youthful looking, tousled hair, slimmish ... chubby little Jewish boy ... like the rest of us, a bit scruffy ... looked quite sophisticated ... tight-jeaned, very tight–jeaned ... shabby ... I thought he was incredibly sexy ... he was rather a lost kid ... monosyllabic ... a lovely, lovely smile ...bohemian ... very precise ..." A different Dylan for everyone.
Some of the old folkies were sceptical. "He went down like a lead balloon," says one. "He did a bad imitation of Woody Guthrie." And Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, the king and queen of English folk, were sniffy about protest songs such as "Masters of War" because it didn't name names.
The shiniest, least complicated memories come from a fan. Natasha Morgan had just done her O-levels, and was primed for the nascent new age – "we'd had the Cuban missile crisis, and I'd been on my first Aldermaston march". There's a lovely bit where she looks at some photographs of his visit that surfaced only last year. She's at his feet, gazing up at him. "I can see that I'm gobsmacked," she says, still gobsmacked. "My eyes are absolutely on him and I'm in awe and so thrilled. It's so alive, how he is."
The singer Martin Carthy, who put him up (at one point they smashed up a piano with a samurai sword for firewood), was one folkie who didn't look down his nose. He has what appear to be the least varnished memories of Dylan. He was "an ordinary bloke", Carthy says. "An ordinary bloke with an extraordinary talent."
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