David Lister: The Week in Arts

Before the tie dye came the collar and tie
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The Independent Online

Question: which tune was played after Bob Dylan left the stage to catcalls and boos at the end of his concerts on the infamous 1966 "electric" tour of the UK? The answer hit me when I attended a screening this week of No Direction Home, the two-part Martin Scorsese documentary on Dylan to be screened on BBC2 on Monday and Tuesday.

I should add that the film is stunning - not just a history of Dylan, but part history of post-war folk music and part social history too. Perhaps what happened at the end of the Dylan concerts and all rock concerts of the time is a part of that social history.

Just after Dylan and his group, the Hawks, departed the stage, I heard on the film a couple of bars of the national anthem. I checked on my copies of the bootleg album (official and unofficial) that night; on those the track ended just as Dylan spat out a curt "thank you" to the jeering folk music aficionados, who had booed his pulsating electric set.

But, of course, the film is an accurate record. Though it is a long-forgotten fact, many arts events and all cinemas ended the evening with the national anthem during the 1960s. Most rock concerts, or pop concerts as they were then called, took place in cinemas, and the national anthem would have always been played. Even the few gigs that weren't in cinemas probably ended with it.

It's a funny thought. Did those audiences suddenly cease their boos and curb their annoyance to stand in respectful silence for the national anthem before rousing themselves for one final catcall? Did the man who made the most famous heckle in music history - the one who shouted "Judas" at Dylan's Manchester Free Trade Hall concert - follow his notorious yell by standing to attention for "God Save the Queen"?

What a strange hybrid concerts were in the 1960s: rebellion, now legendary rock music, flowering of youth culture, audience hysteria, but all within a structure of respect and tradition. And, it wasn't just the national anthem. Take a good look, if you watch the Dylan film, at what the audiences were wearing. They may have been hurling abuse, but they were doing the hurling while wearing extremely respectable collars and ties. The audience uniform for rock concerts was no different than the audience uniform for theatre, dance or Beethoven.

Indeed, it is fascinating to see some newly released photographs of a riot outside a Rolling Stones gig at Hamburg in the Sixties. The protest by fans who could not get tickets may well have been the first rock concert riot. But every single one of those protesters is wearing a suit.

I wonder when it was that rock concert-goers realised that they didn't have to dress up for a gig. Who knows - there may even have been one specific gig when T-shirt and jeans replaced collar and tie. Perhaps it was at that gig that an enterprising venue manager thought: "I might as well let them take their drinks into the concert" - also unthinkable then. Perhaps too that selfsame venue manager decided to give the performers dressing rooms and a hospitality suite. Certainly, at most Sixties gigs there were no "access all areas" badges. There were no areas to access.

We shouldn't view rock history through too misty a glass and delude ourselves that the iconic concerts of the Sixties were all wild, anarchic affairs. For all the adulation, screaming and even heckling, the fans dressed up, not down, and "Like a Rolling Stone" was followed by "God Save the Queen".

Opera's new glass ceiling

I heard some wonderful singing in an unusual venue last Monday. The great bass baritone Sir Willard White entertained guests in the atrium of the advertising agency M&C Saatchi. Sir Willard sang arias from The Marriage of Figaro and Eugene Onegin alongside some Aaron Copland, "Some Enchanted Evening" and "Old Man River".

The annual soirées (previous star turns have included Daniel Barenboim and Gidon Kremer) are geared to give top-quality opera and classical music to a roomful of corporate chief executives and marketing directors, who may not always have the time to attend concerts and operas. Maurice Saatchi tells me that one of his guests came up to him on Monday night and said that he had never heard opera before, and he believes that a lot of them haven't been exposed to top-quality performing arts.

Certainly, the room was packed with people who might well be asked to help to raise funds for the arts, so it's no bad thing for them to see and hear the best. Maybe ad agency atria are the new concert halls.

* A couple of weeks ago, I had a most enjoyable and very jolly lunch with Jerome Hynes, the exuberant chief executive of the Wexford Festival. He was appointed as head of the festival in 1988 when he was not yet 30, and has been instrumental in heightening its international profile in the intervening years. He told me over lunch about his plans for a spanking new opera house at Wexford, his excitement about the rarely performed operas that Wexford champions, and his work as vice-chairman of the Irish Arts Council in safeguarding the traditional arts in Ireland. He also chatted about his young family, and was full of hilarious anecdotes about the political establishment.

A few days ago, Jerome was making an announcement on stage when he collapsed and died, at the age of 45. The festival will go ahead next month, but for many, it will be tinged with sadness.

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