Tuesday, 17 May 2016


Today is the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan and The Band's performance at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, when a spectator yelled 'Judas' at Dylan, who was in the midst of an amplified set. Note it's a 20 shilling ticket; I assume they didn't have the press set up to charge £1!

I listened to a 'report' on the incident on the BBC Radio 4 News tonight, presented as the moment Dylan's electric band faced the music, so to speak, and the audio quality of both the accusation, and Dylan's response: 'I don't believe you...you're a liar' were a lot more audible than they were on my bootleg CD, called Guitars Kissing And The Contemporary Fix, which I find I still listen to even though I have the 'official' version from Dylan's own Bootleg Series.

But the BBC version omitted what Dylan said next, as he turned to The Band and told them to 'play fucking loud'. I thought about the song they played next, 'Like A Rolling Stone', and how this reflected something essentially English. Not the BBC's coyness, despite the song, which benefits from loudness, being Dylan's best riposte. Listen to it: Mickey Jones (sitting in for Levon Helm who didn't make that tour) makes the snare drum explode as he starts the song, and Garth Hudson's organ swirls.

No, it was because the whole controversy was old hat by the time Dylan made it to Manchester. 'Like A Rolling Stone' had been played at Newport, to booing (although some of that allegedly was due to the bad sound system) and elsewhere (organist Al Kooper says the crowd was fierce at Forest Hills a little after Newport). But that was the summer of 1965, not '66.The song was released as single in July, and went to number 2 in the US charts (behind 'Help'). By the time the Highway 61 Revisited album was released in August, 'Like A Rolling Stone' was also number 4 in the charts in Britain. The Free Trade Hall protestor was already nine months past his sell-by date when he compared Dylan to Jesus' betrayer. Some things never change, and many things are presumed not to exist until they reach British shores.

Apparently Keith Butler, the guy who yelled Judas died 15 years ago, after a violent reaction to bee stings. A lonesome fate for a participant in what may be the most hallowed bootleg moment ever.

As Sgt. Pepper might have said:

It was 50 years ago today
Bob Dylan told the Band to play
Fucking Loud

No comments :