I don’t know if that was the heading or where I first learnt that Dylan’s Neverending Tour was bouncing round to Scotland again but, whatever, it’s like a psychological Klaxon going off.
To Dylan fans, the arrival of the man “playing at a venue near you” is almost like a religious calling… you really should go. Oh sure, you can find excuses; there’s work, travel, commitments, the sheer hassle, and, of course, the expense. You wouldn’t think twice of hauling out any of these for your average ho-hum rock concert, but Bob Dylan? Well that’s a different matter. To choose not to go, is like a slippage of faith.
Having met His Bobness, albeit very briefly, when he played Stirling, there is no option. I’m not a loyal lieutenant, more of a conscripted corporal and, it’s the Scottish 21st century equivalent of a clan gathering. – the Dylan Eye logo is being unfurled and, come hell or high water, you have to be there.
Ironically, that’s a fairly apt description. Concerts tend to be fine for the city dwellers who can make the gig with boot heels, bus or taxi, but they are a lot more difficult for those in ‘rural’ locations. I’m about as rural as you can get and, if you consider just before Dylan rolled into Glasgow a three-hour ferry crossing from the isles to the mainland took 15 hours, you can see some planning is required.
Then there’s the journey down to Glasgow, with all its complications, food and board.
I can’t just go and see Bob Dylan, I need to take a vacation.
So, it’s out with the robes and on with the pilgrimage.
“He’s dead,” Morag, the ferry ticket girl, said, jabbing a finger at my tee-shirt.
“What?” I replied, trying to work out when I last heard a radio. In a world where the fastest growing chainstore is Martyrmart with its shelves of Semtex accessories, where planes and bombs drop out the sky, where sneezing birds are threatening to give millions of people their own wings, the demise of a 64-year-old troubadour is a possibility.
“When? What happened?” My urgency for information was combined with a flashing image of a Sony executive unlocking some ancient Columbia archive and rubbing his hands with marketing glee.
“Years ago,” she said. “There was tons about him on TV a few weeks ago. Did you not see it? He was the guy who sang that song ‘The answer my friend’. Why have you got a tee-shirt of him? Is it the anniversary of his death?”
Martin Scorsese has a lot to answer for.
Dylan fans, in the main, have made a journey. It’s been a long road and, at times, it’s been a hard road. On occasions, it has been a lonely road. There is a whole history that goes with being a Dylan fan.
Often vilified by critics, abandoned by the weaker divisions of the faithful, ignored by mainstream media, Bob Dylan has ploughed on, attracting a few more discerning fans en route.
Then here comes Marty…
And don’t forget Chronicles, Masked and Anonymous, the appearance on 60 Minutes, another double dose of the Bootleg Series, the Dylan Scrapbook to accompany the documentary and so on.
Suddenly the world is acknowledging this non-conformist, elder statesman. He’s a living legend that was almost forgotten.
Well done Marty.
There’s a whole new fan base, turned on by that thin wild mercury music and that punk attitude. Sneering, snarling sarcastic Bob is heading for Glasgow and they’re going to be there to greet him. That’s where ‘No Direction Home’ fell down. It was only one small part of a much bigger story.
I know that. Morag, and thousands like her, don’t.
How does it feel? A little uneasy.
Outside on a frosty evening, there’s a girl standing at the main entrance with a placard that states: “I need a ticket please”.
I rummage through my pockets but, apart from my return ferry ticket and my Dylan concert ticket, I don’t have any others and I need these two.
Inside there’s the programme stall.
“Programmes, programmes! Get your programmes here!” yell the dynamic sales duo.
“Two for a pound”, is a common addition to such Glasgow vendors’ vocabulary.
No chance here and, at £12 for a few pages, Dylan really needs to sort out this aspect of his merchandising. You could buy two copies of Chronicles for that! What do you get? Two old interviews, one of which may well have appeared in the last programme. The page of posters was okay but the rest?
Come on Bob. Look I can write, I use all the alphabet, every single letter, and I’ve a wheen of punctuation marks that I can scatter all over the place; give me a job, the nights are cold and long up north.
I stuff the change back into my jacket and find an old raffle ticket caught in the lining. I think about going back outside to give it to the girl with the placard but I don’t feel that generous anymore.
I rule out the tee-shirts because I could buy a sheep for less… (now there’s a punchline waiting to be written.)
I am E6. I am also early.
The lights are on and the auditorium is just starting to fill up. Suitably mellow, thanks to the generosity of a Russian whaler I met, it’s perfect to people watch and browse through the £12 programme.
A Rock Steady girl shows me to my seat. Row E, Seat 6. There it is, emblazoned on the floor, ‘E’. There it is on the floor by the seat, ‘6’. E6, that’s me.
The Rock Steady girl has long dark hair and smells nice. I’m old enough to be her father.
Round about 7.50pm, the lights dim and here comes the now familiar:
Please welcome the poet laureate of rock 'n' roll, the voice of the promise of the '60s counterculture, the guy who forced folk into bed with rock, who donned makeup in the '70s and disappeared into a haze of substance abuse, who emerged to 'find Jesus,' who was written off as a has-been by the end of the '80s, and who suddenly shifted gears and released some of the strongest music of his career beginning in the mid-'90s. Ladies and Gentlemen, Columbia recording artist… Bob Dylan!
Now sitting near me are a young couple. I can’t help overhearing their excitement. It becomes apparent that they are expecting something akin to 1966. Instead of Mr Polka Dot Man though, they get what looks like a world-weary riverboat gambler who is still enjoying more success than he should by asking ladies to throw their panties overboard.
The couple stare blankly ahead, seemingly in disbelief. I notice later that they leave before the encore.
Thanks to the always useful Expecting Rain Dylan-site, Maggie’s Farm is the expected opener and is duly delivered.
Now whether it’s a generational or Glasgow thing, beer is very big at the SECC. When I say ‘big’ I mean you can’t have a couple, take your seat and enjoy a gig. No, you drink until you think, or care, that you might be missing something, get your plastic tumblers filled up then stumble into the darkness. Then stumble out again at regular intervals to fill your glass and empty your bladder.
The row directly in front of me – that would be D by my alphabetical reckoning – has about six seats all empty. Six stumblers with tumblers duly arrive with the Rock Steady girl who is swinging her flashlight a little too energetically.
They finally settle down as Maggie’s Farm ends. Next up is Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You. I’ve never heard this live and it sounds good.
Just then another group emerges from the darkness, beer in hand. The Rock Steady child is becoming increasingly irritating with that torch. I’m old enough to be her father and I’d like to give her a real good talking to.
My chance comes quicker than I thought. As I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight kicks in, I’ve got a flashlight in my face.
“I need to see your ticket,” demands the Rock Steady nuisance.
“I’m in the right seat.”
“I need to check,” she urges.
“I’m in the right seat. You showed me to it. I checked it. It’s the right seat.”
“I need to check it, sir. Can I please see your ticket?”
So I stand up, fumble for the ticket, she beacons mine then she beacons some other people’s then she beacons the late arrivals. A lightbulb then goes off in her head.
She descends on the guys in Row D, flashlight clicking. They stand up, tickets are presented, everyone moves around, people cheer Dylan as the number closes.
They cheer again as he spits out “Darkness at the break of noon…” These were the only lines I heard of It’s Alright Ma because that Rock Steady brat was back in my face with another handful of lager-luggers.
“I need to check your ticket again,” she says.
Now being old enough to be her father, I want to send her to her room, lock her in and ground her for a month.
“You’ve already checked it,” I say.
“Look, I need to check it again.”
“It’s the right seat.”
“I need to check it.”
“Your spoiling the show for me.”
“I’m sorry, but I need to check your ticket.”
“You just checked it.”
“I need to check it again.”
“You already did.”
“I need to see it again.”
“You already did check it.”
“Can I see your ticket”
“How often are you going to do this?”
So we repeat the procedure. It appears I’m in the right seat.
I didn’t recognise It Ain’t Me Babe at first – real stripped down blues.
I tried to keep an ear on it as the air-brained Rock Steady idiot returned to Row E.
“I need to check your ticket again,” she says.
“You’ve got be joking,” I growl. “This is the third time. Will you stop this? You’re ruining this. Go away.”
“I need to check your ticket.”
“This is crazy.”
“Have you a short-term memory problem?”
“Can I see your ticket please, sir?”
“The ticket’s not changed.”
“Can I see your ticket please?”
“How many times are you going to do this?”
“This is crazy.”
I’ve a harpoon back home which looked just her size but I handed over the ticket and she seemed genuinely pleased that this was Row E, and, indeed, that it was Seat 6.
As Highway 61 Revisited blasted out, some folk behind in Row F started waving and shouting to attract a friend, guiding her to the empty seat between them.
She looked suspiciously like the girl with the placard.
Interestingly, leaving the auditorium and heading for a bar, a girl in a micro-skirt stumbled on the stairs. There’s not many in Glasgow but her boyfriend apparently drives a hopped-up Mustang Ford.
Enjoying a beer and reflecting a good concert with His Bobness in good voice, a crowd of guys poured in behind me.
In Scotland we have a ‘rugby crowd’. These tend to be big guys, well spoken but loud, and with more than a hint of privileged background. In the main, they’re fairly harmless, kitted out in the blue Scotland jersey and downing vast amounts of beer.
They give the impression, however, of having led more tackles with the head than the shoulder.
“I thought he was actually quite good,” one strapping blue shirt bellowed. “Does anyone know if ever he recorded anything after he retired in 1966?”
Just as an image of Martin Scorsese appears in the head of my beer, a kid pulls out a guitar and, in a Glasgow meets Hibbing accent, starts bashing out Just Like A Woman.
The chords are wrong and so are the words, but that’s okay.