Bob Dylan Live: Sheffield Arena

This show is from September 2000 when I went on the road in the UK to attend 5 shows by Colombia recording artist Bob Dylan who by that point was over 10 years into his Never Ending Tour.

The second in my series of five Bob concerts for the year 2000 was the Sheffield Arena. The Birmingham NEC had been on the Wednesday and Sheffield was now on the Friday. There was a day of work in between at Wisdom Books, the small book distribution company I helped run and was now a co-director of, not that such a thing added up to that much, as the number of people employed at Wisdom was precisely six. I took the whole of the Friday off as I intended to drive to up Sheffield to see the show and then head back to London the same night. This time I would not be going solo as I was due to make the trip with Marc Murphy my old friend and colleague who had once also worked at Wisdom back in the early 90s but had to be let go due there not being enough business at the time for us to afford to keep him on. Marc was now working in a different kind of world as for a number of years he had been the right hand of a man called Klaus, a Danish entrepreneur down in Surrey who specialised in the buying of chemicals from countries like China and India and then selling them on to drug companies in the United States for a nice healthy profit.

Marc and I had already seen Bob together three times before; 1993 when Bob headlined The Fleadh festival in Finsbury Park with Van Morrison as support; 1995 when Bob had played two nights at the Brixton Academy where he had been supported by a solo Elvis Costello; 1997 at Wembley Arena with Dana Gillespie as opener and just after the release of Time Out of Mind, the album which went a long way towards restoring Bob’s reputation as an artist at the top of his game. Of the three I think The Fleadh had been the best show, when Bob had come on after a decent set by an almost happy Van Morrison and just as it was starting to rain. He had kicked off with a great version of Hard Times from his then current album Good As I’ve Been to You released in 1992, standing there in the middle of the stage looking like a military man from out of another century. By the time his set was over we were soaked to the skin and very tired, but more than happy with what we had witnessed as the show had been incredible. This time around for Sheffield there was a small complication due to the fact that Marc was on crutches, having torn his Achilles tendon a couple of months ago after tripping up on a shuttlecock whilst playing badminton. He hadn’t got it seen to at the time, thinking instead he could walk it off and that it was little more than a sprain, which had been a mistake. Now he was paying the price for his negligence and it was taking a hell of a lot longer to get sorted than it would have done if he had just been a little bit quicker off the mark. He had ended up having to have an operation to sort it out and he’d had to stay a week in hospital in his home town of Hull before being discharged on a pair of crutches.

Marc got round to my place at about 12 noon, having slowly made his way up from the station, but once he’d arrived it wasn’t long before we were on the road heading north. In this case it was the M11 onto the A14 and finally the M1 at the junction with the M6. This meant it was pretty much the same route for half the journey as the one I had taken to the Birmingham NEC just a couple of days before, in other words it was familiar territory for me and soon we were bombing up the M11 corridor heading north with half an eye the early autumn countryside of England flying past us. It was a fine day, a warm breeze was blowing with there being plenty of fresh sunlight along with great visibility and it was a pleasure to watch the clouds come rolling over the fields from out of the vastness of the blue skies above. Traffic got heavy towards the end of the M11 but we negotiated it without too much of a problem and soon we were  having lunch at a small service station on the A14 in what was now Northamptonshire and well on the way to Kettering.

Earlier in the day I had made up a pack lunch whilst waiting for Marc. I had some spare bread and cheese, so figured it was a pretty damn sensible way of making good use of it whilst at the same time avoiding the rip off roadside options as far as food was concerned, something for which England was at times notorious. We had both got out of my Nissan Primera and sat ourselves on the grass, enjoying the fresh air and lovely warm breeze blowing over our faces. Even though it was already well into September the weather was still like the middle of Summer, that was global warming I guess, simply unbeatable at times! Marc was sitting there with his injured leg stretched out in front of him and crutches by his side. He lit up a cigarette whilst I went inside and got ourselves a couple of cups of tea from a busy Burger King. When I got back from the King we ate our cheese salad sandwiches, along with crisps and a couple of healthy nut bars before washing everything down with the tea. Great stuff! After twenty minutes or so we were in the car again and racing along the A14 to continue on our way up North.

By the time we hit the M1 the traffic had got pretty damn busy and I quietly congratulated myself on having had the foresight to set off leaving plenty of time to reach our destination. There was nothing worse than travelling long distances and then freaking out over whether or not you were going to make it, sticky situations such as those were always best avoided as far as I was concerned, as I invariably performed badly when the heat was on. As it was we had got to the M1 at just before 3pm and the traffic would have had to have been incredibly bad up ahead for us to blow it in terms of getting up to Sheffield on time. Well, whilst it wasn’t incredibly bad, it was certainly slow and for the best part of an hour it was stop start, stop fucking start all the way with no obvious reason why, which was the most frustrating thing about it. It left me wondering if it was just the sheer weight of traffic and that for a Friday it was now normal on this particular stretch of the motorway for it to be so damn busy. Our road network was becoming completely overloaded, but because of the way the human brain was wired it was highly unlikely we would ever stop until everything came to a complete grinding halt and things just couldn’t go any further. A selfish society such as Britain at the turn of the 21st century was hardly going to worry about preserving things for future generations, the philosophy was simply to keep on going and run everything into the ground whilst we still had the chance. It wasn’t until just past 4 pm that things eased up a bit on the congestion front and then we were able to cruise along at well over 70 mph, once again burning a bit of rubber in the process and loving it just like everyone else. Well fuck it, might as well live for the moment!

By the time we got to the Sheffield exit on the M1 it was late afternoon and the sky to the west was turning a lovely orange red, to create a South Yorkshire sunset with the moors somewhere over in the distance a few more miles up the road and where doubtless the hound dogs would soon be howling. We found our junction and then headed into the part of town where the arena was located, in no real hurry as it was only 5.30 which meant we had plenty of time to park and get our bearings. In fact the Sheffield Arena was only five minutes down the road, not far at all in other words and it looked pretty damn impressive as we pulled into the spacious car park whilst staring up at the huge building in front of us. The other good thing was that I didn’t have to pay for parking my Nissan, unlike at the Birmingham NEC where on top of the ticket for the show I’d had to fork out 4 fucking quid to use the car park. In fact Birmingham had also sold me the most expensive ticket as well, which meant there were a couple of things to bear in mind if the option of going to a show at the NEC ever came up again. In other words I would have to think twice before making sure it was alright.

The weather was still beautifully mild as we got out of the car and walked up to the arena, or rather I walked whilst Marc hopped along on his crutches. There were already quite a few people around and we found a place to hang out close to a food and drink stand where we bought a couple of coffees whilst taking in the pre-show atmosphere. There was a ledge beneath a tree which Marc could lean back on, take a rest from his crutches and enjoy another cigarette. It was all so incredibly pleasant, the air was warm in the glowing early evening light and we were more than happy just to chill out after what had been nearly four hours relatively hard travellin’. Happy just to hang around there and watch the people come along, all of them converging on the huge concert hall behind us in order to see Bob play a show for them that evening. Naturally enough it was mainly Northern folk who were arriving and I listened to their accents with pleasure as they got off their coaches from places like Hull and Middlesbrough, faces full of excitement and looking forward to the show. It was all a contrast to Birmingham just a couple of nights before when I had been in the heart of the Black Country right in the middle of England and the home of the heavy boys like Sabbath and Judas Priest. At the NEC I was so full of expectation and so full of determination to secure a good standing position that I had hardly given myself any time to relax. Now it was different, the Sheffield Arena was all seated so we knew where we were and besides I was with Marc who was on his crutches. Naturally enough this meant I could hardly run off and leave him to fend for himself, a little bit of self-restraint was going to have to be the order of the day, something which given the circumstances I was more than happy to abide by.

We talked a while with a Scottish guy who was working on the food and drinks stand. He told us they had all come down from Glasgow, it was the first time they were doing this particular pitch in Sheffield and they would be there for a couple of weeks doing all the concerts for the autumn season at the Sheffield Arena. The one they were looking forward to was the forthcoming concert by the dance group Steps, as they did both a matinee and evening performance which meant serious money stood to be made by way of selling hot dogs and burgers to countless thousands of parents and their kids. He said he and his co-workers on the stand were staying in a hotel in the city and he gestured with his hand to indicate that when they finished for the night they all went back to the bar and got absolutely pissed. Seemed to make sense I suppose, since they came from Glasgow, a city with a big drinking reputation. Funnily enough we then overheard another bunch of Scots raving about the Glasgow show Bob had played at the beginning of the week and how they were now on the road with him for the rest of his UK tour and enjoying every minute of it. They were a bunch of jolly looking guys who were all in their 50s, glowing from experiences good and bad, all of which were etched into deep lines cut upon their rough hewn faces. There was also a small dark haired woman by the entrance to the arena who was holding a sign requesting a ticket for the show if anyone had one spare and I was to see her again the following night outside the Cardiff International Arena holding the up same sign, something which later made me think that not only had she managed to get a ticket for Sheffield but also a lift down to South Wales.

Time went on and as more and more people began to arrive I could feel my heart beating that little bit faster. “Shit,” I said to myself, “in a matter of an hour or so I’ll be seeing Bob Dylan play live!” Looking around I realised there were quite a few familiar faces from Birmingham a couple of days ago, people with the same hunger in their eyes, which was a hunger for getting a little bit more of Bob. All they wanted to do was to see him, to hear him play and to stash away another bunch of memories to light up their lives with. Nothing wrong with that of course, you had to take whatever it was Lady Luck threw your way in order to get by and if it was Bob which allowed you to find a sense of wonder, then so be it. We were standing in what had now become the queue for the show when someone from the arena staff came up to us to say that we would be able to use a separate entrance which avoided all the rush due to the fact that Marc was on his crutches. We both thought that was pretty nice, we had intended to go up and ask anyway but it was all the better someone had come out to us and made the first move. The chances of that happening in London, outside somewhere like the Wembley Arena were far less I would have imagined, where you could count yourself lucky the staff didn’t kick you into the gutter if you were foolish enough to ask for any special treatment. No doubt a gross exaggeration but you get my drift, out of the capital things were often a lot less rough around the edges and people were more prepared to go the extra mile.

When it was time for us to go in we were ushered into a lift and in no time at all we were standing in front of a bar where I bought Marc a pint of lager whilst I stuck to a bottle of mineral fizz water. Alcohol might have been an option but I had to drive all the way back to London after the show was over and for that it was essential for me to stay as fresh as possible, which meant booze was a definite no-no. Not that I particularly wanted a beer, mainly because it would mean having to go for a piss halfway through the show, something which I hated. Marc was getting pretty tired by now, leaning on his crutches and standing there in the smoky foyer which was getting more crowded by the minute, so we paid a quick visit to the official merchandise stand where Marc bought himself a Bob woolly hat and a bunch of Bob stickers before heading inside the arena and straight to our seats. Yes, I managed to restrain myself from buying anything this time around as I had paid out 18 quid on an extra large Bob t-shirt just a couple of nights before at the NEC, nevertheless I was rather tempted by a Bob Dylan Highway 61 coffee mug and made a note to take a closer look at one when I went to another show.

Sheffield Arena was pretty big there was no doubt about that and it was modern, where instead of being the usual rectangle shape it was square, which meant the stage was not too far away from wherever you were sat. It had a 12,000 seat capacity which made it one of the largest indoor arenas in the country and apparently Bob’s show that night was a sell out, which I guess was pretty good considering he had no support act and nothing to promote apart from a bunch of songs which for the most part were over 30 years old. His most recent release had been Time Out of Mind of course, but that was three years ago which in terms of the modern world of tours and albums was a long time. Our seats were not bad at all, well up on the floor and only about twenty rows from the stage, which was nothing considering there were well over 80 rows running from the front to the back. Not only was the stage and everything on it plainly visible, I had a miniature pair of binoculars with me as well, which meant we were in excellent shape as far as our view of the impending proceedings was concerned.

Once Marc was settled and we had his crutches laid out on the floor in front of us we sat back and relaxed, taking in the atmosphere as the arena began to fill up. These were the good times, when the sound of the crowd gets to a point where you suddenly realise there are thousands of people around you, the chatter from so many voices creates a buzz which seems to hover in the air above the heads of everyone like some kind of electricity, all baring the unmistakable sounds of human life.

On the stage the young Oriental guy who I had seen at the NEC a couple of nights before was tuning all the guitars which stood in racks on both sides of the stage. It was an undeniable fact that Bob and the boys got through a hell of a lot of guitars during the course of their set, more or less undergoing a complete change of instruments after each number. This meant that there were a lot of strings to twang in order to ensure everything was in good working order. Suspended from the ceiling above the stage were three speaker stacks along with the lighting rig and behind everything was a huge back drop curtain in black which had the Bob Dylan Eye of Integrity logo emblazoned on it.

All these things I hadn’t properly been able to take in at the NEC because I had been so far forward and also solely focused on Bob. Well, things had changed this time around, now it was just great to sit there, take in the bigger picture, slowly turning the stage into a shrine in my mind as I mined my own internal wonder fields. At a certain point the guy with the huge beard and pony tail who had been with Bob since who knows when, held a blow torch in his hand to the side of the stage and I realised he was using it to light bundles of incense. These were then placed in buckets at the back of the stage and sure enough a few minutes later that familiar perfume began to waft over the front rows of the crowd on the floor of the arena. All these things were no doubt was performed every night there was a show on the Never Ending Tour. Wherever the place was, in whatever city in the world, there was a pretty good chance these same pre-show rituals would be applied with a quiet authority which was never questioned.

At 8 pm sharp they hit the lights and a roar went up from the Sheffield crowd. The arrival of Bob was imminent. It was soon pretty clear that no one was going to be sitting in their seats in our part of the arena, I momentarily worried about Marc but he seemed happy enough standing up, leaning on his crutches. If he wasn’t it was going to be tough because in those kind of situations it was survival of the fittest to get the best view, a take no prisoners kind of scene, but I think that he accepted those were the breaks and was therefore prepared to make a good fist of it. Casting my eyes around the arena I was amazed how only a few minutes previously it had seemed as if there were lots of spaces but when I looked now the place was full. A matter of a few seconds later came the familiar announcement from the huge guy with the beard and the pony tail who was now behind the mixing desk to the left of the stage, “Ladies and gentlemen would you please welcome Columbia recording artist, Bob Dylan!”

Bob and the boys hit the stage and went straight into I Am the Man Thomas the same opener as Birmingham which was a bit of a surprise because Bob usually alternated between that one, Hallelujah I’m Ready to Go, Somebody Touched Me or Duncan and Brady. Not that I was complaining or anything like that, there was still plenty of time in my little mini tour around the country following Bob to hear the others. Song two was the same as Birmingham as well, namely Times They Are a Changin’ and again I couldn’t help but notice how much I loved this version of what is one of my favourite early Dylan songs and in its current incarnation I could listen to him play it all night. His rendition was whip cracking in its beauty, shades of both light and dark, effortlessly evoking in my mind visions of rolling streams, a holy book by the window spelling out the rules of life. Bob and the boys had now most definitely landed in Sheffield and had hit the ground running! 

It wasn’t long before I began to make use of the binoculars I had brought with me so that I could better see Bob and the boys close up, as from my position I was able to enjoy an almost unimpeded view of the stage. Through the binoculars Bob looked just as disinterested in his audience as he had a couple of nights before when I had been more up close and personal, whilst the boys appeared focused and thoroughly professional,  ready to pick up any slack. All in all our position was more than satisfactory, we had good vision and we were back far enough to take in the lights which were both subtle and impressive, something which I hadn’t been able to appreciate quite so much at the NEC. By the time I saw the final show at Wembley Arena in London a couple of weeks later, I realised the lights followed a strict pattern throughout all of the shows and from which certain songs in the set benefited considerably.

We were also perfectly placed to appreciate the mix coming from the sound desk which was up to the same high standards as the NEC although possibly not quite as loud and edgy. Third song up was It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding which again was the same as Birmingham and a part of me began to wonder if I was about to witness an extremely rare event, namely two identical Bob Dylan Never Ending Tour shows in a row which of course would have sent the Dylan statisticians scrambling for their history books. It’s Alright Ma was alright again, with Bob indulging in a bit of line barking if truth be told, almost sounding a bit relieved by the time the song was over, maybe too many flesh coloured Christs, naked presidents within life and life only for him to get his head around this time without just wanting to be done with it.

First change from the NEC show came along with song number four which was Love Minus Zero / No Limit instead of the Birmingham One Too Many Mornings. A nice version of the song from Bringing It All Back Home, the 1965 album generally regarded as the first of Bob’s mid-60s Golden Trilogy, the other two of course being Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. All three of which were recorded in a period of a mere 18 months which was a staggering burst of creativity in anyone’s book when one considers the material he came up with. As usual the fifth slot in the set was occupied by Tangled Up in Blue and here I was able to appreciate the lighting effects which accompany it for the first time on the tour, as at the NEC I had been standing too damn close to the stage to get any kind of focus on them. Bob and the boys were silhouetted during certain parts of the song and the effect was most striking, it was also a very good version of Tangled played tight, hard and most definitely punchy. The best in fact of all five performances of Tangled Up in Blue I was to hear on the tour and up in Sheffield it simply brought the house down. What had been closer to the run of the mill just a couple of nights before in Birmingham had now reached the realms of the transcendent to become nothing less than an excellent, astounding slice of genius!

It was weird looking at Bob from the distance we were placed. If I didn’t strain my eyes or try to focus too much, it seemed to me as if Bob was a young man. His fine head of hair was still in place and he was striking the same poses on stage which has done for decades now so that he looked like a performer who was in his early twenties, just starting out on the road to glory. In Birmingham I had been so close there had been no mistaking his age, in fact at the NEC he had alternated between looking young but mainly looking old, sometimes very old, but now, from another view at further distance, he looked very different. Time was playing funny tricks, had it really been all those years ago when he began to do what he was doing for us now? You know it might well be the case his appearance transforms in accordance with the energy of the crowd which he is playing in front of. In Sheffield I had the sense the majority of people were there for nostalgic reasons, for a blast of the past, maybe some or even many had last seen Bob in the 60s and so that was why he now looked so young. Being the accomplished shape shifter that he is, he was benefiting from the mass projection of a previous image which had remained in the collective memories of people for over three decades, morphing into the appearance of once again being a young man.

The acoustic part of the main set ended as usual with Searching for a Soldiers Grave. It is a short song so I decided it was as good as time as any to make a dash for it and go for a leak due to the bottle of mineral fizz water I had drunk in the foyer and which had now worked its way through me. I thought that by just sticking to water instead of lager I would have been spared, but no. However it was worth it as I was back in position by the end of the song feeling greatly relieved and ready for a few sparks to start to fly now that we had come to the part of the show when Bob and the boys strapped on different guitars and went electric.

So yes, now it was time for Bob and the boys to plug in, which they duly did as Bob, Larry and Charlie loosened up their fingers on Country Pie from that late 60s country rock confection which is Nashville Skyline. Such a great version they played, such a great way to kick into the new electric noise. The energy of the crowd perked up straight away and without so much as a pause for breath Bob launched straight into Dignity one of those songs which he saw fit to leave off the album which it had originally been intended for, in this case the Daniel Lanois produced Oh Mercy from 1989. It had been a fine album but with just this one extra song included it could have been so much better and a sure fire Bob classic. Dignity is a song relatively rarely performed live by Bob, a bit of a collector’s item in fact, so I had just bagged it and it was a real pleasure for me to hear him play it, taking me as it did to the land of the midnight sun as he spun his dream series of words before us.

Next followed what were for me arguably the best two songs of the night. First up was an absolutely blistering, red hot and thoroughly doom laden All Along the Watchtower a songI have seen Bob play many times now. For years and years, pretty much through the course of the 90s, it had been firmly lodged as song number three in the Never Ending Tour set list and it has only been in the last couple of years that things have changed in that regard. Now it appeared at any point in the set and here I had never heard Bob play it quite so heavy, with so much power as he did in Sheffield. It was awesome, people went wild for it and quite frankly they had every right to.

Immediately after All Along the Watchtower  we were then brought right up to date with Not Dark Yet from Time Out of Mind, another Daniel Lanois produced album of course, but one which has assumed far greater importance in Bob’s canon than Oh Mercy. This is due to its success in reinstating Bob in the popular consciousness as a major artist whose work was worthy of the utmost respect and consideration. Not Dark Yet   was one of the later Bob songs which I really wanted to hear him play live and the version he gave in Sheffield was just amazing, his voice took over the arena, every single word he sang was clear as a bell and the crowd were stunned into rapturous silence during its performance.

I’ve been down on the bottom of a world full of lies
I ain’t looking for nothing in anyone’s eyes
Sometimes my burden seems more than I can bear
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

When it was over it received the loudest cheer of the night so far, which was really saying something after the prophet like visions of the apocalypse he had just given us in All Along the Watchtower. It was masterful, displaying a combination of beauty and power which made me picture an infinitely sad setting sun descending in the sky on a long slow summer evening, whilst the dread fingers of death on the far horizon fast approached us.

Just like in Birmingham two nights ago, the penultimate number of the main set was Cold Irons Bound which again was loud ‘n’ heavy and which I also saw for the first time had some intricate stage lighting attached to it. It was as snarling, as shocking as in Birmingham a few nights before, when it had seemed to me like Bob had been in a bit of a bad mood, strong enough to possibly make those occasional fans in the audience wonder just what the hell he was into these days by way of coming up with stuff as hard as Irons. It was as aggressive as it was great and it might have just been me but I got the feeling it was a song Bob thoroughly enjoyed playing in its current incarnation. He was a schoolboy once again, playing his hometown auditorium in the half forgotten mine lands of North Minnesota, shaking the place to its foundations with the noise he and his band were coming up with. The main set was finished off by another immensely enjoyable Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat, as the way Bob, Larry and Charlie play this song is simply unbeatable, lining up on the stage as they do in a Fender guitar battalion good enough to engender mass spiritual transformation if the circumstances ever arose. The song and the main set were all over far too quickly and could only leave you wanting more, so much more!

All in all there had been four songs different from Birmingham in the course of the main set, not the most changes Bob has ever done from one show to another by any means, but not bad either when one considered the simply outstanding versions of All Along the Watchtower and Not Dark Yet  he had pulled out of the bag. When Bob plays music this good it is strong enough to take me in my mind to a place warm and comfortable, full of love for life with peace and contentment abounding, bathing in a pleasant star powered glow of golden hue, fine edged in a bright luminosity. There is absolutely no sense of wanting Bob to hurry and to get onto the next the song, it is just all there in the present and if that present moment could last for hours and hours then so much the better. It is timeless, like a special journey of the soul and it might be the case Bob goes to someplace similar, only for him being the creator of that vision, the colours, sounds, shapes and overall experience is so much richer. Maybe, just maybe, that is what it is, but then again maybe not!

In the five minute break before the 7 song encore Marc was able to sit back down in his seat and take a breather. He had done well to stay the course so far, leaning like he had on his crutches whilst enjoying the show. I could see from his face that he thought it had been worth it and that he had not wanted to miss a thing. We both agreed already that this show was miles better than when we had last seen Bob together at Wembley Arena three years previous back in 1997 not long after the release of Time Out of Mind, the album which changed the game for him. Ours was probably one of thousands of conversations taking place inside the arena as we cheered and waved our arms in the air, waiting for Bob and the boys to come back on stage again. There was no doubt the vast majority of those conversations were going to be giving a wildly positive spin on how things had gone so far and quite rightly as well as it had simply been brilliant.

Love Sick began the encore, the brooding opening song from Time Out of Mind which Bob had also played as an encore when Marc and I had seen him together that time at Wembley in 97, being the only song from it which he had debuted. Now I could hear for myself how much the live version of this song had improved with age, it was now less severe; more brooding, more spacious, more carved into a shapeless shape which the listener could wander into. Like a Rolling Stone followed and was again absolutely brilliant with Bob and the boys lined up once more in a Fender guitar battalion. The lights were turned full onto the packed arena, to give Bob and the boys a good view of everyone whilst the crowd waved wildly, with virtually everyone up and out of their seats and by this stage dancing in the aisles. Bob loves it, he might be at an age now when he realises just how strictly finite such moments are and how much he is going to miss them when they are gone. The life of a god no less, a 100% pure shot of adrenaline for him and after 40 years playing countless shows across the world he had earned it. Like a Rolling Stone, good candidate for best song of the 20th century, never sounded fresher, despite the fact Bob has played it thousands of times over the years and will no doubt continue to do so for the next few to come.

Another change from the NEC came next with a nowadays relatively rare outing for Mr Tambourine Man. Naturally it is one of my all time favourite Bob songs, as with the one hand clapping free raising through the foggy reels of rhyme it took us to those realms transcendental. So that was now the sixth change between the two shows and slowly but surely they were stacking up. But there was no change with Things Have Changed which came along next however, then before we knew it we were in the home straight with the trio that is Forever Young, Highway 61 Revisited and Blowin’ in the Wind. All of them great, all of them exactly the same as the NEC and all as equally enjoyable. Bob seems to have got certain parts of his current set fairly firmly nailed into place for the time being; Like a Rolling Stone, Tangled Up in Blue and Highway 61 Revisited  are always going to be played no matter what. Not so with Blowin’ in the Wind but lately Bob has been doing it an awful lot which kind of makes perfect sense as it is an absolute classic to finish the show with although I have to admit it has never been one of my favourites, but then again the other night at the NEC I had thought it was pretty good! So all in all Sheffield yielded six changes from the show at Birmingham NEC and my mind was already going over what Cardiff might have in store for me the following night. Just a question of wait and see I guess, wait and see what happened when we met up again in the heart of the Principality.

Marc and I made our way out of the Sheffield Arena and back to the car where we drank the flask of coffee I had brought up for us. It was good to drink it down, that thick tasty liquid was going to keep us awake during our drive back down to the London, but even without it we were both pretty high. The prospect of driving nearly 200 miles didn’t worry me in the least, in fact I was quite looking forward to it and positively raring to go. On top of the coffee I also opened up a pack of Buzz Gum which I had bought from my local health food shop in Walthamstow and popped a couple of sticks into my mouth. It was a natural stimulant and at the time I thought it was a good idea to buy some, in fact it turned out to be a great idea as the Buzz Gum really did keep me awake and alert, buzzing would probably be the best way to describe it! Marc had one as well and in no time at all any tiredness which we might have felt had completely disappeared. Guess the basic principle of the gum was to keep chewing it as by doing so lots of saliva was created which you then swallowed and it must have been this process which acted as the stimulant. Whatever it was it definitely worked and I would have no hesitation in using it again when another long journey through the night was in the offing.

It was only a matter of minutes before we were out of Sheffield and on the M1 heading south, doing a cool 100 mph whilst firmly in the fast lane. After an hour or so driving we pulled into a service station to have something to eat as we were both hungry, having had little more than our pack lunch the whole day, plus an odd banana or two. The restaurant was running at barely half capacity and almost empty due to the fact it was now past midnight and the only thing on offer at the hot food counter was sausage, chips and beans which we went for and I have to say under the circumstances it tasted pretty damn good when washed down with mugs of hot tea. The people working there looked to me like they got paid a pittance and it made me feel sad to see them, all they had to look forward to was another long night at the service station when I am sure they would have far preferred to have been in bed asleep. But what exactly was there I could have ever done about something like that? As for me and Marc it was back to the Nissan Primera after our meal and another stick of Buzz Gum each before once again hitting the open road with all signs pointing south to London.

By the time I pulled into the driveway back in Woodford it was 1.30 am which was not bad at all considering we had left at around ten and stopped for a meal on the way. It had been straight back down the M1 before joining the M25 and swinging round clockwise until the M11 when we then dropped into Woodford. All so simple in the middle of the night when there was no traffic around to snarl things up. By the time we had unloaded and Marc had got himself up the stairs on his crutches, it was only right and proper for us each to enjoy a good stiff Jack Daniels on the rocks. I have to say the Uncle Jack was pretty good, in those small hours it was most mightily tasty and sitting back in my chair with eyes closed my heart was bathed in an inner sunshine which spoke from a different country. We were a couple of happy punters, just a pair of ordinary fans to all intents and purposes, who would soon be heading off to the land of nod with our heads full of Bob.

Setlist Sheffield Arena 22nd September 2000 –

I Am the Man Thomas
Times They Are a Changin’
It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding
Love Minus Zero / No Limit
Tangled Up in Blue
Searching for a Soldiers Grave
Country Pie
All Along the Watchtower
Not Dark Yet
Cold Irons Bound
Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat
Love Sick
Like a Rolling Stone
Mr Tambourine Man
Things Have Changed
Forever Young
Highway 61 Revisited
Blowin’ in the Wind

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