Yes, that’s right, there were no less than 10 Bob shows in the 90s that I went to – 4 at the Hammersmith Apollo, London in 1993, 1 at The Fleadh, Finsbury Park, London in 1993, 2 at the Brixton Academy, London in 1995, 1 in Hyde Park, London in 1996, 1 at Wembley Arena in 1997 and last but not least 1 at the Cardiff International Arena which was also in 1997. What you can read below is a brief description of all of them, prefaced by an account of how Bob came into my life, or if we wanna go Biblical, how I found Bob.
Now I first got into Bob towards the end of 1992 thanks to Good As I’ve Been to You which I bought from a CD shop just off Walthamstow market in North East London. Yes Good As I’ve Been to You was my first ever Bob Dylan album, which in some way is kind of ironic since it is a work of traditional folk and blues covers with not an original Bob Dylan song on it. Just saw it there in the CD racks of the shop and when I picked it up to take a closer look there was something about the photograph of Bob on the front which made me want to buy it there and then, immediately, on the spot. It is certainly the case that I hadn’t been intending to get it when I had walked in there but when I got to play it later that evening, after clocking off from another day of work at Wisdom Books, I was simply knocked out by it and from that point onwards never looked back.
Bob’s voice was ragged and dirty from having been around the world a million times over and done pretty much everything you could hope to do as a 20th century recording artist. When it came to popular music back then, there were a handful of names which immediately came to mind for the vast majority of people and The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan would almost certainly have been among them. It was probably the case that in any given city throughout the Western world you would have been able to bet your bottom dollar the vast majority of buskers out on the streets and in the parks would have known at least one Bob Dylan song. Yet here he was on the cover of Good As I’ve Been to You looking pretty fed up, world weary and almost it seemed at the end of the line. Guess in some strange way it would be true to say my heart went out to him, it really did and pretty much from that moment onwards I was on his side, wanting to see him pick himself up again and get back to where he belonged.
It is also true to say that Bob came along at a time in my life when I might well have needed him as by late 1992 I was just over three years into what would turn out to be a 27 year stint working at Wise Words. It was a case of having stumbled into working there in the autumn of 1989 after returning in the June of that year from what had been an eight month trip to Nepal, India and Sri Lanka. My journey to the East had seen me do a number of Buddhist meditation courses as part of some kind of spiritual quest I was on, at least when that quest wasn’t interrupted by prolonged periods of dope smoking, playing those opium bongos and all the rest of it. Wise Words specialised in the distribution of books on Buddhism and it was through connections I’d made whilst I was out there that I was able to find casual work back in London, stuffing flyers into catalogues for sending out to people on the Wise Words mailing list. It was not long before I moved onto packing books for them in their small warehouse in Walthamstow, then after a year or so I had worked my way up to processing invoices, before a couple of years later becoming their office manager at the same location.
As you can see, I ended up staying at Wise Words a very long time and for a great number of those 27 years I was managing what in reality was a tiny book company which never employed more than 5 or 6 people. After 10 years trading in Walthamstow, Wise Words moved to larger premises in Ilford, East London, in late 1999, something which on reflection was probably the high point as far as the company was concerned. The further we progressed into the 21st century the tougher things became to stay in business, which meant that for a lot of the time trying to keep the whole show on the road was really quite stressful, whilst the salaries we paid ourselves were modest by anyone’s standards. Eventually in the autumn of 2015 we woke up to the inevitable and decided to pull the plug by way of Wise Words going into voluntary liquidation, something which finally happened in June 2016 after we’d spent six months trying to tidy things up as much as possible in relation to our creditors. Throughout those years from late 1992 onwards it was a great source of joy for me to have Bob in my life, his music for me to listen to and his shows to go along to. It is probably true to say it was a blessing and something which I felt lucky to have, still do as a matter of fact. Yet after all this time I consider myself to be just a fan, one of many, not an expert, not someone who would be able to discuss in any great depth the ins and outs of Bob’s words and music. The only thing I can say is that I love it all, even the bad stuff, of which there is actually quite a lot!
So anyway, as I have already mentioned, it was only at the back end of 1992 that I first got into Bob by way of Good As I’ve Been to You and yet by the middle of February 1993 I would be able to proudly tell anyone who would listen that I had already seen Bob Dylan play live! This was because he did a string of five shows at the Hammersmith Apollo in February 1993 out of which I went along to no less than four of them. The first two, Monday 8th and Tuesday 9th, I bought tickets for in advance whilst the latter two, Thursday 11th and Friday 12th, I went down and bought tickets off the touts lurking outside the venue. Guess that might give you some idea of what kind of impression seeing Bob Dylan play live had on me. In fact it would be no exaggeration to say that the first moment I saw him step on stage I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was a performer on a whole different level of magnitude when compared to anyone else I had previously seen. Those first two shows were so damn good that I just couldn’t resist going back down again and again, to buy tickets at inflated prices sold to me in the shadows, just so long as I would be able to see him.