Thought it would be nice to mark the beginning of May, the month of Bob Dylan’s 80th Birthday, with another in my series of accounts of going to see Bob in concert, something I have been lucky enough to do on 37 separate occasions. Needless to say this figure pales in comparison to many, many other Bob fans out there, but all the same it is the number I have so far been allotted and believe me, I have no complaints. After this I’ve got a similar piece on NET shows 2013 – 2019 but I think I’ll save that one for the big day itself – 24th May 2021. Following on from my brief overview of Bob shows which I went to in the 1990s, this post covers me going to see Bob Dylan play live at on three occasions at the Brixton Academy in 2005, once at Wenbley Arena in 2007, once at the London Roundhouse in 2009 and finally a brace of shows at the Cardiff International Arena in 2009 and 2011.
In writing about these 2005 – 2009 Bob Dylan shows mention first has to be made of the three Brixton Academy shows which I saw Bob play in November 2005. For some reason I did not write these up at the time and so they didn’t make it into my 2000 – 2006 period of live show full write ups, although of course they should have. A number of these full write ups I have already posted onto this blog over the last couple of years. My lack of notes for the Brixton Academy shows is an anomaly which now, fifteen years later, I can’t really explain, other than to say it was probably the case that work at Wise Words, the small book distribution company which I managed, must have been pretty stressful at the time. That would no doubt have made the prospect of writing up reports on those three shows beyond my capabilities, which is strange because I know that I really enjoyed them. Needless to say it is way too far down the line for me to remember them in any great detail, beyond what I will write here and even what I write here involves a little bit of cheating in that I have had to go online to check what the set lists were, as even these were not listed down by me at the time.
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.
This show is from 2002 when I went down the road in my home town to see Bob Dylan play another show at the now long defunct London Docklands Arena on May 12th when he was touring the UK on another leg of his Never Ending Tour. It was around nine months after his Love & Theft album which was released on September 11th 2001, and the show features a number of songs from it which I was hearing him perform live for the very first time.
At a certain point in proceedings that familiar smell of Nagchampa incense began to fill our nostrils as it rolled over the front rows of the crowd, having now been lit in the buckets at the back of the stage by the huge guy with the beard and the pony tail. There was a palpable rising of the energy levels of the crowd as the majority of people began to sense the time was soon about to descend upon us again when show time began. I stood there staring straight ahead at the huge black curtain behind the stage with the Bob Dylan Eye of Integrity stamped into the middle of it. I hadn’t seen it properly the night before due to fact that our seats had been to the side. The Eye of Integrity was Bob’s unofficial logo, or at least had been for the last few years and there were various pieces of merchandise you could buy with it on such tempting items as t-shirts, hoodies, baseball caps, key rings, coffee mugs and stuff like that.
This show is from 2002 when I went down the road in my home town to see Bob Dylan play a show at the now long defunct London Docklands Arena on May 11th when he was touring the UK on another leg of his Never Ending Tour. It was around nine months after his Love & Theft album which was released on September 11th 2001, and the show features a number of songs from it which I was hearing him perform live for the very first time.
It was now about 7.45, by my calculations show time would be 8pm without too much of a wait beyond that. The incense was already lit, Nagchampa incense I thought, if this was so it meant the incense came from India, the Sai Baba organisation no less, but it was at best an educated guess, probably a wrong one as Bob had never to my knowledge shown much of an interest in the whole Indian mystical guru scene. It was rolling over the first few rows of people on the floor in fragrant clouds with that oh so familiar sweet, heady smell. All part of the ritual for darshan, an audience with the master no less, all of which could apply as far as I was concerned when it came to me and Bob. This was always one of my favourite times. Waiting for the magic to begin, taking in through my nostrils that incense perfume, watching the rows of the arena fill up with people, looking down at the front where the diehard Dylan fans stood around in clusters excitedly talking with one another, heads held high in expectation, no doubt speculating on which selection of songs they were going to hear that night.
This show is from October 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.
Well I got see Bob at Wembley but it was a close run thing, oh man oh man with one thing and another it really was a close run thing. I was due to meet Madeleine and Ngawang, a Swedish-Tibetan couple with whom I was going to see Bob, outside Wembley Park tube station at 7pm, in order to give them their tickets for the show. But massive problems on the tube meant that I didn’t get to Wembley Park until 7.15 because everything was running late. There was no sign of Madeleine and Ngawang but I wasn’t too worried about that as it was pretty clear everyone going to the show by tube was in the same boat as far as being delayed was concerned and that it would only be a matter of time before they appeared.