Bob Dylan Live: Ten Never Ending Tour Shows from the 1990s

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.

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Bob Dylan Live: London Docklands Arena Reloaded

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.

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Bob Dylan Live: London Docklands Arena

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.

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Bob Dylan Live: Stirling Castle Part One

This show is from July 2001 when I went on the road up to Scotland from London to attend a show by Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan given in the grounds of Stirling Castle and who by that point was over 12 years into his Never Ending Tour. This is the Part One of the story.

Really hadn’t thought I would want to write about Bob’s Stirling Castle show in July 2001. After writing up the five September 2000 shows I hadn’t done anything since then with regard to words on Bob for months and I didn’t think in the build up to Stirling the fires would be re-ignited. However after seeing the show I realised I was wrong, way wrong, that the energy was there to make me want to sit down and put down on paper my impressions of the whole damn trip.

The September 2000 shows had been special for me after all. Five Bob Dylan shows in five different cities over a period of about a week or 10 days and getting into more than one or two scrapes along the way. That brilliant feeling of arriving in a new city with the knowledge I was there to see Bob Dylan live that evening was simply unbeatable, unbelievable and unrepeatable!!! A privilege that can only have happen if you are lucky enough to have the liberty plus a little bit of cash. This time it was different. There was only one show I was going to for a start and it also happened to be a hell of a long way from London, up in the grounds of Stirling Castle and within spitting distance of the Highlands of Scotland.

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Bob Dylan Live: Wembley Arena

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.

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Bob Dylan Live: Portsmouth Guildhall

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.

Portsmouth Guildhall really was quite a lot different from the other places I had so far seen Bob on my little tour, far from being an arena that was for sure! It was a pretty old looking building and of course the vital factor for the Bob fans who made the trip was that it was small, a great place in other words to get close to greatness. I walked through the foyer in no time at all, the merchandise stand which at the other venues had been huge and sprawling now looked no bigger than a local market stall, with all the t-shirts and other stuff set out for sale on what were little more than a couple of wooden tables. The hall inside was tiny compared to the other places I had seen Bob that week, holding just over 2000 people, barely a quarter of the size of the Sheffield Arena for example, which could hold around 12,000. At the back of the floor standing area in the stalls were a couple of rows of seats on slightly raised platforms, above the stalls was an all seated balcony which looked like being the best place to see the show, especially if you were in the front as you would be looking right down at Bob on the stage. The ceiling was very high and ornately decorated, but it had obviously not been possible to have Bob’s speaker stacks suspended from it, so they sat instead like two black mountains at either end of the stage ready to pump out the noise which was going to made by Bob and the boys.

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Bob Dylan Live: Cardiff International 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.

It was 6.30 when the doors to the CIA were finally opened and after a brief delay due to some security mix up, which involved a lot of bulky Welsh bouncers shouting into their mobile phones, we were allowed inside. Just like at the NEC it was a case of trying to maintain a sense of dignity whilst half walking and half running across the wide open floor space in order to join the small crowd of people already congregated at the front of the stage. Of course the bouncers rudely shouted at everyone not to run and of course it was a massive temptation to just completely ignore the shitheads and break out into a full on sprint. All the same me and Huw covered the ground in not too much time at all and we soon proudly claimed prime standing positions right in the centre of the floor, not too close to the front so that we would lose the power of the sound from the PA stacks suspended from the ceiling above our heads, but not too far away either. All we had to do now was stand there and wait for show time!

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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.

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Bob Dylan Live: Birmingham NEC

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 doors to NEC finally opened at 6 pm, but all they led to was a carpeted area inside the arena with another set of doors at the end of it which were also still firmly closed. We all rushed to the marked off area where we once again had to queue and since it was a question of speed I was able to overtake quite a few people who up until a few seconds ago had been further up the original queue than me! It brought an idiotic smile to my face and made me think that Bob would probably have had a good laugh about it as well if he could have seen us scrambling around trying to manoeuvre ourselves into position just so we could get as close as possible to him. Everyone now faced a further 20 minute wait until the second set of doors were finally opened and people were allowed to stream through and into the main concert hall of the NEC. We handed in our tickets which we were told would be returned to us when the show was over if we wanted them as souvenirs and considering the kind of Dylan fan I was currently with there were a few panic stricken requests for confirmation from the security people that this would indeed be the case. After that was sorted it was now a simple sprint to the front of the arena to get the best spot possible standing position in front of the stage. Security people kept shouting at us all not to run which meant it was a kind of stop start fast jog which we all had to make under their watchful eyes. It was difficult not to smile, not to feel exceedingly stupid at being told off in such an abrupt manner by a bunch of mean looking shaven headed guys in yellow high visibility jackets talking into their phones and throwing their weight around. All the same, everyone was now in final sight of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and no one was going to stop us from reaching it, that coveted place at the front of the crowd with a direct line of sight to Bob Dylan when he came on stage.

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