On the Road with Bob Dylan - Part One
Words By: Sam Pethers & Roland Ellis | April 30th, 2015
50 Years Ago today, Bob Dylan performed at the Sheffield City Hall marking the first show of his 1965 acoustic tour of England. The tour would prove to be the singer-songwriter’s final all-acoustic run of shows, as was documented in D.A Pennebaker’s documentary Don’t Look Back.
Pennebaker later said that everyone had told him to drop the “1965” reference from the start of his film because it would be irrelevant in two years time. In other words, why mark the date when surely Dylan was a dependable/locatable music icon who wouldn’t be changing his stripes any time soon given the wave of success he was on. However, the Dylan documented in Don’t Look Back is an entirely different character to the one who toured England exactly one year later.“I don’t think I’m a folksinger, you’ll probably call me a folksinger but to the other people, they know better.”
Dylan arrived in the U.K. to hysteria almost on par with The Beatles’ reception in New York. According to Pennebaker, the 24 year old from Hibbing, Minnesota wasn’t at all surprised by the reaction. It was his destiny to become an icon, as Dylan himself alluded to in a 2004 interview with 60 Minutes: “It's a feeling you have that you know something about yourself - nobody else does - the picture you have in your mind of what you're about will come true.”
Dylan had flown in from New York City with an entourage that included best friend Bobby Neuwirth, folk singer/ex-girlfriend Joan Baez, and manager Albert Grossman.
Throughout the tour, Dylan was constantly reading newspaper articles about himself. Don’t Look Back also frequently depicts him listening in to his songs on the radio with particular interest in their chart positions. In one scene, he turns to Albert Grossman while “The Times They are a Changin’” is playing on Pirate Radio and says, “what number was the other one?”
At the time of the tour, British newspapers were talking about “The New Dylan” in reference to 18 year old Scottish born folksinger Donovan. When Dylan first read of “The New Dylan” he asked, “Who’s this Donovan?” Alan Price (the man who played the intro to The Animals’ “House Of The Rising Sun”) replied jokingly, “he’s a young Scottish bloke… he’s a very good guitar player, he’s better than you.” Dylan responded, “well right away I hate him!”
Below: Dylan and Alan Price discuss Donovan
As noted, Joan Baez joined Dylan in England, but unlike previous tours she wasn’t invited to join him on stage. She assumed that she was there to join him for the last couple of songs each night, as had been the case on many previous dates in the US. As documented by Pennebaker, Baez appears as though she’s auditioning for an uninterested Dylan throughout the tour. In one scene she plays “Percy’s Song” which Dylan ignores completely; and in another she sings “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” to Dylan in a taxi, seemingly just a reminder that she knows all the words.
Baez later put it down to Dylan wanting the whole stage to himself. It’s perhaps more likely, however, that it was a sign of Dylan trying to distance himself from the folk scene as much as possible. Throughout the tour he repeatedly made references to how he isn’t a folk singer, and he frequently neglected to play his older songs. When a reporter mentioned his early folk songs he said, “I don’t want to play those songs, give them to Donovan.” In his interview with Time Magazine during the tour he said, “I don’t think I’m a folksinger, you’ll probably call me a folksinger but to the other people, they know better.”
Fans would often tell Dylan they didn’t like his new music throughout the tour. During Don’t Look Back, one young girl tells Dylan she doesn’t like “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, saying it sounds like he’s “having a good old laugh”. Dylan says “But that’s my friends playing with me, I have to give some work to my friends playing the guitar and drums and all that.”
On arrival at the airport in London Dylan said, “I’ve already done this before in the States”—a clear indication that he was ready for change. The ’65 tour marked a turning point from which he would move away from folk music to begin down an ever-changing career path.
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