Article

The day Dylan nearly went electric

Words By: Sam Pethers & Roland Ellis | June 1st, 2015

The day Dylan nearly went electric

June 1, 1965 - Bob Dylan had just finished his 8 night solo concert tour of the UK and was scheduled to perform at the BBC Studios in London. There were roughly 300 people in attendance, all of whom sat silently in anticipation of Dylan's arrival. British rock band The Pretty Things, along with Albert Grossman and his wife, sat in the front row.

Penny Valentine of Disc Weekly described Dylan's entrance to the stage:

"Just past eight Dylan appears at the side of the studio. He wears a black leather jacket, dark sweater and trousers, his harmonica harness round his neck. He looks pale and tired after his illness. He ambles out round a camera to the applause and stops next to a bright red leather stool. He stands by the mic, tuning up. On the monitor screens above our heads appears the picture of a girl on a beach. Dylan adjusts his harness and plays the guitar softly as the cameras angle up."

In rehearsals for the show, Dylan ran through a version of "Maggie's Farm", but was unhappy with how it sounded.

In rehearsals for the show, Dylan ran through a version of "Maggie's Farm", but was unhappy with how it sounded. Consequently, he decided to stick to an acoustic format and (famously) save the first electric onslaught of "Maggie" et al. for the Newport Folk Festival 6 weeks later. The BBC studio performance would be one of Dylan's final all-acoustic shows.

The BBC session was more than just another acoustic Dylan performance, though. There's something about the way he executes the songs that seems, with the benefit of hindsight, to telegraph where he's headed next. For instance, his versions of "One Too Many Mornings" and "Boots Of Spanish Leather" - tunes he hadn't played on any other stop in the UK circa 1965 - have the nicest, most delicate possible touch you could ever expect to find at the hands of Bob Dylan. It's almost as if he's saying, "Well, this is it folks. Enjoy this soft-core crooning while you can because it ain't gonna be coming back"; as if he's signalling farewell by playing his acoustic songs to the best of his ability before sailing on to greener pastures.

Listen below to Dylan performing "One Too Many Mornings" Live at The BBC.

Listen:

Of course, only Dylan (and maybe a few insiders) knew he was about to make a drastic move away from the folk scene/sound. And that being the case, only Dylan knew that he wouldn't be playing soft-plucking folk music anymore. So the farewell noted above, then, was something only Bob knew was happening. The audience, one would assume, must have thought he'd continue on as their folk champion in perpetuity - why wouldn't he considering how well he was doing?

Mystique is a powerful thing. Perhaps no-one realizes that more than Bob Dylan.

The fact that only Bob knows where Bob is headed next, is the man's greatest source of power. It's the thing that keeps his audience feeling as though he knows something that no-one else in the room knows. The songs are, of course, untouchable in terms poetic-lyricism and all that; but it's the fact that he has never explained them, never explained himself, that has consistently coerced the public into interpreting Dylan as an untouchable and mystical figure.

Mystique is a powerful thing. Perhaps no-one realizes that more than Bob Dylan. He could've given away his plans to say goodbye to folk music during the BBC performance - surely doing so would've garnered him a lot of press at the time, and in-turn, extra record sales. But instead, he realized, even then, the greater value in keeping it all hid; in keeping the press and everyone else fawning over your unpredictable next move.

The day Dylan nearly went electric Bob Dylan performing Live At The BBC, June 1st, 1965

Penny Valentine of Disc Weekly reports:

"Hey wait a minute," he mumbles, and a young man in a super-smart corduroy jacket suddenly appears from nowhere. "I can't see those cue cards," Dylan explains. "You'll have to bring them right up – I've got bad eyes."

They bring the cue cards nearer and he fixes another harmonica into his harness. The hot lights have affected the strings on his guitar again and he turns away from the audience, listening intently as he runs through the chords.

The young man in the jacket says that sounds fine to him.

"It doesn't to me," says Dylan. "I've got bad ears too!"

Some sort of magic seems suddenly to have hit the entire proceedings with Dylan's grin and joke. We all laugh.

The red stool is unused by Dylan throughout the two shows. He stands, feet slightly apart, head a little back. He makes no attempt at introducing the songs. His attitude is the same as he adopts at his concerts - that his audience should know his work without explanation.

On the screens the face of Dylan alternates between hatred and love. He comes over strikingly well.

The only time he does offer an introduction is on 'It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)' when he says the title and adds: "This is a funny song, ho, ho, ho."

The stool carries his extra harmonica and a crumpled piece of paper on which Dylan has written down the titles of the songs he will do. On the screens the face of Dylan alternates between hatred and love. He comes over strikingly well.

As the last glimpse of a now static Dylan face is shown on the set he stands up and looks satisfied. He says his thanks to the camera crew and once more to the audience and then quietly walks away.

The complete setlist from the performance:

01 Ballad Of Hollis Brown

02 Mr. Tambourine Man

03 Gates Of Eden

04 If You Gotta Go, Go Now

05 Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll

06 It Ain't Me Babe

07 Love Minus Zero / No Limit

08 One Too Many Mornings

09 Boots Of Spanish Leather

10 It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)

11 She Belongs To Me

12 It's All Over Now, Baby Blue


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