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Comrades From The North

It goes without saying that Dylan has always polarised the views of fans and critics alike - and who says that fans can't be critics too and vice versa? Even his peers and fellow musicians held wildly-varying opinions of almost everything about him. His authenticity, his commitment to one cause or another, his musicality, his gathering and re-working of musical sources, his worth as a poet and his adventures into the maelstrom of electricity.

Nothing much has changed as the reporting of Dylan's latest UK gig proves. The concert in question was played at the Hop Farm Festival in Kent on July 3. Tom de Lisle in The Mail on Sunday Critics section ran a report under the headline "Dylan's genius turns to sludge". He seemed to find some consolation that Dylan played more classics than is usual (normally not a good sign to regular concert-goers) and continued:

"The bad news was that half of them turned to sludge - stolid boogies that become wearing even in the hands of Dylan's gifted band. The other bad news was that Dylan's voice, which rallied a little in his mid-60's, has reverted to a toneless buzz. He sounds less like a singer than an electric razor on the blink. The words are where the magic lies and it would be good to hear them".

Ironically, the Mail On-Line had the following to report:

"Bob Dylan delivered a dream set to bring a sizzling weekend of musical legends to a close on Saturday. In recent years Dylan has gained a reputation as an obscure and frustrating live act, but fears of a festival anti-climax were banished as he pulled out classic after classic."

Allan Jones, editor of the UK Magazine UNCUT offered these comments in his editorial:

"As with Bob, who really was on top form and much helped by the return to his band of guitarist Charlie Sexton, who's had a clearly enlivening effect on everyone, including Dylan, who seemed to be enjoying himself hugely."

Which of these shows did you see then? As with everything in Dylan-space it depends on your starting point and your expectations. And Dylan is very good at crushing expectations. The Mail on Sunday review concludes thus:

"It also feels as if he is doing all he can to be knocked off his pedestal - and the public, loyal to the point of perversity, won't let him".

In a bizarre coda to the UNCUT report, Jones described how he shared a taxi from the show with two young fans who were bitterly disappointed because they had based their whole expectation of the show on their knowledge of Dylan from the Folkways recording of Emmett Till. Thus, they expected a solo acoustic show, probably replete with protest songs!

Regular readers will be aware of our penchant for those little items of trivia so, on this occasion, we offer this - the final episode of the very popular UK police series Inspector Frost was broadcast a little while ago with the unforgettable title of If Dogs Run Free!!!! There is obviously a Dylan fan lurking within in the writing team.

May you climb on every rung ..........

Mike & John

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