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Comrades From The North

Welcome to another year of all things Dylan. As we write this plans are well advanced for a short tour of South America – well, Brazil and Argentina to be honest with a final show in Santiago, Chile. These eleven gigs represent the gentlest start to a touring year for some time but will no doubt spark high intensity reactions from fans that get to see him only rarely. It looks like he will be following this up with a trot around the European festival circuit so the concept of slowing down remains an alien one.

News of the death of Don DeVito came too late for publication in the previous issue of The Bridge. DeVito was a key player in the Dylan story. A life-long Columbia Records employee he undertook production duties for a classic trio of Dylan albums - Blood On The Tracks, Desire and Street Legal in addition to the live outings Hard Rain and At Budokan. This was a period that saw Dylan emerge again as a truly brilliant artist and performer, moving his art to another altogether different place and it must have been quite a ride to be at the centre of that particular hurricane. DeVito died, age 72, on 25th November 2011 after a long battle with prostate cancer.

Dylan’s one-time consort and stage-partner Joan Baez has been touring in the UK recently and your humble correspondents caught her at her Gateshead show. Looking trim and well-groomed and belying her 71 years, she delivered a great set, albeit struggling to hit some of the more challenging notes. She sprinkled the list with Dylan songs, of course, and dragged out the odd anecdote or barbed comment about the man himself. One story related to an after show session at Newport in the 1960s where she, Johnny Cash, Dylan and others jammed for hours pulling out one old tune after another. She described Dylan in that session as “taking more than giving” and that that summed him up.

One thing that Baez did mention in a mixture of glowing terms and mock jealousy was the vast new covers project Chimes Of Freedom: The Songs Of Bob Dylan, Honouring 50 Years of Amnesty International released in February. This sprawling epic which closes most appropriately with Dylan’s own original version of the title track takes the listener down many side-alleys and backwaters as well as the more well-trodden paths. There are some gems here – Eric Burdon, Thea Gilmore, Patti Smith, Elvis Costello and even recent touring partner Mark Knopfler who has a go at Restless Farewell. And let’s not forget that Ms Baez is represented too (Seven Curses). The album received a real savaging from the BBC correspondent Paul Whitelaw (with tongue ever-so-slightly in his cheek). He did, though, unreservedly recognise the worthiness and appropriateness of Dylan’s title track. So that’s alright then. Take care, enjoy the lighter nights depending on your hemisphere, and we’ll see you again.

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

Mike & John

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