Well, not once in last night’s Bob Dylan concert in Nottingham did I sit and think to myself sadly of the spent £140 for our two tickets to see the show! (Blog: “And you never ask questions when God’s on your side” http://arbeale.blogspot.com/2011/07/and-you-never-ask-questions-when-gods.html ). I’d do it again tomorrow! Worth every penny. And, as we sat high in the Nottingham Arena with almost 10000 others looking down at the distant stage, teeth vibrating with the ear bursting sound from the backing group the one thing that kept coming into my mind was here I was, Joe Public, having the opportunity to share the same few feet of the planet’s surface with one of the age’s great icons.
Perhaps younger people or those of a less idealistic bent would have taken it all in their stride – after all, what is there to it? You pay your money, get your ticket and see the show. End of story. And that’s true. Except to my warped mind I see it a little differently. Let me explain why – and if any of my family read this, they will immediately recognise my line of argument! So to them I apologise for revisiting old ground.
|Knopfler and Dylan together a few years ago |
- when Knopfler still had hair!
And I have been incredibly lucky – I’m not “wealthy”, not famous, I’ve spent my life teaching in a classroom rather than some more glamorous occupation, never mixed with the rich and famous or the shakers and movers of the world. But, like very many of my generation I have been increasingly able to do things that only a very few years ago would have been quite out of the question for an ordinary person.
|Dylan (right) on the keyboard - a distant view from my seat.|
But not for me. If someone had told me, when I was a child living in the back street of a northern industrial town in a tiny house with no hot water or inside lavatory, that one day I would sit on an elephant’s shoulders as it strode through the bush in Sri Lanka. Or that I would stand in New York’s Central Park and look down at the memorial to one of the world’s great icon’s, John Lennon. Or that I would stand at dawn and watch the sun rise over Ayres Rock, and at the same time drink white wine in a dawn picnic - then I would never have believed it. Nearer to home I have sat in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford on Avon an many occasions; I have been able to see the world’s great shows in the West End. In a few week’s time I will sit and watch one of the world’s great operas, Madam Butterfly, here in Nottingham and just before Christmas I will sit in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig and listen to the Christmas Oratorio performed in the place where Bach wrote it three centuries ago.
I could go on. The point is that I have been very lucky – and so too, for the most part, has been my generation. There may be all sorts of issues and criticisms of we “Baby Boomers” – “the generation that had it all” I read of us being so described the other day. And it cannot be denied – but that doesn’t prevent me being amazed, humbled and grateful for the opportunities that I have had.
|One of the few bits of audience interaction - a quick final bow!|
So, back to Bob Dylan. As anyone who read my recent blog (“You never ask questions when God’s on your side”) will know, I was looking forward to it but hesitant and a little worried that seeing Dylan would not live up to my expectations, that my £140 for our tickets would seem wasted.. But no, it was not wasted - it hugely surpassed my expectations.
This was not the Dylan of protest. It was not the Dylan who motivated a generation to go out and change the world. It was not the Dylan that I remember exciting me as young trainee teacher in the mid sixties when at the college folk club,held each Tuesday night in the skittle alley of the "Man of Trent" pub in Clifton, Nottingham, I first heard “Masters of War” or “With God on our Side”. This was a growling Dylan singing the blues with an ultra loud band behind him. It was a Dylan dressed virtually all in black with a wide brimmed hat shading his face on a dimly lit set aggressively barking at the words. But it was Dylan – the man who half a century after his fame as a folk poet had inspired and been the back drop to changing the world – has this year been one of the major contenders for the Nobel Literature prize. Some of the old favourites from “Highway 61 Revisited” were beaten out and the evening ended with one of my favourites “Don’t Think Twice it’s All Right” and what I once read described as arguably the greatest song ever written, “Like a Rolling Stone”. Listening to some of these – all of which I have on CD – I was again taken back to my college days – the guy on the next room borrowed my copies of the Dylan LPs “The Freewheelin Bob Dylan” and “Highway 61 Revisited” . We swapped LPs for a few weeks – Dylan in exchange for his favourites “The Beachboys” – and I never got mine back. I’ve never forgiven him!
And, as I said above and hoped for before the concert, here I was sharing something with one of the world’s great icons – and getting excited about it! Naive? Pathetic? Silly? – yes all of these - but still true. And worth every penny and more!
|Knopfler in full flight|
And, of course, it wasn’t only Dylan. He was sharing the show with Mark Knoplfer of Dire Straits one of my very favourite groups and, like Dylan, part of my life – a group and their music that will always be associated with my children growing up in the 80s. For me too Knopfler and Dire Staits will always be associated with a sad tale which is probably best left as the subject of another blog. But, briefly, when I was teaching one of the children in my class and who had gone through the school was a boy who had a rare form of cancer from birth. He was about 10 and everyone knew he would not live beyond his early teens. Dad was a keen amateur guitarist and played in local pubs. He taught Paul to play – the lad had a great talent for it and when we had discos at school Paul and dad would play for the disco – Rock and Roll. Dad wrote to Dire Straits and asked if they could supply autographed pictures of Paul’s heroes . They did more – Paul was invited to London to watch them record and a relationship was built up. And when Paul died a year or two later there were many tears in the church when a tape was played of Knopfler and the group singing – the group were touring in the USA but a huge wreath and the tape had been sent. There’s more to it than that – but perhaps that is for another blog. The main thing is that, music apart, Knopfler has always come over as a nice guy - a thinking man, with something rather more to offer. And so it was last night – the audience were with him. It was as much the man as his music that they were cheering.
|Knopfler has the audience in his hands|
I have seen him before and he was again superb. Like Dylan he has moved on since his Dire Straits days but the sound was still there. Yes, the rock, blues underpins everything but now more folky type music – fiddles and flutes, a distinctly Celtic sound. Had you entered the Arena unknowing you would have still instantly recognised the sound of Dire Straits and the distinctive Knopfler. He looks more a middle aged gent now – no longer sporting the head band - than a rock star but the sound in unmistakable. Like Dylan there was much of his newer stuff but towards the end he launched into “Brothers in Arms” – the signature song from the CD – the fifth best selling CD in UK history and then from the same CD “So Far Away” – and the audience approved wildly! But perhaps the song that took the evening – certainly for me and many others was a new one “Privateering” – Knopfler at his best. I‘ll look for this on any new CDs brought out. It’s not just me saying how good it is – looking at the reviews on the web many others think the same: “If this doesn’t get him his knighthood then nothing will” was representative of many.
It’s perhaps worth mentioning the big difference (for me – and I think for many others) between the two performers. Knopfler came over, as I say, a nice guy – he related to the audience, acknowledged them. Dylan didn’t. Aloof, little or no dialogue – and that which there was, at the very end of the show was unintelligible. Some found this disconcerting and a failing. I suppose it was – but, and I think this is important – I think that is one of the essentials of Dylan’s character. It’s what makes him tick. It’s the same trait that has allowed him to write the scathingly biting verse and songs that he has. A rejection of convention and the accepted codes of life. That is not to minimise his aloofness or to justify it, but to recognise that that is the man. Indeed, as I watched him I mused what it must be like when he wakes each morning in some strange hotel room in some far off city and think to himself “I’m Bob Dylan”. Like John Lennon his every word picked over as people look for some pearl of wisdom and insight – or some stick to beat him with. To walk through the hotel’s reception or sit in its dining room and to be aware – not in a boastful way – that he is one of the very few people in the world who is ultra famous and has been rightly or wrongly a shaper of the world and its opinions for the past half century. Combine that with the fact that his renown is built upon his rebelliousness and rejection of convention and I can understand a certain measure of aloofness. No, what we saw was Dylan.
|"So far away" - sang Knopfler, and he was!|
And I suppose that brings me back to where I started. It was simply great to be part of it. When we arrived at the Nottingham Arena ticket touts stood outside asking if we would sell our tickets! When we took our seats high on the tiered balcony we looked down on a sea of people. It must be said that this was not a teenage audience – although there were many youngsters there, by far the audience was filled with greying people of our generation – many having some difficulty to mount the steep steps to the upper seats! But, like me they had come to see two of the icons of the last fifty years - and I think everyone must have gone home happy.
And as I climbed into bed, my head still thumping and buzzing from the volume I thought again how, fifty years ago when I stood with my college friends in the skittle alley at the “Man of Trent” pub on Clifton estate in Nottingham, where every Tuesday night we used to hold our folk evenings, I would never have imagined and believed that one day I would see Dylan for real – if only from a long way away and in a vast auditorium filled with almost 10,000 others. No, we really have been the generation of opportunity and so very, very lucky.