PODCAST: Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years With Clinton Heylin

 

Clinton Heylin discusses Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years with a capacity audience at Edward’s, Sheffield. Organised The CAT Club, and hosted by their very own Rev Reynolds. The evening begins with Clinton reading from his book and playing tracks from the era – including some rare Bob Dylan onstage ‘raps’ – and is rounded off with a lively Q&A before retiring to the bar to listen to Dylan’s classic gospel album Slow Train Coming and discussing the evening over a pint. Click play above to listen to a podcast of the event.

Recorded at Edward’s, Glossop Road, Sheffield on 14 November 2017. Running time 1:05:45.

Click here for more on Clinton Heylin’s book Trouble In Mind: Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years – What Really Happened

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Trouble In Mind | Introduction by Clinton Heylin

INTRODUCTION TO TROUBLE IN MIND BY CLINTON HEYLIN

BEFORE THE FLOOD

I never felt like I was searching for anything. I always felt that I’ve stumbled into things or drifted into them. But I’ve never felt like I was out on some kind of prospector hunt, looking for the answers or the truth … I never went to the holy mountain to find the lost soul that is supposed to be a part of me … I don’t feel like a person has to search for anything. I feel like it’s all right in front.
—BOB DYLAN TO DENISE WORRELL, 1985

Caveat emptor: I am an evangelist. That is to say, when it comes to the evangelical part of the Dylan canon – what in mediaspeak has been defined, rather misleadingly, as the gospel years (i.e. 1979-81) – I’m a believer. Not a trace of doubt in my mind.

From the moment I heard a live performance of ‘Covenant Woman’ from the November ’79 Warfield shows at a one-day Dylan convention in Manchester the following month, I knew the man had (re)connected to the wellspring of his art when that ol’ sign on the cross began to worry him.

As I have long argued, in person and in print, the consummate songwriter composed a body of work in the period 1979-81 which more than matches any commensurate era in his long and distinguished career – or, indeed, that of any other twentieth century popular artist.

But unlike that other seminal starburst of inspiration, the one between 1965 and 1967, the afterglow of this cerebral explosion is barely reflected within the grooves of the trilogy of albums CBS released in real time: Slow Train Coming (1979), Saved (1980) and Shot Of Love (1981).

Perhaps it’s because Dylan’s heart really wasn’t in the process of making records at the time. He did, after all, suggest in an interview designed specifically to promote the third album in said trilogy, that his primary interest was playing ‘songs which [a]re gonna relate to the faces that I’m singing to. And I can’t do that if I[‘m] spending a year in the studio, working on a track. It’s not that important to me. No record is that important.’ Said interview appeared on a CBS promo album.

The epicentre of Dylan’s artistry at the cusp of the decades – as it had been in the mid-seventies – was the stage; surely one reason why, starting in November 1979, he took an acetylene torch to the 1978 set list and began afresh. As he said at the time on his one radio interview, quoting 2 Corinthians, ‘All things become new, old things are passed away.’

To howls of protest that couldn’t help but remind one of the folk-rock furore thirteen years earlier, he delivered the same unrelenting Good News/Bad News message night after night, while each night becoming born again as a performing artist in front of the aghast eyes and ears of Dylan apostates.

Just as from September 1965 to May 1966, the shows which ran from November 1979 to the following May saw the gospel gauntlet thrown down nightly. Dylan delivered an unceasing barrage of biblical glossaries set to the soundtrack of a heavenly choir and a band of unbelievers riding the musical tide all the way to New Jerusalem. But this time there was no near-death experience to deflect Dylan from his chosen path. He would continue beating his ecumenical drum most of the time for the next eighteen months.

For much of this period, his was very much a voice in the wilderness. Much of the media, and a large percentage of his hardcore fan base, simply switched off. The North American gospel shows – All Saints’ Day ’79 at the San Francisco Warfield excepted – tended to receive only local reviews, and rarely drew ones interested in reporting the facts.

As for the shows themselves, journalists delighted in reporting that this ‘voice of a generation’ couldn’t even sell out intimate theatres. Even the eight English shows in July 1981 struggled (and failed) to sell out, barely three years after people were camping out for 72 hours just to get a single ticket for six Earls Court shows.

(Those arch-arbiters of fan demand, the bootleggers, were also switching off just as Dylan’s muse was switching on again, deeming demand to be insufficient from a demographic of wavering disciples.)

So, although Dylan played some ninety-eight shows between November 1979 and December 1980, all but a handful of which were still being taped by hardcore collectors, not a single vinyl bootleg was released in real time; and this, from the most bootlegged rock artist of all time. As for official album sales, the cliff Dylan fell off in 1980 with the catastrophic Saved was one it would take him seventeen years to scale again.

So, on the face of it, hardly the sort of period where a thorough revisit would send ripples of excitement through the Dylan world in 2017. And yet, when at the start of the year Dylan’s long-time manager hinted to a Rolling Stone reporter that the next Bootleg Series (lucky thirteen!) would re-examine the gospel years afresh, the fan sites were abuzz with anticipation.

Because, as a Nobel poet once put it, ‘Everything passes, everything changes.’ And three decades on, an official release (or two) of a judicious sample of one or two legendary residencies in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal or London ranks high on most Bobcats’ bucket lists.

Ranking higher still for those whose focus is the studio oeuvre is a set that also affords a thorough re-examination of the two dozen songs Dylan wrote in the six months leading up to the Shot Of Love sessions. With 20/20 hindsight, the album bearing that name – even though it has real moments – stands as perhaps the most underwhelming Dylan studio collection of original songs to date, with maybe three performances on the official Shot Of Love worthy of inclusion on the double-album it should have been: the title track itself, a ‘Property Of Jesus’ that aside from a remix could hardly be bettered, and ‘Every Grain Of Sand’.

The good news – praise the Lord of Happenstance – is that the period 1979 to 1981 turns out to be among the best documented eras in Dylan’s six-decade-long career as a recording/ performance artist.

The explanation for this resides in two events dating back to January 1978: the purchase of a brand-new, state-of-the-art, eight-track tape machine made by Otari, the MX-5050, shortly after Dylan had signed a five-year lease on a rehearsal studio in downtown Santa Monica.

These serendipitous twists of fate meant Dylan could begin to record most rehearsals at his newly leased studio; demo songs he wished to copyright; as well as run tapes of all the shows he was to perform during a 115-date world tour. The rehearsal studio, known privately as Rundown, throughout this period would even serve as a sometime-recording studio for the two albums which bookend the Rundown era, Street-Legal and Shot Of Love.

Indeed, Dylan soon grew so comfortable with his Santa Monica ‘home studio’ set-up that he rekindled a work ethic last seen in the happy days spent in the Big Pink basement in West Saugerties, New York, with the last standing band he kept on retainer, the mostly-Canadian Hawks, back in 1967.

Having put together the second standing band of his career in September 1979, it should come as no great surprise that the dividing line between tour rehearsals, album sessions and copyright demos for the next two years would be as fuzzy as one of Fred Tackett’s effect-pedals; or that the aesthetic of the basement tape should be so readily revived by its instigator twelve years on, with a set of musicians no less accomplished than The Band and perhaps even more sympathetic to Dylan’s way of working on the hoof.

In those two years, the body of work Dylan and his band captured at Rundown Studios, between tours (and albums), is in many ways more impressive than the one he and The Band managed from their 1967 country retreat. The breadth of material tackled, if presented in its entirety, would certainly challenge that now available on the official ‘basement tapes’ Bootleg Series.

At least Trouble No More – the next Bootleg Series – more than hints at a Rundown facsimile of the ‘lost’ album Dylan could have recorded in the fall of 1980 – but didn’t! Frustratingly, when Dylan did finally enter the very same rehearsal studio where he demoed an album’s worth of new songs six months earlier, to begin the new album in March 1981, he had already discarded half a dozen strong compositions and begun to bastardize the lyrics to two defining post-conversion masterpieces, ‘Caribbean Wind’ and ‘The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar’.

By the time Dylan relocated to Chuck Plotkin’s Clover studio in late April 1981 to begin work on Saved’s successor in earnest, he was well on his way to making an album that was one-third filler (‘Heart Of Mine’, ‘Lenny Bruce’, ‘Trouble’) but just one-third killer. Yet Dylan himself would compare Shot Of Love with 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home, which to his mind once provided a similar ‘breakthrough point’.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the two ensuing tours – a summer tour of Europe and a fall tour of the States – would signal a rerouting of the holy slow train. By second tour’s end, few vestiges of that preternatural commitment to his newly-wrought gospel material remained.

When the second anniversary of his landmark November 1979 West Coast residencies came around, Dylan was still on the road, heading for the Florida swamplands. Yet all that he had embraced when baptised by Vineyard pastor Bill Dwyer was not washed away.

He would soon fuse the sensibilities he was reaching for on Shot Of Love on the no less apocalyptic Infidels (1983). But that is another story, from another time and place. This trenchant tract confines itself to straddling the great divide which separates the smooth-as-silk Slow Train Coming from the bear’s-arse monitor mix that is Shot Of Love, covering all bases between.

It connects the dots by drawing on a wealth of new information, much of which has not been in the public domain before. Hopefully, it will achieve its primary goal: to serve as a testament to the inspiration faith can bring when aligned to genius, making a case for a wholesale re-evaluation of the music Dylan made during his so-called religious period.

With the release of an 8-CD Deluxe Bootleg Series, the three studio albums will no longer be the be-all and end-all of the gospel years, and we are a whole lot closer to knowing what really happened, artistically. As always with Dylan, it turns out that the more we understand, the more we can enjoy…

Clinton Heylin Signing Trouble In Mind

Clinton Heylin signing copies of Trouble In Mind. Want one? Click here.

A History of Manchester Music in 13 Recordings

Paul Hanley’s book Leave The Capital refashions the history of Manchester music. He tells his story by plotting through 13 key recordings that helped shape the city and its music. These are the recordings. Click above to listen on Spotify or YouTube. Click here for more details on the book.

Leave the Capital: A History of Manchester Music in 13 Recordings.

‘Look Through Any Window’
The Hollies

‘Bus Stop’
The Hollies

‘No Milk Today’
Herman’s Hermits

‘East West’
Herman’s Hermits

‘A Groovy Kind Of Love’
The Mindbenders

‘Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs’
Brian and Michael

‘I’m Not In Love’
10cc

‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’
Buzzcocks

Unknown Pleasures
Joy Division

‘Bankrobber’
The Clash

Perverted By Language
The Fall

The Smiths
The Smiths

‘So Young’
The Stone Roses

Published in November 2017.

Click here to order an author signed copy.

Leave The Capital website

Paul Hanley blog

New Title | Trouble In Mind

Trouble In Mind: Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years – What Really Happened
by Clinton Heylin

‘When I get involved in something, I get totally involved. I don’t just play around on the fringes.’ – Bob Dylan

In 1979 there was… trouble in mind, and trouble in store for the ever-iconoclastic Dylan. But unlike in 1965-66, the artifactal afterglow – three albums in three years, Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot of Love – barely reflected the explosion of faith and inspiration. One has to look elsewhere, and in Trouble In Mind, Clinton Heylin has; connecting the dots on the man’s gospel years by drawing on a wealth of new information, newly-found recordings and new interviews. His primary goal? To make the case for a wholesale re-evaluation of the music Bob Dylan produced in these inspiring times.

‘The only Dylanologist worth reading.’ – New York Times

Trouble In Mind is the perfect accompaniment to the forthcoming gospel years bootleg series. Get yourself ready. The book is published 30 October 2017. Pre-orders will be shipped in advance of publication date. Be among the first to read it. Click here to pre-order an advance signed copy.

| See page for JUDAS! by Clinton Heylin |

 

New Title – Leave The Capital

New book by Paul Hanley refashions the history of Manchester music

Route is delighted to announce the acquisition of the debut book by legendary drummer Paul Hanley. His book, Leave The Capital, refashions the history of Manchester music and looks beyond the big bang theory of everything starting at the infamous Sex Pistols gigs at the Free Trade Hall. If that was the single catalyst, then why didn’t every other city the Sex Pistols play make such a significant response? Hanley argues that it was the existence of two top class recording studios in Manchester that made the difference: Strawberry and Pluto. To be able to record in their home town gave musicians the wherewithal to express themselves free from the shackles of the London-centric, music industry taste-police.

Hanley’s story gives credit where it’s due to the overlooked pioneers of Manchester music, and how Manchester made a much bigger contribution to the sixties’ ‘British Invasion’ than is generally acknowledged; Manchester bands were often lumped in with their contemporaries from Merseyside. Hanley illustrates that without the endeavours of Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders or Herman’s Hermits, there would never have been an Unknown Pleasures.

Route editor Ian Daley said of the acquisition, ‘There are many reasons why we love this book. It is a refreshing expansion of the Manchester music story, told with authority by someone who played his part in shaping its history. Paul’s passion for music and his home city pour off of every page, but this isn’t just a story of Manchester. It’s also an important account of how free cultural expression was wrestled from the stranglehold of the entertainment corporations in our capital city and how that inspired the development of new independent cultural industries in the North, a continuum that Route is very much a part of.’

***

When British bands took the world by storm in the mid-sixties, the world turned and looked at London. Despite the fact that the most successful of these bands hailed from the North West corner of England, for the USA, London was the source of these thrilling new sounds. And in many ways it was – The Beatles, The Hollies and Herman’s Hermits recorded all their hits with London-based producers, for London-based companies in London studios. And that’s how it remained, until four Mancunian musicians became alive to the possibility of recording away from the capital.

Against the prevailing wisdom, they opted to plough their hard-earned cash back into the city they loved in the form of proper recording facilities. Eric Stewart of The Mindbenders and songwriter extraordinaire Graham Gouldman created Strawberry Studios; Keith Hopwood and Derek Leckenby of Herman’s Hermits crafted Pluto. Between them they gave Manchester a voice, and facilitated a musical revolution that would be defined by its rejection of the capital.

This book tells the story of Manchester music through the prism of the two studios’ key recordings. Of course that story inevitably takes in The Smiths, Joy Division, The Fall and The Stone Roses. But it’s equally the story of ‘Bus Stop’ and ‘East West’ and ‘I’m Not in Love’. It’s the story of the Manchester attitude of L.S. Lowry, by way of Brian and Michael, and how that attitude rubbed off on The Clash and Neil Sedaka. Above all, it’s the story of music that couldn’t have been made anywhere else but Manchester.

***

Paul Hanley was the drummer in Manchester legends The Fall from 1980-85 and now plays with Brix & The Extricated.  He’s currently completing his English degree with the Open University and occasionally writes for Louder Than War. He’s married with three children and once got 21 on Ken Bruce’s ‘Popmaster’.

 

 Leave The Capital published in November 2017.

Leave The Capital website