The Story Behind The Music: The Recording of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks

A brief overview of 4 days in a New York recording studio in 1974 when Bob Dylan commenced work on his masterpiece album, Blood on the Tracks. The full story of these sessions, take by take, is told in leading Dylan historian Clinton Heylin’s monograph No One Else Could Play That Tune: The Making Unmaking of Bob Dylan’s 1974 Masterpiece, a perfect companion to the Bootleg Series release More Blood, More Tracks. Get your copy here.

Monday 16th September 1974

‘It looked like old times at Columbia’s A & R Studio September 16th. John Hammond Snr. was there. Phil Ramone was working the board. Eric Weissberg and Barry Kornfeld, two old Gaslight regulars, were unpacking their guitars. And sitting out in the cavernous studio … practically hidden behind a battery of six microphones, Bob Dylan was creating another album. And it was almost as if Dylan were consciously conjuring up the ambience of the early sixties.’ – Larry Slowman, Rolling Stone

On 16th September 1974, Bob Dylan entered A & R Studios in New York to begin recording ‘Blood on the Tracks’. The studio was of course the magical place where he recorded his first 6 albums. His original producer John Hammond joined him in the studio on this night, an ‘historic moment’ for them both. Also with Bob was his girlfriend Ellen Bernstein. Studio boss Phil Ramone was at the engineer’s desk, with Glenn Berger as his assistant. Bob started the session warming up to the task with just himself, guitar and harmonica, reaching for the voice that would define Blood on the Tracks.

As I ran around the studio tweaking mic positions, he called off a tune. ‘Let’s do “Tangled Up In Blue” in G.’ He hit his guitar, but instead of a G chord, it was an A. He was playing in a different key from the one he had called off and the lyrics were [to] ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’. – Glen Berger, Assistant Engineer

Including that first take of ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’, he recorded 6 songs over 10 takes solo before being joined in the studio by Eric Weissberg’s band Deliverance, with whom he tackled 4 songs in 13 takes. There was little in terms of rehearsal, and the band were left to watch Bob’s hands for chord changes as he ploughed through the takes; no so easy with him playing in open tuning. One of the takes – ‘Meet Me In The Morning’ – made it through to the final cut of Blood on the Tracks and another – ‘Call Letter Blues’ – was later released on Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3. But it was the attempts of ‘Idiot Wind’ and ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ with just Bob and Deliverance bass player Tony Brown that would ultimately set the tone for the rest of the album…

Tuesday 17th September 1974

Dylan knew his vision for these songs, [which] was very pure and unadorned … Bob lived these words as he created them. Most of the tracks grew and changed organically … He knew as soon as he heard something whether or not it was what he was going for. It never took him more than one time to know … He worked so instinctively, more so than anyone I’ve ever worked with. – Ellen Bernstein, Columbia A&R person & girlfriend.

The feel for the album’s sound was starting to take shape on the second day of recording, with bass player Tony Brown the only member of Deliverance invited back for the session. Keyboardist Paul Griffin came in to try organ and piano on a few takes, sometimes with Brown, sometimes without. There was a change in the assistant engineer’s chair too, Glenn Berger who had sat in the chair on the 16th had moved next door to work with Mick Jagger on mixing a Rolling Stones live tape for radio broadcast. His chair was taken up by Rich Blakin.

In all there was less than half the takes of the previous day, but the session was no less productive. Five songs intended for the album were attempted over 13 takes, plus one warm-up cover. From this session, the fourth take of ‘Shelter From The Storm’ and the third take of ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’ made it all the way to the released album. The second take of ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’ was released later on Biograph and the second take of ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ was released on Bootleg Series Vol 1-3. An edited version of the first take of ‘Shelter From the Storm’ recorded this day featured on the soundtrack to the film Jerry Maguire.

By the end of the day, all 12 songs in consideration for the album had been attempted.

Wednesday 18th September 1974

On the third afternoon, Dylan was not so sure of himself and all he had wrought. As they began to mix songs from the master reels, a few takes fell foul of the review process, perhaps reflecting a darker mood on Dylan’s part. Engineer and studio chief Phil Ramone was busy mixing tracks pulled to master from the previous two days, and pedal steel player Buddy Cage was brought in to add overdubs on a few of the takes. As far as recording goes, this was the least productive day of the four. Bob had a go at recording ‘Buckets of Rain’ under the gaze of Mick Jagger in the control room, but abandoned it after four attempts. He left the studio early to go watch a concert and think about what he needed to do the following day to get the album he was hearing in his head.

Thursday 19th September 1974

Dylan cut the whole [album] in six hours on a Monday night … Then came back in on Tuesday and cut most of [it] again … That seemed to work, but it turned out not … On the Thursday, we recorded the album for a third time … Now that blew my mind. – Glenn Berger, assistant engineer.

On this fourth and final day of recording on the Blood on the Tracks New York sessions, a revivified Dylan was determined to finish what he had begun on the Monday. Starting proceedings at seven, he recalled Tony Brown, and Brown alone, to (re)capture the last few tracks. However, if Brown was thinking this will be like Tuesday – fourteen takes and home – he was soon disabused. It was 3.30am before Dylan was satisfied. By then, he and Brown had endured a recording marathon, capturing eight songs whole over a multitude of takes. Mick Jagger was once again looking on.

By the end of the evening, they recorded takes of ‘Buckets of Rain’ and ‘Simple Twist of Fate’ which would make it all the way to the final album. They also got takes of three further songs that would make it to the original test pressing of the album: ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’, ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ and ‘Idiot Wind’. Bob had his album… for now. Three months later a last minute change of heart would propel him to Sound 80 Studio in Minneapolis to rerecord five of the ten tracks that would appear on the released album. But that’s a different story…


The complete recordings from the sessions are now made available on the Bootleg Series release More Blood, More Tracks. For the full story on these historic sessions, let leading Bob Dylan historian Clinton Heylin be your guide in his limted edition monograph No One Else Could Play That Tune: The Making and Unmaking of Bob Dylan’s Masterpiece. After tracking down and interviewing just about every eye-witness still standing, and spending time at the Bob Dylan Archive in Tulsa with the two working notebooks of the songs, Clinton has created a highly evocative companion piece to the set. Get your copy here.

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The Story Behind the Music | The Sex Pistols TV Debut

September 4th 1976, Tony Wilson’s Granada TV show So It Goes broadcasts The Sex Pistols performance of ‘Anarchy in the UK’.

An abridged extract from Anarchy on the Year Zero by Clinton Heylin

For the Pistols, problems were a day-to-day occurrence, but so was a common determination to turn Rock on its head. And what better place to really shake ’em up than Manchester, second home to the band and the movement, and the first home of Granada TV studios. Because, after much toing and froing, the Pistols had been booked to close the last show in the first series of Granada’s late-night music show, So It Goes, compered by none other than Tony Wilson.

Although the show would not be going out live – they weren’t that stupid! – it was going to be recorded live to tape and with Tony Wilson on their side the Pistols hoped it might even be broadcast pretty much ‘as is’. Wilson’s producer was happy to go along with the majority of Wilson’s madcap ideas for the show, even if he hadn’t as yet realized that the Pistols closing the series might be a political statement on Wilson’s part…

…Wilson later claimed, ‘As they came off the stage there was complete silence, except for the footsteps of the producer coming down from the box to try to hit somebody.’ [So It Goes producer Chris] Pye dismisses that frankly incredible version as ‘nonsense’. He does, however, admit ‘we all sat around the following day going, “Fucking hell, what happened last night? What is David Plowright going to say?”’

The performance of ‘Anarchy In The UK’ on So It Goes is still probably the most alive rock performance ever shown on British TV. Even the point at which Matlock leans into the mike to sing the harmony line, realizes the mike doesn’t work and kicks it off the stage, works perfectly in the context of the order-from-chaos being caught on camera.

For the band, it was simply business as usual. But they still decided to make themselves scarce. As Matlock put it, ‘A few mike stands went over at the end of “Anarchy”, nothing more.’ Even if Wilson was later reprimanded, he remained the compere for So It Goes when Granada commissioned a second series, the following year. And this time the staid Mr Walker was nowhere to be seen.

The emphasis of the show would now be mostly, if not entirely, the wave of bands following in the Pistols’ wake. And to kick things into gear, Wilson decided a repeat broadcast of ‘Anarchy In The UK’ was in order. After all, only two regions had ever seen the show first time around – Granada (covering the North West) and London Weekend – coincidentally the two hubs on the punk machine. It also gave the Pistols an opportunity to catch it themselves, since the original broadcast went out on September 4th, while they were in Paris doing a number on the French disco scene.


Read the full story of this episode and its part in a revolutionary year for British music in Anacrchy in the Year Zero: The Sex Pistols, The Clash and the ’Class of 76.
Click here to order a hardback collector’s edition for just £10.

Prelude | A Coat Of Many Colours

Clinton Heylin’s prelude to What We Did Instead of Holidays: A History of Fairport Convention and It’s Extended Folk-Rock Family

As every self-respecting folk-rock fan knows, each and every Fairport Convention incarnation has burned bright but ne’er long. Between June 1968 and June 1974, England’s premier folk-rock band would release no less than ten albums, while passing through just as many line-up changes. Only one line-up – 1971’s – would manage two consecutive albums, Angel Delight and Babbacombe Lee, before it was also rent apart by inevitable divisions.

Their most acclaimed configuration – the line-up responsible for the groundbreaking Liege & Lief (1969) – lasted barely four months, playing only a handful of gigs before losing singer Sandy Denny and founding father-figure, bassist Ashley ‘Tyger’ Hutchings, to aftershocks from a twice-fatal motorway crash. No wonder the band at times preferred to call itself Fotheringport Confusion (a reference to the number of members from Sandy’s post-Fairport combo who later joined her parent band).

But it would be the alumni from the era of the four consecutive classic Fairport albums, What We Did On Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking, Liege & Lief and Full House – recorded between June 1968 and April 1970 – who would challenge even their parent band’s prodigious output.

Ian Matthews, who would leave Fairport halfway through Unhalfbricking, went on to record an astonishing ten albums between 1969 and 1973, three of them with the chart-topping Matthews Southern Comfort. Ashley Hutchings, who quit less than a year later, would be responsible for eight projects between 1970 and 1973, three with Steeleye Span, his first reconfiguration of the English folk-rock sound and ultimately its most successful exponent.

As for Richard Thompson, after his own January 1971 departure he would record three era-defining albums over three-and-a-half years: Henry The Human Fly, I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight and Hokey Pokey – the latter two with new singing partner, Linda.

Such an outpouring of product was possible because of a unique confluence of Circumstance: a commercial climate which abounded in the British MusicBiz for the first and last time, collectively brought about by a handful of young ambitious producer-managers, astute independent label-owners who catered entirely to the new ‘prog’ audience (and ceding artistic control to the bands themselves), complementing a family of musicians constantly pushing each other to define their place in the ever-changing panoply of popular song.

’Twas a time when Fairport were spoken of in the same breath as Led Zeppelin, with whom they famously jammed at LA’s Troubadour in September 1970, and Pink Floyd, with whom they shared a legendary show at the UFO the night Syd lost his mind and Richard Thompson blew a fair few minds – George Harrison’s included – with a thirty-minute reinterpretation of Paul Butterfield’s ‘East/West’. ’Twas also a time when Hutchings’s Steeleye Span not only toured with the Aqualung-era Jethro Tull, but enjoyed a Top Ten album in the wake of that nationwide jaunt.

Sympathetic to this synergy of style and English content, the producers and label-heads behind the proscenium gave the various Fairporters enough rope to play the jolly hangman. Which is why manager-producers Joe Boyd and Sandy Roberton and Island boss Chris Blackwell loom almost as large in this history of English folk-rock as many a fairweather Fairporter. This trio oversaw and/or rubber-stamped most of the albums that spouted from the folk-rock faucet during this six-year window of opportunity.

And what artifacts poured forth. If Fairport would never again scale the heights achieved between June 1968 and December 1970 – a period which didn’t just produce four classic LPs, but also a series of endlessly inventive BBC sessions and landmark gigs no one who witnessed them ever forgot – the members they shed more than took up the slack.

For Ashley Hutchings, the band’s founder and erstwhile leader, there would be ever-varying calibrations of English folk-rock, each more challenging than the last. Steeleye’s debut, Hark! The Village Wait, the Albion Country Band’s No Roses and the dance-rock experiment Morris On, were just three of the works he conceptualised in the two years after Liege & Lief’s December 1969 release.

Not content with that blistering burst, over the next eighteen months he threatened to make the Albion Country Band a more authentic version of Fairport folk-rock than Fairport itself, before the psychological scars of a 1969 road crash caught up, driving him to the wiles of Sussex where the healing could begin.

When it came to the star-crossed Sandy Denny, there would be the brave new world of Fotheringay, whose eponymous debut caused almost as many ripples in 1970’s rocky estuary as her Fairport parting glass, Liege & Lief. That band, though, foundered on the rocks of band-finances and irresolvable arguments about who should be the sea captain. Three promising solo albums followed before Fairport again clutched her to their bosoms for one more sea voyage in 1974-75.

Richard Thompson, the guitar wizard who co-founded Fairport with Ashley Hutchings and Simon Nicol back in July 1966, when barely out of school, came to the realisation no single band could house him or hold him down late. The second of that triumvirate to fly the coop, Thompson would carve his name into the very fabric of folk-rock with his first solo effort, Henry The Human Fly (1972), perhaps English folk-rock’s finest moment.

When that album crashed and burned, critically and commercially, he simply rebooted the brand and bounced back with I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, the first of six albums with the angel-voiced Linda Thompson (aka Peters). This duo would carry the folk-rock brand into the eighties, making music as vital and enduring as any British singer-songwriters in those halcyon days.

But having failed to dent the charts with any of the cult classics which made them critical darlings, the couple parted not as friends. Their bitter musical divorce came in May 1982, documented nightly on a fateful American tour promoting their swansong, Shoot Out The Lights, shows which have become steeped in rocklore for reasons only partially rooted in the musical cliff edge they skirted.

Ian Matthews’ once promising post-Fairport career hit the buffers Stateside after he took Jac Holzman’s Elektra shilling at the end of 1972. Thankfully, the albums he made in 1971-72 – If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes, Tigers Will Survive, Journeys From Gospel Oak and the two Plainsong albums – continue to reward repeated listens.

Unfortunately, the deal he made with the devilish Holzman required him to disband Plainsong, rather than release their second attempt at a post-Fairport sound worthy of the original. Like Ashley, the singer would never again find the drive and determination to make five quality albums in two years. Like his fellow Fairporters, Matthews would plough on regardless, trading on the faint name-recognition his early output still accords him.

When it came to Fairport itself – left rudderless by the departures of Denny and Hutchings in November 1969 and cut creatively adrift when Thompson quit in January 1971 – Island Records continued picking up the tab as it toyed with projects suggested in turn by Simon Nicol (Angel Delight), and furious folk fiddler, Dave Swarbrick (the folk-rock opera Babbacombe Lee and Rosie).

After finally they chanced on a quasi-folk, quasi-soft-rock niche – part-Fotheringay, part-Fairport – in time to produce the eclectic Nine (1973) and a patchy reunion album with Sandy Denny, Rising For The Moon (1975), put the original English folk-rock vehicle in reverse for good.

Though the band, in name only, would bounce from pillar to post for another four years, lasting till August 1979, the brand name had been irredeemably tainted by too many mediocre albums since their late sixties heyday.

By then, the cold wind of social and political change had blown in a new business-first spirit, at odds with the creative free-for-all that had afforded so many talented musicians the opportunity to put the Great back in British pop music; for a while, a fair few innovators had snuck under the radar and into the shops and hearts of its many music fans. The land where Henry the Human Fly, Poor Will and the Jolly Hangman, the Poor Ditching Boy, Matty Groves and the Blackleg Miner could roam free was no more.

Thankfully, a whole lot of folk-rock is their enduring legacy. The substantial soundtrack to their own wacky story is an impressive body of music this single band of brothers and sisters produced over a decade and a half; each and every note inspired by that folk-rock codex first formulated in a house in Muswell Hill that the Nicol family rented out to pay the bills. Which is where our story begins, on a day in 1965, when a certain potential tenant, a working stiff his friends called ‘Tyger’, descends on a house called Fairport, hoping to rent a room above a converted doctor’s surgery…

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And a tow, row, row, row

Michael Nath paid tribute to Mark E Smith at an event at the Poetry Café. Covent Garden, London, ‘A Celebration of Mark E Smith and The Fall’ held on Monday 12th February, a few short weeks after Mark’s death. Here’s what Michael read on the night.

And a tow, row, row, row, row.
In memory of the Captain …

  1. Who gave life to words like ‘Kentledge!’

  2. Who used scat-sounds against Slaughter and the Dogs, for they ran out of lyrics in ‘Cranked up Really High’. The Captain never ran out … ‘Ba ba me-oo me-oo’.

  3. Who blew his nose on stage. Oh to have kept the tissue, and sold morsels to sinners! The Nightingales supported, in Country and Western shirts. Sheffield, 29th October 1981.

  4. 30th April 1982. Retford. The Fall played the legendary ‘Backdrop’. By 2008, I’d confirmed this. The support group were from Iceland: Don’t forget the Cod War! (I’d feared my old man might be conscripted.) In the audience, punks and miners scrapped. It was hard, but it was merry.

  5. In ‘Garden’, what got me was the gather-and-surge. Like, There’s always more, where that came from! You’ll not be left alone … 26 years on, it was the power-surge in ‘Slippy Floor’: that got me like Yeats, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen, Part VI – where he raises demons.

  6. 7th Oct 1985, or was it 1597?, I saw the Cap and Brix on Princes Street, just above Waverley Station. He wore zipped boots, and looked like Allan (“Sniffer”) Clarke – Leeds Utd No.8. Mrs McRae confused ‘My New House’ with Shakin Stevens’ chart topper. At night we drank whisky and cloves.

  7. Aug ’88. The Captain left Tollcross Supa-Store with a bag of mini-Marathons and a pack of Superkings. His overcoat was good and he bore a doctor’s bag. I didn’t say hello on this occasion either.

  8. There are far lovelier songs than ‘Edinburgh Man’, the gist of which was only that whisky was served in ¼ gill measures in some pubs in Fountainbridge. So a large Scotch gave you 1/8 of a pint – in England only 1/12. 1/8 is a drink, 1/12 a kind of dampness in the glass. I will not list far lovelier songs.

  9. The gigs at The Forum weren’t up to much. Nonetheless, I saw myself in them.

  10. Nov ’98 at The Astoria. He tidied up after the group. They were young, and left their things all over the shop. My pal Nick Groom took this image away.

  11. September 2014. I came upon Brix at a Route/Rough Trade event: Last time I saw you, you were rotating on a burger! She ‘laughed’.

  12. Let us pause on the Captain’s total humour: the word for such humour is hilaritas. So I learned from the letters of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, hanged at Flossenbürg, April 9th 1945.

  13. I’ve mentioned years and intervals and dates. So a genuine cult comprehends your time. You can measure yourself, without leftovers. A genuine cult also takes your time: think of Dragnet. Of course there was life before The Fall, but it was unredeemed – like the time of the virtuous Greeks.

  14. Kentledge’ is a word for ballast, something Captains know to be vital.

And green grow the hedgerows along the walls … ’

Click here to listen to Michael discuss The Fall in a podcast ‘A Drink With Michael Nath’ recorded in July 2010. Fall discussion begins at 32:33

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.

Ian Clayton | Bringing It All Back Home Interview

ianc-biabh-outtake

As Ian Clayton’s Bringing It All Back Home approaches its tenth anniversary, and we prepare to mark the occasion at the Pontefract Festival of Stories, here is an interview Ian conducted about the book in 2006, prior to publication. In ten years, the book has been on a journey of its own, and with each person who has read it, and every review written, something new has been brought to its essence. This then, an interview conducted before the book entered the world, gives insight into its conception and original intent.


Ian Clayton answers questions about Bringing It All Back Home in a public house in the Castleford Potteries, a traditional drinking hole adjacent to a dilapidated old tin hut which was once home to a school where a young Henry Moore began his education.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about why you wanted to write this book?

A: It’s just some stories that I’ve been telling for years and never written down. Most stories circulate in their own neighbourhood, you might call this a gang of stories bursting out of where they are from.

Q: The book is essentially about music, but in it you do talk a lot about the value of the stories and the power of storytelling.

A: It starts with sounds really. If you enjoy music it’s because you’ve enjoyed sounds as a kid. The sounds can be anything, from listening to birds whistling in the morning to listening to the sounds of the street where you live, to listening to arguments. In my case I listened to a lot of arguments because I grew up in a house full of them. I listened to what people were shouting to each other about. And it’s a learning thing then. Because I tried to understand what the arguments were about and in trying to understand what arguments are about I get an understanding of what people are about. So that’s the first part of it, listening to sounds, listening to noises. I always enjoyed listening to what was going on, it could be my old grandad telling stories, could be old neighbours telling ancient stories about what their lives were about and what entertained them.

I listened to a lot of radio when I was a kid, so that’s a really big memory for me. Radio Luxemburg in my case, sometimes the pirate radio stations I got to hear. The few records that we had I enjoyed and on top of that are the stories that children tell each other at schools, and I always got something out of that; playground games, rhymes, songs that kids were singing in playgrounds, stories that kids were telling in playgrounds.

Then above that I grew up in a place where working men’s clubs were strong; they always had entertainment at weekends and I’d hear songs coming out of those places. These songs were contemporary in a way because the songs that turns were singing in working men’s clubs were up to date, but also old fashioned because they were presented in a way that entertainment to working people had been presented for a hundred years, right back to the music halls. And although I didn’t know it when I was a kid, thirty years later I would become fascinated by music hall and I think the fascination is because that was the music I was hearing as a kid. The songs that my relatives and friends and neighbours were singing coming out of working men’s clubs wasn’t much different to what people had been listening to for a hundred years or more. So that’s the starting point really. The starting point isn’t pop music, rock music or folk music or any kind of music, it’s sounds; sounds of my neighbourhood, my street, my school playground, my family home and places of entertainment, which was working men’s clubs.

Q: You’re saying that fascination with stories and the fascination with music is inseparable. So your pursuit of music which is outlined in this book, is that a pursuit of stories and other places?

A: I can’t separate anything, I never have been able to. It’s what is usually wrapped up as culture by better educated, more culturally aware people. They will say that conversation, music, art, creativity, reading, stories, dance, however we choose to express ourselves creatively, is culture. I never got the opportunity to see anything beyond the confines of my town where I lived until I was a young man, so for the first sixteen years of my life my culture was wrapped up in my environment and what that means. So anything that is coming to me is synthesised really. If I hear a record that is on Radio 1, I don’t hear it on Radio 1, I hear it in my kitchen on a wireless. And so it means something because of that.  Therefore when I hear The Kinks singing ‘Lola’, I don’t think of it as a band that is recording in London as part of a 1960s, early 1970s pop culture, I hear it as part of an everyday occurrence coming from a wireless or a record in my house. I don’t recognise the pop music industry as a separate entity to my everyday life, it’s just another part of what I’m listening to or experiencing.  To be precise when I think of ‘Lola’ it makes me recall a caravan holiday at Withernsea on the Yorkshire coast, which is a long way from ‘old Soho where they drink champagne and it tastes just like cherry cola’.

Q: There are many journeys in the book, lots of starting points that lead you to other stories; finding a blues record in a second hand shop in Cornwall leads you to Bessie Smith’s deathbed; listening to the wireless leads on to you being on the wireless, to making radio. Have you educated yourself through these things?

A: It’s utilising experience. I didn’t think this when I was younger, I’m not even sure I’m completely aware of what I’m doing now, but I think that if the metaphor for life is the journey, then part of that metaphor is experiences.  If life’s journey is about experiences that you have in life, then it necessarily follows that one experience must lead to another and that if you can enjoy and learn from those experiences then your natural and instinctive inquisitiveness leads you from one experience to the next. I don’t have any qualms about making the leap from the general hubbub of noise in my backyard to the concert hall where I go to see my first opera.

Q: The world is awash with music and we get it pumped at us on a regular basis. How do you discern, what is it that interests you in a piece of music? How do you make your steps?

A: You’re touching on taste there. I think authenticity is the word. If with expression – whether it be musical, storytelling or however you choose to express yourself – if you are doing that with sincerity then it necessarily follows that it is an authentic experience of who you are, where you are from, what you are aiming towards and what you are trying to understand in order to transfer that understanding to somebody else. If you take an old music hall song that my grandad used to sing, I think that’s a great thing because it’s the popular music of that time and it’s meant something to his life and therefore meant something to mine because I’m part of him. If you take a Blue Note jazz record by Ike Quebec or Art Blakey it’s completely out of my experience in real terms but I can see what they are doing, expressing something which is dear to them or near to them, so that’s important. I’ve listened to African music, I’ve never been to West Africa or Central Africa, but I enjoy the music of Congo and Mali because I can see what they are doing, that they are expressing something which is close to them, meaningful and authentic.

Q: As you’ve travelled through your life and you’ve made journeys and connections, as you’ve moved from one thing to another there is a sense in the book of collecting and hoarding as you go along and you fill your house. There is this talk of your ‘head being your house and your house being your head’. What is this instinct about? You may hear the hubbub of a playground, but that is a transient and passes by, why is it you feel the need to collect music and artefacts?

A: I think it might be primitive. Most human beings who have nothing try to acquire and once they’ve acquired they try to keep.  Here again I don’t separate the collections in my house from the collections in my head.  Playground hubbub is transient, but even though it doesn’t sit on a shelf in my house it is filed somewhere in my head.

I don’t want to make a big sociological argument for this book, but I think working-class people like to acquire things that they haven’t got and they hold them. My record collection is pristine and I don’t want to hurt it, I want it be as good as it was when I got it. There is a passage in this book that is very important to me and that is when I was a little boy I liked to collect things because I didn’t want them to be lost. I used to collect things that were washed up from the sea at the seaside because it seemed to me they were very lonely; pieces of wood with bits of writing on that were once crates for fruit or vegetables, once were boxes that had things in them and now were destroyed and tossed about on the waters. I saved stuff like that because it seemed to me that it was more important to render them not lost. I don’t know if that connects. I think it probably does actually, if you render something not lost anymore it connects to something that’s been created, so something that’s found is as important as something that is made. I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the last few years, while creativity is a good thing for all human beings to be involved in – and I have been involved in a lot of creativity in my life – I think that finding things is just as important and what you can do with things that you find is great.

Q: There are lots of references in the book to your desire as a young man to make maps. You had this very early, almost romantic fascination about foreign places and wanting to create maps. Is your library and record collection and your trinkets some kind of map of your life?

A: Yes they are, they are places on a map, it’s a progressive route. I also think that I’m very romantically and sentimentally attached to my hometown and I want it to be as important as other people’s hometowns. I’ve been upset over the years that there are certain northern English working class towns that don’t get the recognition that they deserve. I’ve sophisticated this idea over the years – I didn’t know this when I started to think about it – but it seems to me that my hometown is as important as anybody else’s hometown anywhere in the world. So, if I can find something from another place and compare it to something that’s from where I’m from and share the comparisons and draw the significances, then it lifts my hometown up to their level, or the level that they perceive themselves to be at. It’s a way of drawing maps and drawing lines between places. This is what I’ve heard from your place, now listen to something coming from mine.

Q: The title Bringing It All Back Home is in many ways about a dialogue. Exactly what you have just described, a dialogue between what you have, what you can bring to it and what you can export as well.

A: I don’t think there is any point in making any journey whatsoever if you are not going to take anything with you as well as bring something back. I despise the idea of being a cultural tourist; I don’t want to be one. That means to say that the only thing you will ever do is go to somewhere to see what you can get from it. I’d rather take something with me and then it works both ways.

Q: If this book represents your journey so far, where do you go from here? What is interesting you now, what musical journeys do you expect to embark on?

A: I’ll carry on doing what I do. It’s undefined. We talk about maps, we talk about compass directions, we talk about journeys, and journeys always suggest that there is a start and a middle bit and that you come to some kind of end. This book doesn’t work in that way because it goes round and round. Time isn’t accounted for, geographical location isn’t accounted for, except to say that there are certain places and comparisons that I have made. I think that there are towns in America and Eastern Europe and Asia that have got more in common with where I’m from than places in the south of this country.

The hardest thing of all to deal with has been the terrible family tragedy that befell us.  As I was coming to the end of this book my daughter Billie died in a canoeing accident.  My partner Heather encouraged me to write about this and include it in the book. Billie’s death has ended many journeys for me. A lot of my life now, both professionally and personally, is going to be trying to work out how to restart the journey. I don’t want to make a big thing about it, but it just seems that a lot of endings have come all at the same time; working on a book that’s finished, having a child in your family that has died, doing some cathartic thing like getting a lot of stories out of you means that they’re not in you anymore. There’s a lot of endings that have come all at once.

Q: On the idea of time and how things connect to each other across all different sorts of levels, there’s a section in the book called ‘A Seed Doesn’t Stay in the Ground Forever’, do you see that there are seeds in the book that are part of that continuum, is there stuff in there that you will relate to and bring round again.

A: Of course there is. Nothing ever ends in that sense. There are resonances in this book coming from hundreds of years ago, which means that there will be echoes in years to come. It’s finding that ear for both resonance and echo and I’ll do it. At the moment I’m a bit lost with that, I’m not quite sure what a lot of things mean anymore and I’m not sure what is going to be important anymore. I’ll just find it, it’ll happen. I’ve never planned, it’s always been quite an anarchic journey, sometimes I think the harder I try to make the maps the more I throw them away.

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>>Pontefract Festival of Stories
>>Bringing It All Back Home
>>Ian Clayton Website

 

 

 

The Screen on the Green

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29th August 1976 was the day Punk in the UK exploded. The Screen On The Green was McLaren’s big play – his first opportunity to show that three bands was indeed a movement. The three key bands played together on the same stage for the first time. Buzzcocks first foray to London. The Clash’s first ever public gig billed as Clash, and Sex Pistols, the trailblazers, headlining with a storming set to underline their dominance. And the punk crowd came out to play in all their finery, putting on their best bin bags and strutting their stuff.

Enjoy all three sets. Links below.

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Buzzcocks – Screen on the Green, Islington, August 29th, 1976

Audio. Buzzcocks set from The Screen on the Green Mid-Nite Special.

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Clash – Screen on the Green, Islington, August 29th, 1976
Audio. Clash set from The Screen on the Green Mid-Nite Special, their second public gig and first time they were billed as Clash.

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Sex Pistols – Screen on the Green, Islington, August 29th, 1976
Audio. Sex Pistols set from The Screen on the Green Mid-Nite Special

Read all about this night, what it meant and how it fitted into the explosion that was Anarchy in the Year Zero.

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