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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Saturday, May 24, 2008


...which means of course that Bob Dylan is 67 years old today. He's taking very little time off: he starts his European tour the day after tomorrow in Reykjavik, Iceland.

(I went there only once, and that was 30 years ago when I was sheltering briefly from the cold of the freelance writing life and ran the London press office of United Artists Records. We had the Stranglers, and for publicity's sake took a plane-load of journalists and liggers over to Iceland - a novel venue for a "big-name act" at the time - to see them perform in a Reykjavik nightclub. It was broad daylight when we went into this great barn of a building in the very late evening, and broad daylight again by the time we came out in the very early morning. Inside the hall, I was astonished to have a local punter recognise me as the author of Song & Dance Man, more than five years after its publication. This was some compensation for having to put up with the Stranglers.)

Back in the UK May 24th was always Empire Day - everything passes, everything changes - and the day when, eleven years before Bob Dylan's birth, Amy Johnson, daughter of a Hull fish merchant, completed the first solo flight to Australia. Her Gipsy Moth landed in front of an enormous cheering crowd at Port Darwin. (I've never been there.)

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Tomorrow, May 23rd, marks the 40th anniversary of the eruption of serious political revolt in Europe, with riot police charging student demonstrators in the Boulevard St Michel in Paris. Three months later Chicago police battered demonstrators outside the Democratic Party Convention, and two months after that came “the battle of Grosvenor Square”, London, as the police attacked the demonstrators outside the US embassy. I was one of the demonstrators in London, and remember seeing newspaper photographers taking pictures of one policeman being kicked by one demonstrator while yards away four or five policemen were beating the shit out of some half-naked hapless youth backed up against a police van, his head bleeding. "Why don't you take a picture of that?!" I yelled. The response was just a cynical smirk. Then the police on horseback ordered us all into one little corner of the square, and when they'd got us crammed in there, they charged us. I'd been a bit of an innocent about Britain's wonderful police before that.

By 1970 I was living in a cottage in a North Devon village with a very young family, and starting to write Song & Dance Man. When the general election came around, stuck in this deeply conservative rural constituency, we put two posters in the window. One, a favourite harking back to the glories of 1968, printed in black and white, declaimed PARIS LONDON ROME BERLIN - WE SHALL FIGHT AND WE SHALL WIN. The other was home-made, and showed the landowning Tory farmer candidate, with the slogan WOULD YOU BUY A SECOND-HAND COW FROM THIS MAN? In the event, he was beaten by the narrowest possible margin - about 15 votes, I believe - by the Liberal candidate, party leader Jeremy Thorpe, shortly afterwards to be mired in sleaze.

Heady days...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I've been booked to perform In Search of Blind Willie McTell (a DVD-illustrated talk and reading) at the 10th Stamford Guitar Festival at the Arts Centre in Stamford, Lincs, without question one of England's loveliest towns. It'll be a return visit for me: I gave a Dylan talk there in 2002, and then appeared on the lower reaches of the bill at the 2004 Guitar Festival. This time my slot is 4.30pm on Saturday June 7th, and tickets for the whole three-day fest, or for a day, or for just that evening, are on sale online here or by phoning 01780 763203.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


The first paperback edition of The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, with its text updated since the hardback of 2006, has been delayed until mid-June on both sides of the Atlantic. For me at least, better news is that my 2007 book Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell has been shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize for Biography. Regardless of who will win (the winner is usually announced during the Edinburgh Festival in August), this is a really big step for me, and real affirmation. Not to mention very exciting...