thu 18/07/2024

Bob Dylan, Hop Farm Festival | reviews, news & interviews

Bob Dylan, Hop Farm Festival

Bob Dylan, Hop Farm Festival

Sounding not unlike Dr Who's Davros, the Oracle becomes the Entertainer

His Bobness in action at Hop FarmImelda Michalczyk

Bob Dylan once described himself as ''just a song and dance man''. If the phrase was intended to debunk our veneration of him as the voice of a generation and to imply that he's just an old-fashioned entertainer in the great showbiz tradition, devotees have never believed him and have carried on seeking clues to the meaning of life in his work, campaigning for him to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and generally treating his every utterance as if he's the Oracle.

Yet at the Hop Farm deep in rural Kent on a cool, moonlit Saturday night, the serious artist was finally transformed into song and dance huckster, the itinerant storyteller at the fair on his Never Ending Tour, eager to entertain the crowd with a wicked grin and a wave of his arms, clasping his chest dramatically to emphasise a lyric, full of wit and acting out the stories he's telling. This was show-time and the effect is almost vaudeville.

In early years Dylan hid behind his guitar and harmonica brace. In more recent times, he has tended to stand modestly side of stage while stabbing at his Korg keyboard. Yet here he was centre stage with nothing but the microphone to shield him from us, striking his theatrical poses and ad-libbing the lyrics to "Things Have Changed", the song he wrote for the film The Wonder Boys.

He makes little attempt to sing in any conventional sense, but opts for a  sound not unlike Dr Who's arch-enemy, Davros

Dressed in dark suit and wide-brimmed grey hat and backed by a five piece besuited band, Dylan's interpretation of a song and dance man didn’t extend to anything as crude as a ''Hello Hop Farm!'' or ''Good night, Paddock Wood!''. The only time he spoke directly to the crowd was to introduce the band during "All Along the Watchtower". But this was Dylan as we have rarely seen on stage, eagerly hamming it up as he stood legs akimbo, chest puffed out and arms outstretched while he intoned the terrible tale of "Hollis Brown", a song that he wrote a long time ago about a different world.

The 16-song set drew more or less equally from both ends of his long career, ranging from a 50th anniversary version of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall", written during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and partly delivered in waltz time, to the frolicing rockabilly of "Thunder on the Mountain" from 2006's Modern Times.

There was nothing from his most recent set of songs, 2009's Together Through Life, or from the new studio album due this autumn. But 1960s classics "Ballad Of A Thin Man"," It’s All Over Now Baby Blue", "Highway 61 Revisited" and an elegiac, shimmering "Like A Rolling Stone" were balanced with seven songs from the mature late ripeness which began with 1997's Time Out Of Mind. Oddly, there was a gap of 30 years in the middle which was represented only by 1975's "Tangled Up In Blue".

Most of the time he made little attempt to sing in any conventional sense, but opted for a declamatory style that made him sound not unlike Dr Who's arch-enemy, Davros. It's not very musical but it's a terrific story-telling voice, rich in showmanship. Nor did he deliver every song from centre stage. With the once ever-present keyboard relegated to just one number (the opener "Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat"), the second surprise of the evening was the presence of a grand piano, which he sat behind for around half of the songs, even essaying an impressive, jazzy solo on "Love Sick".

''You think I'm over the hill, think I'm past my prime,'' he croaked on the jaunty "Spirit on the Water", flashing another sly grin from behind his grand piano. He might be a septuagenarian; but on this showing Dylan is far from done with us and we're not finished with him. Early reports suggests that the new album is a stunner.

The serious artist was finally transformed into song and dance huckster, the itinerant storyteller at the fair


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Sadly, I am on a pre-arranged holiday in Devon and missed Dylan at my "home" venue. But I am really heartened, if also regretful, that he was in such fine form at Beltring. I can't wait for either the next album or his next trip to the UK. Clearly, not dark yet.

Dylan out in the middle of the stage, giving us guitar, harp, piano, organ and smiles, was a revelation. He is so uncontrived these days to the point of quasi-goofiness. He has nothing to prove (no alibi ahem) and so much to give. To all us followers, each of whom thinks they are special interpreters of his prophecy, he gives us the world. I thought that version of Hard Rain was superlative, loved Spirit on the Water, and the echoey thing he did with Ballad of a Thin Man - with two mikes was great and it was all so original. Still buzzing 4 days later - and the whole band exudes confident, walking pace musicianship. Brilliant.

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