Sexual intercourse began In nineteen sixty-three (which was rather late for me) Between the end of the Chatterley ban And the Beatles' first LP.
ANNUS MIRABILIS – Philip Larkin
We mark our lives with memories of events. They are like milestones fixed with dates and locations – each one a significant part of the calendar of our own existence.
One such event passed us this week, the 50th anniversary of when a man stood up in the audience at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall on Tuesday 17th May 1966 and shouted out “Judas!”
When Bob Dylan (a.k.a Robert Allen Zimmerman born Duluth Minnesota 24th May 1941) first started playing he was into rock and roll music and particularly the pounding riffs of Little Richard. At Hibbing High School he played with the ‘Golden Chords’ group and once at the school talent show performing “Rock and Roll is here to stay” by Danny and the Juniors the head teacher unplugged them because he thought they were too loud. In September 1959 our Bob enrolled at the University of Minnesota and began to take an interest in American folk music…
…The thing about rock’n’roll is that for me anyway it wasn’t enough… There were great catch-phrases and driving pulse rhythms… but the songs weren’t serious or didn’t reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings."
Inspired by artists like Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams and Robert Johnson, Dylan began to write and record his own material. Songs like ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, ‘Masters of War’ and ‘The Times They are A’Changing’ became anthems for the American civil rights and anti-war movements…
“These were the songs that established [Dylan] as the voice of his generation—someone who implicitly understood how concerned young Americans felt about nuclear disarmament and the growing movement for civil rights: his mixture of moral authority and nonconformity was perhaps the most timely of his attributes.”
JANET MASLIN – ‘Freewheelin’
In August 1965 with the release of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ he swapped his usual backing of acoustic guitar and harmonica for drums, keyboards, electric guitars and rock rhythms. At over 6 minutes long this single marked a major change in his style…
“That snare shot sounded like somebody’d kicked open the door to your mind”.
Dylan played his first ‘electric set’ at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival where he was both cheered and booed off stage after just 3 songs. Some say that the booing was from folk fans who Dylan had alienated by appearing with an electric guitar. An alternative account claims audience members were upset by the poor sound and a short set. Pete Seeger, an old-time traditional folk singer, was so enraged by the sound quality that he threatened to cut the power cable with an axe. Dylan finally agreed to go back on stage and sing ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ and ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ with an acoustic guitar.
There were similar adverse reactions through his 1965/1966 tour of America, Canada, Australia, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom – with audiences feeling confused and betrayed by Dylan’s challenging reinterpretation of his music and the broody presence of The Hawks – the rock band that accompanied him…
“We travelled all over the world and people booed us everywhere we went. What a strange concept of entertainment. We’d go on to the next town and they’d boo us again and we’d pack up our equipment and go on to the next place and they’d boo us again.”
ROBBIE ROBERTSON – Guitarist with the Hawks.
By the time the tour reached England in May 1966 both Bob Dylan, the Hawks and the entire audience must have known what to expect. The so-called “Folk Revival” of the early 1960’s was definitely over. Its prophet Bob Dylan was no longer a ‘finger in the ear’ folkie but a full blown rock musician. At least 4 of his ‘electric’ records had been in the U.K charts and the latest, “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35”, was sitting comfortably at No. 7… and yet some people still wanted the protesting prophet back and would accept no substitute…
“It was unbelievable to see a hip-swinging Dylan trying to look and sound like Mick Jagger. For most it was the night of the big let-down.”
MELODY MAKER – May 6th 1966
“Dylan was sacrificing lyric and melody to the God of big beat.”
REVIEW OF THE DYLAN CONCERT IN BRISTOL – May 10th 1966
Dylan must have been aware of what some of his audience was expecting because he opened his Manchester gig in traditional style with a set of songs played on an acoustic guitar. It was during the second set when Dylan came on stage with the Hawks that the trouble started. In the pause between “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “Like a Rolling Stone” a member of the audience shouted out… ‘Judas!’ Dylan answered back, and told the man “I don’t believe you … you’re a liar!”, before he shouted to the members of the band to “Play it f—-ing’ loud!” before they finished off the set with “Like a Rolling Stone”…
“When Dylan came to the chorus and the line ‘How does it feel, to be on your own?’ he sang it as if his entire artistic existence hung on the answer.”
ROBERT SANTELLI – The Bob Dylan Scrapbook 1956-1966
Manchester has a long memory and on Tuesday, 17th May 2016 the Manchester District Musical Archive marked the 50th Anniversary of this defining moment in popular music by recreating the Bob Dylan concert again with a collective of local musicians including Jez Kerr of ‘A Certain Ratio’, Manchester guitar legend ‘George Borowski’ and BBC 6 Music favourite ‘Thick Richard’. Together they will interpret Dylan’s original performance and leave it up to the audience whether to recreate the famous heckle.
The famous heckle “Judas”
Like a Rolling Stone
Two people have claimed to be the ‘Judas’ heckler – John Cordwell and Keith Butler…
“I think most of all I was angry that Dylan… not that he’d played electric, but that he’d played electric with a really poor sound system. It was not like it is on the record [the official album]. It was a wall of mush. That, and it seemed like a cavalier performance, a throwaway performance compared with the intensity of the acoustic set earlier on. There were rumblings all around me and the people I was with were making noises and looking at each other. It was a build-up.
“Any pop group could produce better rubbish than that! It was a bloody disgrace! He’s a traitor!”
PHOTOGRAPHIC CREDIT: DYLAN AT FREE TRADE HALL – MARK MAKIN
— from Martyn Day