Dylan and The Beatles… you often can’t separate them in rock history books. They did have a lot of shared experiences in common, even though the five of ’em were totally different in every way. But, really, Dylan has always stood apart from everything connected with his career. Liverpool, though, has more reasons than most to claim its piece of the myth. By Alan O’Hare. 

“At the intersection of Bold Street and Hardman Street, he stopped. ‘I’m at a crossroads, Rog’,’ he said. ‘I can see that, Bob,’ I said. ‘No. I mean my career, I don’t know which way to turn.’ ‘Seems clear to me, mate, let’s have a coffee and I’ll put you straight… ‘”
– ‘Bob Dylan and The Blue Angel’, by Roger McGough.

The Dylan Project is in town this week. Led by Fairport Convention legend Dave Pegg, the folk rockers pay tribute to the bard of Minnesota with a cross-section of his material played live just like the records you love. But, doing a bit of PR for ’em, my mind started to wander…

The Roger McGough poem quoted above has always been a favourite of mine. I used to frequent The Blue Angel in the late nineties and the thought that The Beatles and Bob Dylan had been there more than made up for the smell. Mostly. But it was just another magical chapter in the Dylan story.

Bob’s links with Liverpool are plentiful. Of course, there’s the time recently when he hopped on one of The National Trust’s tour buses unannounced and visited Mendips with a host of other tourists. This followed ‘Roll On John’, a song from 2012’s ‘Tempest’, in which Bob sang of the fallen Scouser: “I heard the news today, oh boy / They hauled your ship up on the shore / Now the city gone dark, there is no more joy / They tore the heart right out and cut him to the core… ” Dylan and Lennon were old sparring partners until John’s untimely end and enjoyed a competitive, if long-distance, relationship – who remembers the brilliant, ‘born-again-Bob’ aping ‘Serve Yourself’?

The evocative John Johnson image at the top of this tale reveals the location of Dylan’s first visit to Liverpool in 1966. On tour with the (B)and and playing half acoustic, half electric; this was the famous “Judas” trip and the time in which Dylan’s image was frozen in the world’s consciousness. Despite being in the midst of creative and personal turmoil – and allegedly out of his head most nights – Bob found the time for a wander around the city’s docklands before fetching up in Dublin Street with a bunch of kids.

Then there was Dylan’s ‘Summer Pops’ gig back in July 2001. Before the ECHO Arena arrived, we all used to spend the summer in a tent next to the Mersey watching our heroes live (and Jools Holland). 2001 was special as Dylan was the undisputed headliner and didn’t disappoint. Taking the stage with his newly-acquired Oscar in-hand (for the wonderful ‘Things Have Changed’), Bob gave a masterclass in economy and precision with a band that turned on a dime. Sure, he’s visited the ECHO Arena a few times since, but this was Dylan’s last truly great Liverpool performance.

I always say Dylan is like the Egyptian Pyramids these days… you know, you just have to go and have a look. But there’s been diminishing returns in the last decade. Luckily, we’ve always got the music.

The Dylan Project
Tuesday 12th December, 8pm
The Music Room
Get tickets

Pic by John Johnson