“Well, I’ve been to London and I’ve been to gay Paree
I’ve followed the river and I got to the sea
I’ve been down on the bottom of a world full of lies
I ain’t looking for nothing in anyone’s eyes
Sometimes my burden seems more than I can bear
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there“
In 2016 Bob Dylan wrote the following words in his Nobel Banquet Speech: “When I started writing songs as a teenager, and even as I started to achieve some renown for my abilities, my aspirations for these songs only went so far. I thought they could be heard in coffee houses or bars, maybe later in places like Carnegie Hall, the London Palladium.” The fact that he at this point hadn’t been performing at the Palladium, brought a sense of mystery to the comment, but the mystery was solved the following year when he advertised three shows in that that very venue, late in April. Then again, there is no doubt, London had a special place in Dylan’s heart, and in his history, from the early beginning of his career until today (About 85 shows in London so far, the last in Hyde Park, June 2019.)
Andrew Muir delivers an enthusiastic foreword to this book, “Bob Dylan in London”, as much about his own relation to both Dylan and London, as about the book, giving a short overview of Dylan’s London History. In the Introduction, the authors makes it clear that this particular book is nicely bookended by Dylan’s first visit in 1962 and his visit to Camden in 1993. That makes this a nice Volume 1 of this story, I guess there’s lots of venues and stories, among them The London Palladium and Brixton Academy, to dig deeper into, at least in an extended version.
Most of the book focuses on the important visits to London the first years of Dylan’s career, from 1962 to 1966, and makes a really thoroughly job both in describing the venues, the story of the venues and placed visited, and what happened during Dylan’s visits, both on and off stage. How important the influence of the first visits to London really are in Dylan’s development as an artist might certainly be discussed, but the importance of the British folk songs and tradition in Dylan’s work is obvious for us all, and makes this book’s description of Dylan’s meetings and encounters with British folk singers, Martin Carthy and others, on his first trips to Europe, especially interesting. The story of the making of the “Subterranean Homesick Blues” video at the Savoy Steps is another highlight, including the shoot of the alternate version, up on the roof.
The story of Dylan’s visit to London, Earls Court and Blackbushe in 1978 is nicely described, both the hype, the expectations, the build-up to the shows and the performances. The fabulous tour of 1981 are only superficially mentioned (the complete show from 27th of June 1981 that’s included on “Trouble No More”, might be some of the best live recordings of Dylan officially released), something which also applies to later tours and concerts. There is a mix-up, though, I guess the authors already know – they are mentioning the performance of “Mary From The Wild Moor” like it happened in 1978, but this show and performance actually was in 1981. Then again, the beautiful story of Dylan in Camden in 1993, making the video for “Blood In My Eyes”, is revisited in full splendor.
The “cartoonish” illustrations in “Bob Dylan In London” is fabulous, made by Julia Wytrazek. Her drawings is joyful and to the point as they adds to the impression of this project being a true labor of love. Even a nice map is included for the purpose as an “Dylan Walking Guide” in the Streets of London.
The afterword sums it all up well: “London was the first tentative step out in to the world for a young Bob Dylan. And it was the perfect melting pot out of which he would emerge as an artist who would go on to conquer the world.” “Bob Dylan in London” makes a great contribution to substantiate this postulate.
If you love Bob Dylan, if you love London, if you love the memories of seeing Bob Dylan in London, or if you just hope to see Bob Dylan in London one more or for the first time, this is the book for you!
p.s. In another lifetime – or in Volume Two, I look forward to the complete list of all London shows and venues included. d.s.