Sidmouth 2010: In search of Nic Jones

In search of Nic Jones

                                                                                                                   Last week witnessed my first visit to an English folk festival in thirty eight years. The whole idea began with a chance invite from an unknown and faceless person on Facebook who impressed upon me that it was really of utmost importance for me to get myself down to Sidmouth in Devon for the 4th August to see Nic Jones. Now Nic was a singer who has been a seminal influence in my life since my chance discovery of him on vinyl during the mid-seventies  at a time when my life’s course and my sense of personal identity were swinging around wildly. His music deeply inspired and moved at that time, a offering a still and seemingly timeless space amid all of the turmoil I seemed embroiled in. 

I remember a time on a darkest winter’s day in a cottage in Lancashire that then served as home  when I was meant to be packing  before heading off with my then wife for Christmas holidays with the in-laws. I had that very day bought Nic’s unpromisingly entitled album ‘The Noah’s Arc Trap’ as a present to myself then taken it home to listen – then listen and listen again as his riffs filled the beamed cottage fit to bursting with its life and sense of invention. I forget now who originally recommended the album but I will remain forever in their debt. The freedom with which Jones interpreted and enlivened traditional song was transfixing.

I was disturbed from my reverie by my then wife, hands on hips, not unreasonably protesting ‘Come on, come on. Take the needle off that record! You have sat there listening to it three times already while I have done all the packing and wrapping. You are just being difficult, not wanting to see my parents’.’No it is not that I am being difficult’ I said, lamely. But in truth I could not even say what it was that had inhabited me except that this music had me rooted to the spot. I knew that I would be at deep loss during a week of turkey eating without it. Cold turkey indeed.  I needed this music to seep deep in my soul before the journey that would render me apart.

I learned about ten years later with a sense of profound shock that Nic had been involved in a car accident that was to take him out in his prime and that his existence had been hanging since.  I had never seen him perform live and the promise that he would be there at this event ‘In Search of Nic Jones’ helped me understand just how much I wanted to pay homage. Perhaps I also wanted to be in search of the me that was back then,  to establish whether even a shard of that younger self that resonated to his music was still accessible after all these years.

 Great though my initial enthusiasm was to make this pilgrimage to Sidmouth, it was tested by the discovery that the Sidmouth festival was a week long, with Nic’s elegy occurring towards the end of the festivities.  But I reminded myself that this call had come from seemingly nowhere, and I have learning of late to respond to such calls. I wished to discover where these synchronicities might land me; for just as folk music is imbued with ‘call and response’ themes, so here was I enacting a twenty first century parallel process of responding to an isolated – probably random – electronic signal. From the devil to a stranger.  I cleared my diary and awaited my fate.

A flurry of preparatory activity ensued, it being a long time since I had been camping and kit needed to be bought. It was also a long long time since I had been to a folk festival . How would it be and how might it have changed? And where might I fit in at all? Over the years I have remained a folk aficionado but I am not active in clubs or with a band right now, since my last great Irish experience nine years ago. And English folk is quite different, I know. Would there be a place for hangers on such as me or would I be cast to that outer darkness beyond the Morris ring among the ice-cream eating lollygaggers? 

The reality involved a week spent in a field perched high above an untouched Edwardian seaside town with a view across hills though with the ocean tantalizingly beyond sight. The camp site was some distance from town so we revellers were somewhat incongruously bussed into town each day and back again every evening by a continuous relay of yellow double-decker’s piloted by local bus drivers. These seasoned souls seemed glad to be relieved of the tedium of their regular routes for the somewhat more colourful transportation of roots people to their place of desportment.

As the week wore on this bus journey became an increasingly more enjoyable part of the whole experience. Living alone in a tent meant that it was not always easy to strike up conversation with fellow campers who bedded down in twos or more, nor was it that easy for me to chat at the festival events where people were preoccupied with rehearsing, or rushing at break neck speed towards their next encounter with lyrical enactment.

But the liminal space that waiting for the bus and traveling on the bus afforded lots of room for casual and not so casual encounters.  I grew to realise that this time on the bus signified an important transitional marker between the partial construction of the various performers within the confines of their tents and their full blown and often dramatic revelation to their awaiting public once down town. On the camp site we were a distinctly unglamorous and sometimes even surly lot, attending to the basic functions at the bottom of the needs hierarchy;  dumb witness to each other going through the same primitive rituals of publicly washing or tooth brushing while sharing the same scarce water; or heading resignedly towards the barely functional toilet blocks and showers. 

This limp and largely silent procession was all the while accompanied by stray chords of muted music struck or blown on instruments of all types, with players half visible through the entrances of tents tuning up and practicing for the day ahead.  Some were simply practicing for practicing’s sake. The man in the tent next to me played only Leonard Cohen’s ‘Alexander Dreaming’ at just above my hearing threshold for three days on three different instruments purely for his own delectation.  

Between the flapping of tent doors there was revealed to the inquisitive eye – and who can resist staring into neighbours tents? –  tantalising glimpses of people’s preparation for the transformation of their hitherto lumpen forms into the exotic and very un-British dancing creatures resplendent in the full regalia that the rites of Morris and other traditions demand.  And some of the younger and more impudent among us were creating before our very eyes their own new traditions, involving costumes that seemed to incorporate artefacts stolen from the modern idiom as well as invoking a nod to the past.

By the time the need to be getting on the bus came around  these rare creatures were almost fully but not quite assembled as there were last minute adjustments to be made on the trip to meet their respective audiences. In these moments you could still see the joins between 21st century man and the medieval players that they were soon to be transfigured into.  The I-phone action for example – as they checked whether the accordionist has in fact been rescued from the pub the night before – tended to be a bit of a giveaway. For one marvellous heart jolting moment I was disturbed from a dreamlike state on the top deck of the bus by the  sound of a thousand bells clanging in unison as an unfeasibly large Morris troupe raced as fast as their costumes and boots would allow towards our soon to be departing charabanc. Breathlessly alighting the platform, they then clanked up the stairs in glorious cacophony to join us rudely awakened on-lookers. This was no less than the sound of war that had brutally disturbed our peace, a rallying cry that stirred the blood as the protagonists – uncompromising  and fierce in full war paint – breasted the top of the stairs in menacing procession.

Once decanted off the bus into the town square these creatures assumed their full majestic plumage, dramatically realising their altered identities, silently looking each other in the eye; perhaps quietly incanting whatever the medieval equivalent of ‘This is Show Time’ might be. Rival dancers from other troupes observed then obliquely, comparing costumes in a posture of cool scrutiny – while the tourists – the much maligned  ‘grockles’ of which there were many – gawked in slack jawed astonishment at the sheer volume and colour of the pageant that was unfolding in front of them. It was clear from their reaction that this was not at all what they were expecting when they sleep-walked in search of candy floss into this quiet sea side town.  

I was much taken by the power of the Morris men en masse, and by the more modern extravagantly costumed and facially coloured variants such as the Mollies who outrageously included women among their number.  Amid the somewhat rutted ritual of stick upon stick and boot upon cobble there remained still freshly beating among the clichéd clatter a sense of the fecund, a latent sexuality in these warrior encounters that seemed a throwback to something quite primal, quite other. 

Past the thronging square where these different worlds were colliding I found myself in the heart of the festival proper. I experienced the sensation of being pulled between wanting to take in as many of the enticing formal concerts and billed events as possible and on the other hand to simply meander the streets and the splendid Edwardian  promenade, soaking up the sunshine while playing a small and entirely invisible role in this unfolding theatre.  The truth was that with everyone playing such an active part in the proceedings I was feeling an impostor.

Some relief to this social oblivion was afforded through the conspicuous presence of my vivid orange wrist band denoting my status as hard-core season-ticket-holding campsite crusty. Folk would notice this splash of colour and comment, recognising that I was in this for the long haul and not just passing through.  I would nod eagerly when campsite conversations were struck, grateful for this unearned recognition that a casual ‘well how is it up there this year?’ comment afforded.

The concerts were magnificent, with my long-time favourite players and some artists hitherto unknown to me never disappointing. What seemed common to each artist was a shared modesty even to the point of humility in the face of the antiquity of the tradition that they were upholding. As I listened old songs were gratefully recognised and their choruses gladly sung along to. These old favourites were heard alongside of unfamiliar songs some of which I appreciated first time out, some of which left me thinking that I would need to hear them a lot to make them familiars.  At first I resisted queuing for the top acts – trusting my luck as a ‘single’ to squeeze in somewhere – until i realised that the queue could prove a rich and often amusing conversational source. Inevitably the conversations fell to consideration of the act to come; and also the acts and activities that had preceded them. 

There was a natural tendency to compare this year’s Sidmouth to others. Not having been to the others I could not really join these competitive exchanges.  It was clear that I was amid the cognoscenti, among the folk connoisseurs who were quick to sniff out your credentials early in the conversational proceedings.  Major claims and bragging rights centred not only on how often you had seen a particular artist or ensemble, but also in the revealing of how personally well-known you were to that person or even that you were related to them – as many of these folkie families seem to have inter-married or to have clustered in the same towns and neighbourhoods, perhaps to retain the purity of the tradition or simply to cling together for comfort in the face of all the pressures to wipe out or deride what they stand for.

As the week wore on I grew to cherish my early mornings at the camp site staring at the canvas if it was raining or else perched on my chair outside enjoying the procession of campers going about their ablutions. It proved most relaxing to sit and read while allowing the many tunes of the previous night to ring in my head, these resonances often triggering tunes of long ago. Sometimes a simple fragment of music leaking from a nearby tent would trigger an emotionally drenched memory.  I noticed though that by day three I was suffering from a mild form of squeezebox saturation, of  fiddle fatigue, of accordion attrition, of ensemble exhaustion. 

The once relished mono- diet of stuffed pork rolls and double Devonshire ice cream was beginning to take its toll also.   It felt that I had less and less room to squeeze in any more material – musical or nutritional –  and I found my mind drifting in anticipation of the Nic Jones concert that would bookend this experience, signifying the moment when I might depart, having savoured what attracted me in the first place.  Folk folk had travelled from far and wide for this Nic Jones  event and the build-up in the town and then in the queue evinced a quite tangible clamour of expectation.  The word on the street was that Nic – despite still suffering from the after effects of the  car crash in the Eighties – would be appearing, and that every folk star that ever there was would be in town to pay homage and also to sing their favourite Nic song.

 To a packed audience on a hot afternoon then about twenty of folk’s finest crammed on stage to take their turn to serenade a beaming Nic.  A number of these seasoned artists confessed to an unaccountable nervousness attached to performing in front of the master; to having his ghost behind you in animate from as you interpreted – or attempted to stay faithful to – his renditions. I was moved to spontaneous tears by the striking of the first song, we all of us joining a chorus of ‘Farewell to the gold that never I found’ a song of palpable loss but strangely of hope too.  At this performers and audience alike seemed to settle as each artist took it in turn to sing, with Nic behind them grinning in happy communion, his lips soundlessly tracing the lyrics as his mind and heart went who knows where. 

The stage then was set for an afternoon that had an uncontrived sense of sacredness about it, a preciousness that left my heart full. Too soon then it was time to hit the streets and wrestle my much lived-in tent into the boot of the car. My gear had all seemed much smaller when I first unpacked it but then so had my experience of modern folk.  I didn’t have to go. My ticket lasted for at least another day and breaking camp was accompanied by a visceral sense of loss. But Nic had sung, we had all of us sung, I had sung and now I was ready to go. Until perhaps until next year. Daniel DohertyAugust 2010     l 

Went to see the gypsy – then her dog bit me

In this part of Chelsea it is impossible to walk the streets without encountering psychic reading shops.  As a scholar with a serious interest in probing the practice of coaching from all perspectives, it occurs to me that the exclusion of fortune- telling from the recognised body of executive coaching practice is a serious omission. After all, clairvoyance has been around a long time and clearly meets a need for understanding of past and predictions of future.  It would seem that psychic powers and luminous clairvoyance have been overlooked in  the design of coaching competency grids and skill sets – when on the face of it i have to ask what is not to like about  going straight to a definitive view of your future from an expert with an inside track; rather than going all round the houses with  non directive, interminable unconditional positive regard mushiness. Not only it is direct and swift it is relatively low cost and no less unregulated that executive coaching but with the added advantage of having no professional bodies to aggrandise partitioners with a penchant for power.
unable to resist the temptation to try out this form of inquiry for myself i stepped in the next door the future i came across off Seventh Avenue to learn my fate.  What I was not expecting to occur at this critical threshold moment in my life was to be charged at then bitten by a ferocious dachshund that was hiding beneath the drapes on the circular table just below the crystal ball, which wobbled a little under the force of the dog’s exit velocity.  I rubbed my leg as Tiffany shooed the dog way behind the curtain to join her son who was playing a highly destructive video game.  At this point – at least out of human decency as well as proof of her predictive powers – she might have warned me that the dog would bite me on exit too, but perhaps she liked to trade in threats of weapons of minor destruction.  She then ran me through her various service offerings which ranged from $10 for a quick reading of two weeks either side of the present moment to a full life assessment and aura cleansing (with tools!) for only $150. I opted for the quick two weeks either side, not least as this is pretty much the time span i can deal with at this age and stage.  I did notice the absence of psychological contracting or drawing of ethical boundaries. It was right hand out and straight in for the kill.  experiential immersion obviously, without disclaimers. 
I feel sure i need not bother you with every detail of her reading, some of it ringing true while other rather scary bits smacking of trailers for the need for urgent and deeper treatment before my aura crumbled altogether.  I did learn that I was to live a long life, that the last six months have been highly pressured (‘may i even use the word anxiety?’ she whispered at some point) and that beyond all of that there is something growing inside, some ’seed’,  something i have allowed to grow that i need to deal with as it has been troubling me and has been causing trouble for me for the past thirty years (at this point it was pleasing to be stepping well outside go the two weeks either side tariff without incurring extra cost.)  The message here was that i had at some point taken the wrong path and that while i was successful at doing what i was doing there was another path that can not be ignored for much longer unless  i wish to continue to go through the motions with a job that does not fully fit.  She said with confidence that I will be a writer and that I will make a living from it too. 
As we drew to a close the pressures to sign up for more were palpable: and in my mesmerised state i handed over my phone to have her insert her number as well as for all i know the aura of Beelzebub to enable each to be within arms reach of her powers and tools as there was no time to lose if i were to save my mortal soul. At this point i found myself both Impressed but also needing a refreshing dose of uncomplicated Good News Radio to cleanse the dark matter  and replace it with God’s certainty.  I might have considered her invite to more depth treatment more favourably  had I not been bitten by the demented dachshund once more on exit.  Perhaps if I had contracted for more on the stop then she might have resisted setting the dogs on me.  I feel sure executive coaching marketing advisories could benefit from inclusion of this incentive to sign up on the dot. Once bitten, twice contracted, sale closed.  
As i made my field notes in a nearby cafe which was playing Cool for Cats (but clearly not for dachshunds) by the Cure i realised that i would need to widen my data base, triangulate my inquiry before leaping to any conclusions about the the validity or reliability of fortune telling.  This evidence driven  realisationprompted me to stumble into the next randomly chosen salon i came across to select an upstairs booth that was mercifully dog and war game free.  This reading was conducted with the left hand not the right (could either hand give different readings i mused, worth my reliability hat on?) and proceeded down a fairly conventional but not sales driven narrative giving ho hum revelations – favourite day Wednesday, favourite number 5 – before proceeding onto more interesting stuff, much of it consistent with her rival reader. a long life, a rich life, a leader not a follower, a generous positive person who attracts jealousies, that i need to keep my future plans to myself – oh and that i was on the wrong path and needed to change this while there was still time. I liked her but thought her rival had an edge on the intensity and personalisation stakes,  somehow. She ended by saying that i was confused – which  helped me decide not to add to the confusion through any further readings. 
so that was that. i stepped out on to the path not knowing whether it was the right one or not – but knowing for sure that is was the one that would lead to my bed.  i could not have imagined $15 worth of executive coaching being this generative. 

Re-attiring not retiring

November 2017

A necessary part of my leaving my final full-time academic post, after twelve years served in a variety of institutions, was to clear my office, located many weary miles from my home, and unvisited for quite some time. I duly drove my trusty Volvo onto campus and loaded it up a random collection of books, trophies and artefacts, including my silken doctoral gown, which I discovered stuffed unceremoniously behind the door.   My next stop – post this exhumation and sealing off the scholarly tomb – was to point the car towards my next destination in pursuit of a newly kindled interest, a song leaders’ workshop conducted in an ancient abbey, sunk deep in the Oxfordshire countryside. On an impulse, at breakfast, I decided to make some use of my much neglected gown before it was ultimately mothballed, with no more graduation rituals to grace, no more stifling in the summer’s heat, mechanically applauding as a procession of young lives pass out before their proud parents eyes.   i rescued my gown from the car and slipped it on, marvelling at the creases, stains and general lived-in look so characteristic of all my wardrobe, now enhanced with a whiff of stale exhaust.  i had no idea why I did this, but I allowed it all the same, curious as to where this might lead.  Sitting down for breakfast on the ancient bench  beside a much venerated song leader renowned for her wit and wisdom, she asked, not unnaturally,  something along the lines of ‘what’s with the gown?’, but more elegantly phrased.  I recited my story of my ultimate retreat from academia, and of my impulse to give the gown one last airing, by way of a symbolic ending, in the setting of this ancient seat of learning. ‘Ah’ she reflected ‘So you have just retired?’  Rather shocked by the utterance of this taboo term, I blurted ‘No, Not all, I do not recognise the R word,’ although of course at one level her conclusion was factually accurate, and her inquiry kindly.   ‘Ah, I see’ she countered. ‘So you are re-attiring, not retiring?’ I loved that reimagining of the R word, and gave her a full swirl of the reclaimed garment in recognition of her speed, sharpness and accuracy of thought.  She asked of my twelve years before the academic mast. I explained that it all began in my mid-fifties, when I was occupied with writing a narrative doctorate that was ultimately after much struggle  to gain me the licence to inhabit the hooded gown.  The doctorate was eventually titled ‘On becoming an academic.’ I speculated that at this turning point in my life that I may well be in the process of reversing the engines.

Dylan in Vietnam April 2011

Dylan in Vietnam was a surprise at every level. Surprising that it was happening at all given his stage in life, surprising that he is still touring and surprising that he would want to play in a place with no recognizable fan base. In Vietnam his work along with most popular music was inaccessible, suppressed here for many years. Today’s sixty year olds have no folk memory of Dylan and no nostalgia fest to inflict on their children. Not the least of the surprises for me was the serendipity that I should arrive here they day before the event to witness his latest reincarnation at first hand.

Maybe Bob got tired of waiting for me the last forty five years or so to show up at one of his gigs and decided that he had better come find me instead. After all we have been together through life. And at a time in my life when I could afford a VIP ticket, though in truth there was little need of that exclusivity as in the end the venue was half empty, illustrating perhaps his relative anonymity over here. He should have had Lady Gaga as a warm up.

Much was made in local press of his music in the sixties being Vietnam war inspired. I am not sure if I buy that narrative for reasons of chronology if for no other premise. I asked some foreigners in the crowd of a certain age who were privileging this narrative to name me one of Dylan’s songs directly relating to the American War. They couldn’t. One Vet now living here did say that Bob did hang with Joan Byaz who did do protest songs by way of ending the argument and the inconvenient truth that were no such songs unless the sad eyed lady of the low lands lived in the Mekong. So I guess Dylan caught dissent by association or maybe the protest virus was transmitted airborne, just a little something blowing in the wind. The Vietnamese get tired of the constant reference to a war that happened a long time ago. ‘Vietnam is a country not a war’ they say.

The crowd were an interesting mix of young well-heeled ex-pats, many with glamorous Vietnamese girlfriends and their equally lustrous friends, mingling with visiting fogies such as me. I attempted to seek out likeminded souls to striking up conversations on the topic of Dylan’s oeuvre and his purpose in being here beyond the romanticised protest narrative but this mission proved hard yakka, even the discussion of his music and its development.

In these conversations there prevailed a generalised and highly sentimentalized view of his part in our individual and collective destinies rather than an appreciation that was located in time, place or song cycle.

In fact the best Dylan specific conversations that I encountered were with a number of younger French and Irish women whose parents were devotees and who had over time infected then with an interest and passion for Dylan history and discography. Perhaps they viewed me as some sort of historic reference point if not a parent substitute, saying to me admiring things regarding their parents dedication to the music that they could not say directly to them, for fear of squirming embarrassment. One young French woman said that she yearned for Bob to play ‘that Mr Jones song’. I said that from 600 songs it would be doubtful if he would choose that song even though I loved it too – but he did!! Lucky woman lucky me lucky us. Something is happening here and I don’t know what it is …

The band were for me a total highlight and part of the surprise; coherent, blues inflected, stirring and unobtrusively led by Bob on organ. This was driving rockabilly that compelled and set the feet into spontaneous agitation. I felt a tear well up as the first chord was stuck after long waiting through the succession of Vietnamese ballads that comprised the warm up, hardly necessary on a tropical night. Greater than that entirely acceptable wait was the shameful fact that I have been forty years waiting to hear this live and this was the moment.

The set was a mix of old and new though both were treated to changes in tempo and often key too, with Dylan using lyrics in a gestural fashion; oft times repeating phrases in an echoing way, reminiscent of later Van the Man treatment of his landmark songs, relying on a strong band to pick up any pieces that might fall on the floor, giving himself the freedom to play fast and loose with the material, working with the essential fragments of something long ago spun yet still seeking fresh expression. Or was it as some said that he really didn’t care at all about the audience, that he turned that back on them, showed no respect for his own lyrics never mind his reverential audience.

Ever the enigma I guess, keeping us guessing – he aint there, some said. I hear that critique but ask if Miro in his later work really needed to paint ever detail of sun moon stars birds when a brush stroke would let us know the diference if we were attentive. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, especially through Tangled Up in Blue and Highway 61 which were really stirring. I don’t think I has really allowed that song line ‘Where do want that killing done?’ to seep into my soul before I had heard it live from his own mouth but now it drove right home in all its stark murderous matter-of-fact darkness. I had personal resonance with ‘It Ain’t Me Babe it ain’t me your looking for babe’ after a previous evening refusing offers of female company that seemed to be based less on my irresistible attraction and more on my ostensible wealth – and wishing I had remembered that song line at the time. Someone to pick you up – each time you fall.

Middle of the set the young French woman stood next to me broke off from texting her papa regarding the ‘ambience plus sympathetique et exceptionelle’ to ask me to dance. Surprised once more by the trajectory of this already surprising day – and more than delighted, flattered to oblige – we soon created between us a kind of sacred space in the mosh pit, perhaps one of the politest mosh pits of recorded time as they all moved over in deferential Asian fashion. This empty space stayed long after our gyrations to the endless treatment of the ‘Levee gonna Break’ had exhausted itself. I felt that her inspiration to dance together was perfect.

We had had a fragmented conversation together, working with fragments to piece together the Dylan enigma from different ends of the generational telescope, but somehow the dance dissolved differences in time and space and language and made perefect sense of the music and its attraction. Then she suddenly disappeared saying she had to have the motor bike burns on her leg treated as they had opened up mid dance – which made her devotional impulse to dance in homage all the more heroic. She truly bore not only the Dylan stigmata but those of the modern day Vietnam veteran also, as all young Vietnamese have scooters and most bear the scars. And there was I left alone though by this simple twist of motorcycling fate. Bob rasped ‘You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go’ into the star lit night but gone she was, smart phone twinkling behind her until the light faded entirely.

But then nature abhors a vacuum. Clearly emboldened by the success of the direct French approach a young American woman who had been observing us – I thought critically – stepped into the now vacated sacred space and asked me to dance also. Did they think I was part of the performance? She could not match the French woman for any culturally derived sense of Hot Club swing but seemed happy to appropriate the space in a strutting Brittany- esque sort of way. I asked her how she was enjoying the concert.

She moaned ‘Okay I guess – but when is he gonna like play anything we all like know?’ As Dylan had just been playing Hard Rain i didn’t quite know how to respond to this culpable lack of classical lyric recognition, instead silently allowing another excellent number from Modern Times to roll over the assembled heads towards us. Meet me in the bottom bring me my boots and shoes. But then why should she know any of this stuff anyway, modern times or ancient times, whether offered in brilliant disguise or the anaesthetised renditions that can be heard in elevators the world over. She filled the silence by offering me a post – jive cigarette which in that heightened moment and in the context was highly tempting.

The urge to accept impulsed perhaps by an involuntary transportation back to a time when my sixteen year old rebelliousness was stoked by listening to Bringing it all Back Home while plotting an escape that signified a quite opposite emotional direction, a flight from suffocating suburban ennui, puffing away all the time on a cool cigarette while I hung out my bedroom window, assuaging the restlessness. Before I could mutter a reluctant refusal her boyfriend returned to reclaim her, spilling some beer over me in passing, by way of friendly salutation mixed with possessive territory marking, then leading her deep into the crowd where no antediluvian dancers lurked. Last night I danced with a stranger but she just reminded me you were the one.

Many of the Vietnamese in the crowd afterwards expressed with empathic concern their sadness that Bob had lost his voice before such an important concert. This naïve sentiment was entirely sincere but they needed to know that he always sounds this way nowadays, that this was another side of Bob Dylan. And that even in his prime his voice was not the greatest but that was not the point of him. Not the point but an inseparable part of his identity. I tell one of the locals that my wife loves his songs – as long as they are sung by someone else, in fact I think she means by just about anyone else. By contrast I have developed an affection for the gruffness of his recently developed cadences,

I enjoy the enduring sense of Willie Nelson style indestructability that they evoke. Our conversation was rudely interrupted by one baseball capped good old boy lurched in front of us to shout drunkenly from zero inches into the hirsute ear of the buddy that he was leaning on for necessary if unreliable support – ‘well maybe he can’t sing anymore but at least he can still play the harmonica’. Up until that point I had not realised that harp playing ability was age dependent. But hey it is something Bob can do on the stoop in his dotage when the endless tour is over and the setting sun is about to bring it all back home, awaiting the man in the long black coat.

But maybe the exiled down-home hombre knew more truth than he realised for Daniel Lanois who produced Time Out Of Mind said about the recording process of this 1997 album, “We treated the voice almost like a harmonica when you over- drive it through a small guitar amplifier.” I love that notion – that transposition of voice as instrument – and it could explain innovative method developed from this necessary age-related vocal accommodation. “I’m walking through streets that are dead Walking, walking with you in my head My feet are so tired, my brain is so wired And the clouds are weeping. I am sick of love and I am in the thick of it.”

The mosh pit dwindled to almost nothing as the evening went on – we were encouraged to walk along –all along but not down along, Bob hasn’t gone that folkie yet – the watch tower but only the security guards who were paid to be there seemed to be rocking along to that one. Dylan finished with Forever Young which i have to admit was a hard sentiment for me to identify with in that moment as I looked around at the remaining crowd and remembered that 50% of the population in Vietnam are under 30.

Ahh when i was their age … well when I was their age i was listening to Dylan and at 60 I still am but that is no reason in the world why they should do so either now or in their dotage. However part of me would wish this burgeoning global audience to catch the bug infecting the younger French and Irish generation who are reaching beyond referred parental nostalgia towards a musical appreciation and interpretation of Dylan that they are making all their own. It’s all good.


As I get older, I hear some contemporaries growing anxious about their ‘legacy’, and the fact that there is increasingly little time left for them to cement their memorial to self in place. I do not share their worry that I may return from whence I came, leaving the firmament undisturbed, but then sometimes legacy finds you. Last week on the crammed London to Exeter train, I was sat beside an Exeter student and got to talk of my time teaching there, and of her passage into her third year. She showed an interest in my recounting the fun of running a third-year critical marketing course, which sent students out into the highways and byways to hunt out suitable marketing efforts to mock, (the group that picketed Anne Summers sex shop nearly got me into deep trouble) or to find good causes to promote. One of the good cause groups alighted on the nearby Donkey Sanctuary, who were looking to globalise. Really. Before we knew it plans grew grandiose, and a plot was hatched to bring a posse or donkeys onto campus for charity and awareness raising purposes. The backlash from this visitation was worse even than the apoplexy induced by the Anne Summers scandal, as the Vice Chncellor, Dean and assorted groundstaff beat a path to my rarely disturbed door to ask what in name of thunder I thought I was doing. The uproar was not the legacy. In my history uproar is commonplace. What delighted me most to hear from the student was that now, every year, the donkeys come on campus, to the shared delight of all. Now that is what I call legacy, as Daniel breaks