Celtic Connections 2011 - Bob Dylan Tribute

karen millerI went to see Bob Dylan at the SECC in Glasgow a few years ago. He sat at his piano with his back to the majority of the audience and performed re-workings of his songs – re-worked to such an extent that I didn’t recognise many of them.

Truth be told, I’m no Dylan expert - I own about four of his albums, including Blood On The Tracks and Nashville Skyline, but I do know most of the classics and it was those that were on show at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall last night.

The evening was organised by Glasgow singer-songwriter, and sometime BBC Radio Scotland presenter, Roddy Hart. Apparently he approached Celtic Connections Artistic Director Donald Shaw in the summer of 2010 about a Dylan show, expecting to host it in one of the smaller Glasgow venues. Donald agreed to all his suggestions – the idea, the venue and having Roddy’s band The Lonesome Fire as the house band for the evening. It was then up to Roddy to source the other performers.

The show began with Roddy and The Lonesome Fire performing Subterranean Homesick Blues. As in the advert, and many internet pastiches, a member of the band held up placards, each introducing a featured artist. The list was fairly eclectic – Rab Noakes, Tim O’Brien, Gemma Hayes, Thea Gilmore, Laura Cantrell, James Grant, Tommy Reilly, Nell Bryden, Kris Drever and Rosanne Cash.

Rab Noakes, a passionate Dylan fan, performed Absolutely Sweet Marie and I was struck by how similar Rab’s voice was to Dylan’s – shut your eyes and it could almost have been the man himself on the stage. Rab returned later to do a more recent Dylan track, from Desire – Mississippi. His rendition brought one of the largest cheers from the capacity audience.

There were too many artists, and too many songs (three hours worth) for me to go through everything. First half highlight for me was Tim O’Brien’s rendition of Maggie’s Farm. For this he was joined by a stellar band of top American bluegrass performers – Jerry Douglas (dobro supremo), Stuart Duncan and Bryan Sutton. Tim is no stranger to Dylan either, having recorded an album of bluegrass versions of his songs entitled Red on Blonde.

Eddi Reader was a surprise guest early on in the show, performing her “party piece” Bucket of Rain before dashing off to play a show in Ayr. Thea Gilmore sang I Pity The Poor Immigrant and what she described as possibly the most depressing song of the night, a song as relevant today as when it was written – Masters of War.

A week after his triumphant return to the Glasgow Royal Concert hall fronting Love and Money, James Grant joined Nell Bryden on stage for a slightly chaotic version of All Along the Watchtower. James played some searing guitar, but it was a slightly odd choice of artists for the song. Highlight of this song for me was Fraser Spiers's harmonica - an uncredited member of the cast, but one that deserves a mention.

The second set lasted for what felt like an eternity. Josh Rouse, who I remember as being both taller and slimmer, did The Man in Me and Lay Lady Lay. He also attempted to sing like Bob, but unlike Rab didn’t quite pull it off. James Grant returned to do Twist of Fate, and Laura Cantrell, ably accompanied by Mark Spencer, did a lovely version of I Threw It All Away and Mr Tambourine Man.

For me, however, the class act of the evening was the final guest. Rosanne Cash and husband John Leventhal performed a beautiful version of License to Kill, followed by the song Bob recorded with her father, Johnny Cash, on his Nashville Skyline album. Rosanne said she couldn’t do that version justice, so returned to the original 1963 recording of Girl from the North Country for inspiration. Tim O’Brien returned to the stage for this one, then Roddy’s band helped out on You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.

Collaborations were the name of the game for the last 20 minutes or so. We heard My Back Pages, Forever Young, I Shall Be Released and finally Like a Rolling Stone, as well as a solo rendition of Baby Blue by Roddy.

For the most part it was an enjoyable, if a little too long, evening of music. Roddy and his band have to be congratulated for pulling it all off, and the performances and collaborations were pretty good given there’d only been one day of rehearsals.

And finally...did Bob Dylan make an appearance? Well, of course not. Although another Bob – Bob Harris – did introduce the show.

Courtesy: BBC, Karen Miller

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