Rory Stewart -The Tory Leader After The Next One

Or the one after that maybe.  What has happened to the Tory party, that they can even contemplate making Boris Johnson Prime Minister?  To half the country he is a clown, to the other a scoundrel.  Time was when the Conservatives lived up to their name – they conserved things, they accepted progress in Society and simply held the line against further advances.  Not that I could ever support them, but you felt you could (more or less) live with them being in power now and then.  However, since the Thatcher revolution they are now the destroyers extraordinaire; not content with selling off loads of Public Services, with mostly disastrous consequences, and pushing swathes of decent cheap council housing into the expensive rented sector, they want to destroy the NHS and public education too.  And now a fervour has overtaken them, egged on by a rabid press and billionaires seeking tax avoidance – they are desperate to leave Europe.  No matter what the consequences it seems.  Where once a slow dis-entanglement but still retaining good trade with the EU was planned, now only a complete break will suffice.  The harder the Brexit the happier they seem.

And appeasement has no chance.  The half-reasonable appeals by Hunt and Gove are falling on deaf ears and the pathetic bleats of Javid are simply noises off-stage.  Only Rory speaks with any sense.  He is campaigning just as hard for common-sense and realism – and is pulling no punches either.  He knows, as in their hearts the others must do, that Brexit will be a disaster.  But they are all terrified of Farage and are competing to out-Brexit the arch Brexiteer.  Good Luck with that.

But let us also be realistic.  At the moment Rory stands no chance of winning, and is unlikely to be in the final two, though he may well survive the vote on Tuesday where Raab and Javid will stumble.

One can only hope that at some point common-sense will breakout – but don’t hold your breath.  Maybe after the disaster that Boris will bring on us and losing an election, they will choose him – but we may have to wait a bit longer for that.  The Brexiteers will never admit they were wrong – it will all be someone else’s fault; if only we had been tougher with Europe; if only we had refused to negotiate anything; if only we had listened to them..,(oh, we did, didn’t we)

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My Record Collection 79

Dylan – The Drifter Did Escape

Almost 18 months and no new Dylan album, no live shows, no news at all.   But late in ’67, the year of hippy music an album slid out with little fuss at all.  John Wesley Harding was the title, and a boring blurry black and white photo cover.   And the most startling thing was the new voice, the new style; no more raucous rock’n’roll, no more snarling put-down songs, but a gentler, maybe more philosophical sound.  And the songs were full of religious imagery and outlaws, and seemed from far further back in time.  Almost a timeless folk sound with very few choruses, no more emphasizing certain words, and the songs are almost a piece – as if they were a song cycle.  The public were bemused – they wanted another Blonde on Blonde, they craved the wild poetic imagery, they wanted the old Bob back – but they would have to wait several years for that.  Actually, I now love this album, this religious-sounding slower Bob Dylan – the songs themselves drift in and out – it is the overall sound, the mood of the album I love.  I have stopped second-guessing his motives – maybe he was trying to lose the Messiah mantle – testing us possibly, or did he just feel like a change.  Most probably he was, as always, following his muse.  Favourite songs ‘All Along The Watchtower’ soon to be immortalized by Jimi Hendrix, ‘Drifters Escape’ ‘I dreamed I saw St. Augustine’ and ‘Frankie Lee and Judas Priest’  (so that’s where they got the name from).  The album closes with two different style songs – pure country ballads, of which ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’ is the best and has been recorded by many artists.

So Bob – where to now?  The last two songs were the pointer.  Nashville Skyline followed a year later – though in a time line the Basement Tapes were laid down around the same time.  These were ‘home recordings’ made with the Band – his recent backing band at their house in upstate New York.  Trying to find a new Americana, mixing old styles with mostly nonsense lyrics.  The album came out (by popular demand) in the late 70’s but it had been bootlegged already, and was even one of the Bootleg Series, which came out this century as Dylan and his admirers searched the archives.  The official album is quite disappointing really; but interesting if only to see what Bob was doing while not appearing live anywhere.  To be honest this is a waste of time as an album – but the public were desperate and CBS cashed in.

But in ’69, eighteen months later, Dylan confused us even more by going completely country with Nashville Skyline. I loved this record though; I think the thing that shines through, as well as the very professional playing and Bob’s singing voice which was suddenly incredibly good, was the quality of the songs. By any standards this was a brilliant country album, especially as Johnny Cash joins him for 2 numbers. Played by Nashville session stars the songs are deceptively simple, and yet as ever with Dylan, therein lies their brilliance.  The big hit ‘Lay Lady Lay’ has very few words but is incredibly catchy – try not singing along with it.  My favourite track is ‘I Threw It All Away’ – a tragic song of love lost.  So, what was Bob up to; was he trying to lose his fans, or show us another side, or did he just follow his muse and sing this batch of songs in a country style.  Whatever he was thinking it was nothing to the album which emerged a year later.  Self Portrait was another double – but this was a million miles away from Blonde on Blonde.  There were a few new songs, sung very much in a traditional country/folk style; some sung twice.  An instrumental ‘Wigwam’ which has a brilliant melody (why no words, Bob?), a couple of poor live performances from his appearance with the Band at The Isle of Wight the year before, and a few covers, some done in a traditional syrupy arrangement, some brilliant.  A complete mixed bag with apparently no cohesion or sense to it.  At first, I like many others couldn’t get to like it, but now it is simply sublime – in all its imperfections.  I think Bob was simply saying – “This One Is For Me”.  It was just what he fancied doing at the time.  Maybe he had writers block, but I don’t think so at all.  This was deliberate.  Critics slated it, (What is this shit – declared Rolling Stone) but slowly it has gained approval and sits proudly in his canon.  My best moments – the sublime opener ‘All The Tired Horses’ with it’s one line refrain and beautiful arrangement; ‘Early Morning Rain’ – where Dylan sung so sweetly; ‘Copper Kettle’ a song about illicit whiskey making; ‘The Mighty Quinn’ which was a big hit for Manfred Mann (see M0; The instrumental ‘WigWam’ – but best of all was ‘The Boxer’ where Bob sings Paul Simon’s song in two voices, not quite synchronized, overlapping each other, like some amateur duet – but it works incredibly well.  Strangely this has grown to be a real favourite of mine.

Later the same year he released New Morning, which looked like a new beginning.  But before that we have to look at a record which CBS put out in 1974, when Dylan moved labels for Planet Waves (see later).  It was simply called Dylan – and has long been unavailable.  It was tracks which Dylan maybe recorded for Self Portrait but rejected.  I have the tracks on a record called A Fool Such As I, which also includes tracks which Bob recorded with Johnny Cash around the same time.  It is again quite interesting; it seems Bob was taking a break from the serious business of being a Star and just enjoying himself making any music he fancied.  The cover versions which originally made up the Dylan spoiler album are not really so good, maybe they were abandoned early takes, or simply warm-up songs.  Whatever, this was not an officially sanctioned Dylan album and when he returned to CBS they deleted the album and it hasn’t been officially available on CD.  But the handful of Cash/Dylan songs are a different matter altogether; Cash had sung a duet on Nashville Skyline, and they obviously recorded a whole batch of mostly Cash songs at some point in the late Sixties.  One has to ask why he didn’t make an album of these obviously single takes – but then, part of the appeal of Dylan is his lack of ever being obvious.  A nice record however.

Just four months after the poorly received Self Portrait came New Morning.   This was perceived at the time as a return to the Dylan we loved in the mid-sixties.  But it wasn’t really.  There are a handful of decent songs and quite a few under-par ones.  But at least Dylan’s voice was back to its normal nasal tone, and all original songs too.  Best are ‘If Not For You’, the title track and ‘Winterlude’  The whole record feels very much a downer though, no real enthusiasm at all.

So in four years we had quite a variety of styles – and none quite sounding like the old Bob Dylan.  When, if ever, would he return?  And then there were three years of almost total silence….

Nashville Skyline

Topsier and Turvier

The world seems to be getting crazier – or is it just old age creeping in.  I do sometimes wonder what younger people think about it, but talking to my children they seem to be just as confused as I am.  Sometimes when you are in the middle of a storm you cannot actually tell which way the wind is blowing.  Firstly – three elections in a month have thrown up quite contradictory results.  First, the local elections, mostly in rural areas saw the Tories wiped out.  Labour lost a few seats and won a handful too.  The big winners were the LibDems; the argument seemed to be that they at least had a clear Remain message.  But more people voted for Remain parties than leave – just.  However not all seats were voting, London certainly wasn’t and all I could extrapolate was that this was largely an anti-Tory vote. The European elections were won by the newly formed Brexit party and the two main parties suffered; but we have seen this several times before.  Strangely the very people who declare that the EU is undemocratic consistently vote for parties who have no interest in Europe at all.  Last night Labour won the Peterborough by-election, beating the Brexit party by 680 votes on a 48% turnout.  The bookies and all the press had predicted a wipeout of both Labour and the Tories.  But even the Tories managed a few thousand votes.  Normal service not resumed – but maybe the success of Farage is dented at least.

It is now impossible to predict the result of ANY election.

The Tories are not quite in free-fall, but they are in trouble – whoever becomes their next leader and P.M. will face the same dilemma over Brexit.  Some are promising no-deal and even proroguing Parliament to force it through.  And yet almost daily we are getting news of our manufacturing disappearing because of Brexit uncertainty.

There are Tories now openly calling for de-selection of Tory M.P.s not worshipping Brexit; the very same Tories who were so outraged by Labour activists talking about de-selecting more Centrist Labour M.P.s.   And Labour are still sending out conflicting messages on Brexit; how long this can hold is debatable.

And I had to almost laugh when I caught Trump arguing against gun control by saying that when the terrorists massacred people at The Bataclan in Paris that if just a few French people had guns on them they might have killed the gunmen.  Piers Morgan, the interviewer pointed out that more people are killed by guns in America every day than died at Bataclan.  The gunslinger replied that knife crime was so bad that London hospitals were swimming in blood from knife crime.  What a lunatic.  And don’t even get me started on Iran or China trade wars.  I truly believe that a huge Financial Recession is just around the corner…

My Record Collection 78

Dylan – The Glory years

It was 1965, everything was changing, everything was moving on; the Beatles had broken in America and electric guitars were the new thing.  Dylan decided to go electric.  But he also wanted drums and bass and a full band sound.  But more important than that his sings were evolving too.  No more ‘protest songs’; his words were now more poetic, more mysterious, possibly more drug-addled – but certainly more beautiful.  His second album of this momentous year was Bringing It All Back Home; and it was obvious from the first notes that Dylan was now at the forefront of the new sounds.  ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ was a total change, almost rap (forty years before rap too) the words tumbling over each other to a brilliant rhythm.  This was a new Dylan alright – and the film he made was great too, with him simply turning over large cards with the words on.  This is followed by ‘She Belongs To me’ another great love song.  ‘Maggies Farm’ follows, a perennial favourite, though not on my top list.  Then comes what I think is his finest love-song ‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’ with its hypnotic tune and obscure and yet apposite lyrics; I have always loved this song.  The album also includes ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ which became a huge hit for The Byrds (see B), and ‘Gates of Eden’ but incredibly too ‘It’s all Over Now, Baby Blue’.  An absolute triumph of an album.  And at least half the songs had electric guitars and drums.  He was now being booed by many of the old ‘folkies’ who clung to the one man and his guitar format, but he was also winning new admirers for his new sound.   Listening now it is amazing how modern the sound is – and how much fun they seemed to be having.  Dylan’s method was to try to get the band rolling and all play together and by two or three run-throughs they would nail the song.    Highway 61 Revisited followed in early ’66.  And another great album, almost all electric now.  Opening with one of his best songs ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ with its bitter kiss-off lyrics and great chorus. The album is crammed with classic songs – ‘Tombstone Blues’ ‘Just like tom thumb Blues’ and of course the eleven minute long spectacle that is Desolation Row; brilliant evocative lyrics which nobody understood but which just seemed perfect for the times.  Bob was completely rock’n’roll now, leaving his old ‘folk’ music way behind.  But he still had time for a slow songs or two – though no real love songs this time.  By now he was a real superstar, everyone copying him and recording his songs; I think he even influenced the Beatles to write differently.  No longer ‘She Loves You’ but more obscure, less obvious words which we would all pore over.  Suddenly the words were important – and that was down almost totally to Dylan.

Dylan then toured this new sound with The Band, who did not appear on the album.  He was cheered and booed in equal measure but persisted with this new sound.   But all the time he was writing and then he had far too many songs for his new album, so he made it a double, which was one of the first.  And what an album.  Opening with the riotous almost drunken chorus of ‘Rainy Day Women’ (Everyone must get stoned), and the hypnotic ‘Visions of Johanna’ with my favourite line of his “the ghost of electricity howls from the bones in her face” – this song seems to go on forever but is only 7 minutes long.  ‘One of Must Know ‘ and the joyous ‘I Want You’ are followed by my favourite at the time ‘Stuck inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again’.  ‘’Just Like A Woman’ with its cruel but sensitive lyric and the side long ‘Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands’.  I can hardly stop playing this record – as soon as it is finished I just want to hear it again.  Dylan said later that he had discovered that liquid mercury sound on this album – and it was incredible.  And this was 1966, the year before psychadelia and Sgt. Pepper.  For me, this album has endured far longer than anything from the year following.  But….at the height of his fame Dylan turned his back on the World.  Was it a motorbike accident, a crisis of confidence or just him being contrary…who knows but the next four years were interesting to say the least.

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My Record Collection 77

Dylan – In The Beginning….

In the beginning was a nervous young Jewish boy, way up in a mining town Hibbing; in North Minnesotta.  But they had the radio, and he heard that early rock’n’roll in the fifties and knew he had to be a part of it.  He left for New York some time in 1961 and headed for the emerging ‘folk’ movement in Greenwich Village.  But this folk was a million miles form the ‘hey-nonny-no’ folk of England.  This was basically the blues of the old black bluesmen of the deep south, transfigured by white singers with guitar and harmonica in New York.  And Bob joined and caught and changed the wave, copying more established singers like Dave Van Ronk and Ramblin Jack Elliot.  He got a few gigs in the coffee houses and eventually to the Gaslight and Gerdes and then miraculously he was spotted by a CBS scout and allowed to make an album.  Bob Dylan – the debut album was not a very auspicious beginning however and the record sold only a few copies in New York.  I worked my way back to this record and I too disliked much of it – too many songs about dying, too many other people’s songs; the only really stand out tracks were ‘Talkin’ New York’ and ‘Song To Woody’.  But it was a beginning.  There were already the tell-tale signs, the wheezy harmonica, the voice – of course, that high nasal whine but he was still a long way from the finished article.  Amazingly in the space of a single year he was there, almost completely formed.  His next album The Freewheelin was the real deal.  With its brilliant cover of Bob and Suze Rotolo walking in a snowy New York street, it set the scene for the Revolution which Bob would soon become.  Sometimes form the vantage point of almost 2020 I can see that really it was only ever The Beatles and Dylan who created that 60’s revolution which swept all before it.  He had already written and published his earliest classic ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ which everyone was playing and raving about.  The album opens with this and is followed by one of his most beautiful love songs ; ‘Girl From the North Country’.  The anti-war song ‘Masters Of War’ is next, followed by a real humdinger or two ‘Down the Road’ and ‘Bob Dylan’s Blues’.  Now Dylan was already being accused as a too-serious protest singer – but he had such a lot of fun and humour in his songs, especially recorded ‘almost live’ with just his voice and guitar that (as always) people misunderstood him.  Almost his greatest song ‘A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall’ follows – which is actually far more in the old English folk tradition  – with its brilliant poetic lyrics which students are still arguing about. Just when you think he cannot come up with anything else amazing he produces ‘Don’t Think twice, It’s Alright’. Other notable tracks are the traditional ‘Corrina Corrina’ a beautiful ballad, ‘Bob Dylan’s Dream’ a thoughtful song, ‘Oxford Town’ maybe his first song about racial injustice – and ‘Talkin’ World War 3 Blues’ which is actually quite funny.  An incredible record – and yet, this wasn’t how the record was initially planned. Or so rumour has it, and that even a few hundred were pressed with different tracks.  Who know – and who cares.  But I did buy The Freewheelin Out-takes to see what else had been recorded in these sessions.  It is okay, but many of the tracks seem quick takes and then abandoned, or were later polished up and appeared in later albums – so this record is not his best – and was never intended for release…

The following year 1964, and Bob was into full protest song mode, or maybe he was just pushed in that direction.  The Times They are a Changin was the album, and the stark black and white photo of him was matched by a similar album by Joan Baez, who he was then dating.  There were ‘Protest Songs’ – the title track of course, which became an anthem for youth; ‘With God On Our Side’ the most ironic of songs; ‘Only a pawn in Their Game’ about the lies of politicians (almost as true today).  But there were also love songs ‘One Too Many mornings’ – one of my favourites and ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’.  And a couple of songs about the killing of blacks, as Bob was involved in the Civil Rights Movement; ‘Hollis Brown’ and ‘Hattie Carroll’.  All splendid songs – but he saved the best to last ‘Restless Farewell’ which may have actually been the most autobiographic song he wrote at this time.  This was really the record which broke Dylan, he was suddenly famous, the word on everyone’s lips.  In fact he became (reluctantly we now know) the Voice of the Young.  Sometimes re-listening to these early albums you can barely believe how good they were.  Just like the Beatles in England, though on a completely different trajectory, each album was a giant leap forward.

A year later (65) and he released Another Side of Bob Dylan.  Whether the title was really supposed to distance him from the ‘Protest Singer’ label or not – it barely worked, as he was still pushed and pulled and his words were now being pored over for clues; he was becoming the Messiah.  The album contained barely a ‘protest song’, only ‘Chimes of Freedom’ really.  And the songs were becoming longer 7 and 8 minutes even. There were a couple of comedy songs and a whole batch of slower numbers – the lovely ‘All I Really Want To Do’ and ‘To Ramona’, the mystical ‘My Back Pages’; ‘I don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)’ ‘The hauntingly beautiful ‘Ballad In Plain D’; and maybe the first of his great kiss-off songs to former partners ‘It Aint me Babe’.  The whole album is quite a rollicking fun event, Bob even laughing mid song occasionally. He was definitely moving, into what we weren’t quite sure.  I think he was trying to lose the mantle of a Political voice and moving into a more poetic phase, his lyrics more rounded and yet less obvious too.  It mattered not, his audience was growing; it used to be the folkies, the civil-rights crowd and then gradually more and more ordinary Americans discovered Dylan.  He was barely known in Europe but did appear in London and Paris, but he was still mostly a secret – we were all still obsessed with Beatles and Stones.  But Worldwide fame was just around the corner….as was electricity.

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan